Into the spotlight

Channel Middle East speaks to Jamal Qaffaf, managing director of Avnet Technology Solutions MEA, about how the enterprise arm of this global distribution giant is ramping up its business to take a bigger share of the regional market

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Into the spotlight
By  Mark Sutton Published  March 13, 2011

Channel Middle East speaks to Jamal Qaffaf, managing director of Avnet Technology Solutions MEA, about how the enterprise arm of this global distribution giant is ramping up its business to take a bigger share of the regional market.

Avnet is one of the biggest names in IT distribution, with a business that was worth $19.16bn in FY10 alone. Formed back in 1921, and listed on the NYSE for 50 years, the company is one of the strongest operators in distribution across the US and Europe, in both components and enterprise solutions.

It’s components division has been established in the Middle East for around five years, doing business with brands such as AMD, Hitachi, Toshiba, Kingston and Foxconn, yet its enterprise operations, Avnet Technology Solutions, itself an $8.19bn business in 2010, has remained relatively quiet, until now.

Jamal Qaffaf, Avnet Technology Solution’s managing director for the Middle East and Africa, a twenty-five year veteran of the IT market, says that Avnet is now making progress on building its business in the region, with Avnet MEA becoming the company’s fastest growing region, and it has plans to put a lot more into local growth.

Qaffaf joined the company in July 2009, and from a core staff of four people, the company has now expanded to over 50 people in the MEA region. It is also has offices across the region, including Dubai, where the company recently moved to larger premises, Riyadh and Cairo, and is eyeing further expansion in the Middle East.

“We have interest in Kuwait and Qatar at the moment, Jordan we are doing quite well,” says Qaffaf. “We have sustained business in every country and this is a healthy situation. There are some peaks of course, but most important for me is the run rate business, I can see that every country is active - in 2009, it wasn’t there at all - most countries were at zero.”

In part, Avnet’s presence in the region is founded on the ex-HP business of Magirus, which was sold off to Avnet globally in 2007. The company is still strong in HP, where it has the complete HP enterprise range of servers and storage, software, networking and services.

Avnet is also strong in Oracle, and it also carries Motorola wireless solutions, Enterasys network infrastructure solutions and several others, but the company is also looking to leverage on its global relationships with other vendors, while addressing concerns among those vendors that are already present in the Middle East with other distribution partners.

“In terms of vendors we are actually building the line card at the moment. We are talking with Avaya and other big partners who we work with in Europe. We have the contracts in Europe, it’s just a matter of adding the contracts in the Middle East and Africa. It’s a pretty difficult process to be honest, but once they understand the value and the success stories that we have in the region, I think they will understand,” says Qaffaf.

“Mainly they are concerned about the incremental business because they have been in the region for quite some time, so they want to see how we can help them in the incremental business and once they are convinced we could really build it, they are quite happy… it’s just a matter of building up the relationship again,” he added. Avnet’s global relationships, and its global presence are something that Qaffaf is keen to build upon, and to gain competitive advantage against local distributors.

“Business has been doing very well for us, the market really needed a global distributor. We consider ourselves as a global distributor, unlikely many distributors here that are local distributors, often they have other interests as well, and are not focusing only on IT. Avnet is a publicly listed company, we are only focused on IT and we focus on value business.”

Avnet is keen to leverage its existing agreements with global systems integrators, such as Wipro and Tata, where it has strong relationships. Qaffaf says that because Avnet works very closely with these companies, which are increasingly active in the MEA region, the company is gaining traction and business with them.

Another strength of being a global player is with Avnet’s adherence to stringent corporate compliance rules. Far from being a competitive disadvantage to other players who may choose to ignore certain governance issues, Avnet’s attention to issues such as end-user verification are a comfort to vendor partners.

“The vendors are very happy that we are in this region because we take good care of that part of the business. The vendors also have the same compliancy issues as us, and we will be even more strict than the vendors sometimes,” says Qaffaf. “If you aren’t compliant, you can get yourself in real trouble. We’ve seen many distributors who actually went in the wrong direction, and we want to make sure that we are not dragged into that kind of business.”

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