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Thu 26 Apr 2007 04:00 AM

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Just the job

The region’s largest technology company is scheduled to reveal the identity of its new Middle East managing director this week. And as the announcement grows ever closer, Hewlett-Packard will be patently aware that its choice of candidate could make or break its fortunes.

The region’s largest technology company is scheduled to reveal the identity of its new Middle East managing director this week. And as the announcement grows ever closer, Hewlett-Packard — like any other organisation on the verge of filling such an illustrious vacancy — will be patently aware that its choice of candidate could make or break its fortunes.

HP has been fortunate enough to employ a fairly settled regional executive management team during recent years — in technology industry terms at least. Departures of key personnel have happened, in some cases to other subsidiaries within HP’s global organisation, but not to the level that some companies plagued by staff attrition have witnessed.

HP’s Middle East controller Willi Rieder has been keeping the seat warm since news of Joseph Hanania’s decision to step down spread earlier this year. Former head honcho Hanania, who recently added the position of CEO at mobile operator Umniah Jordan to his CV, led HP’s regional operation for several years, marshalling the local integration of HP’s mammoth purchase of Compaq back in 2001. In the time that followed, he oversaw the blossoming of the HP Middle East business in terms of headcount, market coverage and revenue.

Whoever inherits Hanania’s legacy is joining the company at a very different stage in its development and will therefore face an entirely separate set of challenges to the ones that confronted Hanania back in the day when the Middle East was a much smaller part of HP’s EMEA organisation.

The role is clearly not for the faint-hearted. It is suited to somebody with the ability to afford all of HP’s disparate businesses the freedom and flexibility they require to flourish, yet still understand the importance of maintaining a unified strategy; a person capable of guaranteeing HP’s regional alignment with corporate objectives in areas such as business information optimisation, adaptive enterprise and IT management, while still ensuring that the bread and butter business of PCs, printers and supplies is ticking along nicely.

It is a post that not only calls for somebody comfortable hobnobbing with big-spending customers from countries such as Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, but who can be relied on to locally endorse important global technology alliances that HP enjoys with business partners including Intel and Microsoft.

With a new internal structure converting parts of the old ISE territory into the Middle East, Africa and Mediterranean (MEMA) region set to be rolled out on May 1st, the new managing director can look forward to a very short honeymoon period. Making sure the wheels of the new set-up are well-oiled from day one is imperative if the vendor is to minimise disruption and sustain its current rate of momentum.

As new faces such as EMEA channel chief Jos Brenkel settle into MEMA roles, and familiar names such as Middle East PSG boss Anil Gandhi move on — his replacement, who will also be named next week, is also understood to be from within HP’s European team — the incoming managing director must set down the markers early on and begin building the foundations for a strong relationship with their senior team.

Making all the cogs of the business turn in tandem can only be achieved if the message from the top is clear and consistent, particularly in this region where HP’s operation comprises myriad smaller country operations that each have a vital role to play in the vendor’s collective performance.

Getting the right man in place is a massive task although HP has never been one to shirk from ringing the changes if it deems them necessary. Two years ago it surprised the market by elevating Francesco Serafini to senior VP and managing director EMEA — a mere 10 months after giving the job to Bernard Meric following the exit of Kasper Rorsted.

Incidentally, Serafini refused to give much away when quizzed this week about the imminent announcement of a new Middle East manager. However, he did stress the importance of having a local figurehead with a comprehensive understanding of the region at the helm.

An external appointment is a distinct possibility, paving the way for somebody with a fresh view of the organisation and no preconceptions to come in and stamp their authority. Should this be the case, the big question in my mind is whether HP selects an individual experienced in the regional IT or telecoms market, or somebody from outside the sector with considerable management pedigree.

However, it is known that HP Middle East has fielded internal applications for the job and this could be their preference. Somebody who knows the culture of the company inside-out could be seen by HP as a safer bet and if that’s the case then I wouldn’t rule out the vendor bringing in an executive from its EMEA operation.

Meanwhile, over in the distribution channel, Ali Fayez’s departure from TDME, where he was running what was the old Azlan enterprise division, represents the first major departure from the entity since Tech Data closed its UAE office and gave away the juiciest parts of its business to Aptec last month.

Given his track record at Tech Data I suspect a few value-added distributors have been alerted to his availability, meaning he is unlikely to be absent from the channel for long. With ex-Tech Data boss Steve Lockie due to finally begin his post at Comstor Middle East next week, is it unreasonable to speculate that the pair could even renew acquaintances?

After all, if Comstor is enjoying as much success in the Middle East as sources report then the distributor will surely be keen to find new talent to bulk up its team, especially if they know the Cisco business inside out.

I was interested to see a glowing endorsement of Comstor’s progress come via a distribution award it picked up from Cisco at the networking vendor’s recent partner bash in Las Vegas. Cisco heaped praise on the launch of Comstor’s Dubai-based Middle East business unit, awarding the company its “Distribution Partner of the Year” accolade.

Yes, you did it read it correctly. Distribution partner of the ‘year’. Given Comstor only opened its Middle East office in December 2006 and has been serving the Gulf market for little more than five months I can only assume Cisco has got itself a little bit confused over the length of the Gregorian calendar.

Fair play to Comstor, I say. But if it can land the annual prize five months after starting from scratch and without its permanent head of operations on board then what sort of message is Cisco sending out about the proficiency of its other distribution partners in the region!

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