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Thu 18 Jan 2007 04:00 AM

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Staff wars

As has become customary this time of year, several executives in the Middle East IT channel have begun 2007 by changing horses and accepting fresh challenges elsewhere.

As has become customary this time of year, several executives in the Middle East IT channel have begun 2007 by changing horses and accepting fresh challenges elsewhere.

The first quarter is peak season in the recruitment world as individuals look upon the New Year period as an ideal opportunity to advance their careers and experience life in an alternative corporate environment. But with vendors under pressure to find staff with specific skills, is the market on the verge of a poaching frenzy?

The channel merry-go-round in this region is as lively as any other market or industry in the world and naturally it is governed by multiple factors. While some moves are based on individuals pursuing their ambition to undertake a more fulfilling role — or simply growing weary of their existing employer — others have a carrot dangled in their face that proves too difficult to resist.

I am of the opinion that we will see this latter point play a more significant part in forthcoming personnel changes as the channel recruitment stakes are raised to an unprecedented level. This trend will be particularly noticeable in the vendor landscape where the growing stature of the regional market is putting pressure on suppliers to identify candidates with a very specific set of skills.

Leading manufacturers have reached the stage where they have considerable manpower in each department of their Middle East business and are therefore not embarking on the mass recruitment campaigns that this region — and particularly Dubai — may have enjoyed in the past.

However, the need for qualified channel management personnel remains highly acute. There is a limit to the number of executives who boast a comprehensive understanding of how the Middle East channel has evolved and operates. In a situation like this, the prospect of vendors poaching from one another, or from their channel partners, is greatly heightened.

The Middle East couldn’t exactly be described as a saturated market, but it is maturing at a rapid pace and that means vendors need to use a particular set of tactics to manage their partner networks. Whereas channel managers five years ago might have been measured on their ability to find new sales outlets and drive volume, the modern-day challenge is very much about harnessing the true value that partners offer and providing high levels of support, all whilst steering them in a particular direction.

I am sure that a top priority for many vendors this year will be identifying candidates with established relationships in the market and a comprehensive understanding of what it takes to run a successful partner network in a fast-changing market. As a market matures, the task of a channel manager becomes tougher and the race between vendors to find individuals capable of doing a good job intensifies.

Consequently, the skills that vendors demand of an accomplished channel executive become more defined, but at the same time the recruitment base shrinks because these skills are only possessed by a select bunch.

One such figure with a grip on Middle East channel affairs is former Toshiba Middle East and Africa chief Ahmed Khalil. He is poised to return to the market wearing the colours of a new employer before January is out. His seven year-year spell at Toshiba — albeit broken by a brief stint at rival Fujitsu Siemens a couple of years ago — saw him transform the notebook PC vendor into a formidable force that shipped almost 90,000 units in the quarter preceding his departure.

It is understood that there has been no shortage of offers on the table for his services, reiterating the point that individuals with an incisive knowledge of local market dynamics and a grasp on what it takes to inspire a partner network are highly sought.

As the Middle East market develops, the fortunes of competing vendors will be heavily influenced by the composition of their channel teams. Good people will be in strong demand, and they will no doubt fetch a premium. Let the poaching begin!

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