By Andrew Seymour
Santosh Varghese stepped in to answer Toshiba’s call following former regional boss Ahmed Khalil’s surprise resignation at the end of last year. But while he might be the new man in the hotseat, Varghese is no stranger to Toshiba’s channel partners having worked for the company during the past four years.
|~|inside-info---varghese200.jpg|~|Santosh Varghese, Toshiba|~|Santosh Varghese stepped in to answer Toshiba’s call following former regional boss Ahmed Khalil’s surprise resignation at the end of last year. But while he might be the new man in the hotseat, Varghese is no stranger to Toshiba’s channel partners having worked for the company during the past four years.
CME:You were only promoted to the role of assistant regional general manager last October. Did you expect to get the top job so quickly?
SV:Not really. Ahmed [Khalil] and I had been working together for quite some time and working jointly to make Toshiba one of the top three vendors in the Middle East mobile computing market. There are no hard feelings. I respect his decision and wish him success.
CME:Khalil hired new managers in Saudi and the Levant just months before his resignation. How much of a blow has his departure been?
SV:I’d say it is business as usual. We have an excellent product, a strong team, very good channel partners and we’ll be strengthening that with better SMB and channel programmes. We are going to have a very good year.
CME:Any plans to appoint an assistant general manager?
SV:Well, it’s a team effort and everybody is responsible for the particular core business they have been given. That’s how it will be moving forward.
CME:So what are your main objectives now you are boss?
SV:We have been growing faster than the market in most of the countries we have been handling, especially Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE. We want to continue this and consolidate our position in these markets, as well as focus on newer markets such as Qatar and Egypt. They are fast-growing markets because of certain government initiatives. Overall, we are looking to consolidate our market share which right now is between 20% to 22%.
CME:Do you have any plans to enhance your
distribution channel this year?
SV:When it comes to distribution we have local channel partners all across the region. We don’t believe in regional distribution — we have in-country distributors that know the market very well. In all our markets we either have a single partner or a maximum of two partners. We have been working with them to improve the market and business development for quite some time. Moving forward, we will also have country managers who directly interact with the channel and implement channel and marketing programmes. These new programmes will be in place by the second quarter and they will bring us closer to the market and the channel.
CME:Is your new position likely to give you more face to face interaction with partners?
SV:I have had a direct interaction with channel partners anyway because I was the regional sales and marketing manager for GCC, including Saudi Arabia, for some time. So I have interacted with channel partners for the last four years at Toshiba — not only with the distributors, but the second tier retailers and resellers.
CME:Do you think notebook vendors that sell into the Middle East are going to have to settle for lower growth rates this year?
SV:I think markets such as Saudi Arabia are reaching a consolidation stage. We won’t see growth of 100% anymore — it is more likely to be in the range of 30% to 40%.
The strong growth has already happened back in 2005 and 2006 so I see consolidation happening in most of the major markets.
CME:You cited Egypt as a fast-growing market earlier. Will you be increasing resources there?
SV:We have invested in resources; we have a country manager who will be more focused on sell-out activities, interacting directly with the channel and implementing more marketing programmes fine-tuned to the local Egyptian market.
CME:Which sectors are driving the notebook PC sector at the moment?
SV:We see the consumer market doing very well — it is the fastest growing segment. Adoption rates in the SMB segment are also very good. The SMB and corporate segment has generally been a desktop market, but that is now changing towards notebooks due to the kind of product features that are now available.
CME:How do you believe the impending launch of Vista will impact the notebook market?
SV:The official Vista launch by Microsoft in the Middle East is on February 15th, but our products will be out in the market by the first week of March. We expect a good demand for Vista notebooks in the consumer segment, but I would expect the business segment to wait a bit longer before they introduce or adapt to the software.||**||