Many would ask how a trained aircraft engineer ended up running one of the country’s biggest private IT businesses, but Paul Eccleston, EMEA managing director of distributor SDG, appears to be enjoying his time at the company controls.
Like many others in the channel, he fell into IT by accident, in his case after returning from working as an aircraft engineer in Saudi Arabia in the mid-1980s. In his own words, he “was the only one who could work a computer”. He became managing director of the newly rebranded SDG in January this year after a long career in the channel.
SDG (Specialist Distribution Group) is part of Specialist Computer Holdings (SCH), which includes integrator giant SCC. Annual turnover of SDG UK - trading through its various subsidiaries: ETC, Interchange, ISI UK and IQ-Sys - is more than £500m and it has a presence in the UK, France, the Netherlands, the Middle East, North Africa and Spain. It employs 650 people across the business and trades with more than 2,000 resellers in the UK.
One thing becomes clear when speaking to Eccleston: with stints at both Computacenter and SCC under his belt, he understands the challenges faced by resellers and is keen to make their lives easier.
Company founder Sir Peter Rigby keeps a close eye on the running of the business, and Eccleston works directly with him on key decisions across the different territories. He is determined that SDG will be seen as a true value-added distributor in the UK.
Eccleston has also had plenty of distribution experience, kicking off his career in the 1980s at legendary firm P&P Distribution (which originally stood for founders Peter and Pam).
Under my umbrella
As he took the reins of SDG (at the time known as ETC), Eccleston says his remit was to employ the same strategy of transformation for the distribution business that he had used in the reseller business.
“We realised after the acquisition of IQSys that we had a chance to do something about the brand. The question was - do we keep the names? We wanted to become the specialist distributor in IT, and the ISI and IQSys brands reiterate the fact that each is a specialist in its field,” explains Eccleston. “But in the UK, all the distribution businesses come under the SDG umbrella.”
He adds that the transformation of the volume business has boosted growth.
“We have been very successful at being very focused. We don’t intend to be more broadline than we are, we are staying narrow - highly focused and specialised. We will only add technology where we can become specialist,” he says.
“I’m obsessive about what we are doing. It’s not about being top of the market - if we are doing something, we want to be better at it than everybody else in the market. That is our focus.”
At present, SDG’s revenue is £2bn across EMEA, but the firm is not single-minded where financials are concerned, says Eccleston.
“We are not obsessed by making it to £3bn or anything like that. Our obsession is about being specialist in the things we do. In each country where we operate, decisions are made for the benefit of the local country,” he explains.
Ebb and flow
One of the biggest challenges facing distribution at the moment is the rise of the cloud, but Eccleston feels it is nothing new.
“The cloud has not had much impact on anybody yet. The fact is that cloud is nothing new - when people are delivering services to customers, it is a utility model. We have to make it workable and make software available on a utility basis. We are all moving at a greater pace in that direction,” he adds.
Eccleston adds that the distributor will have a lot of work to do in its Business Solutions Centre (see picture and box) in the next 12 months.
“What we are doing with that is very powerful and have built a full services capability and portfolio. It means we can be versatile. We have increased our staff numbers for that by about 85 per cent. I spent my career in very large VARs trying to deliver solutions, and I’m conscious that it is very tough - tougher now than it ever was,” he says.
“The only people with any money in the equation are consumers of IT. We need to collectively deliver a solution that gives them a benefit and our job as a distributor is to help resellers deliver that benefit in whatever way the end user requires it.”
Looking at the wider distribution landscape, Eccleston says it is “ebbing and flowing”.
“Some vendors get everything that they need out of one distribution partner, and they try to keep the same one across Europe. But resellers don’t like the idea of just one distributor - it removes the competitiveness,” he says.
But consolidation will continue, he predicts. “You will see all the bigger players - including us - acquiring more specialists, and you will continue to see new specialist distributors emerge,” he says.
“There was a lot of pressure in 2008/9, and it is probably the same amount of pressure now. I believe that the pressure on credit will continue - mainly driven by credit insurers - but our job is to enable the channel by providing credit and helping resellers win business.
“For me, the most rewarding thing about my job is when a reseller wins a project or piece of business because we have helped them. The more we can do that, the more satisfying the job is.”
Security firm set to become part of acquisitive Shearwater Group
Distributor merges three northern sites into one new hub in Warrington
Activist investor puts forward five director candidates as turmoil continues at security giant
Nima Green asks what is driving public cloud uptake in Germany