Now the summer is almost over, and families with kids will be able to wave them back off through the school gates, many may wish to reassess their career goals for the year ahead as the leaves begin to fall.
One of the problems that stops many professionals from turning their job into a career is the opacity around career paths in general. Until the role you want appears virtually right under your feet, it can be difficult to work out where the next step could – or should – take you.
With that in mind, we spoke to several channel players about their career paths and look at how they made their moves, looking for common themes and successful strategies.
Sabio's Andy Roberts
Andy Roberts, commercial director at Avaya partner Sabio, "has previous". In other words, he worked for Lloyds bank after graduating with an econometrics degree, in a range of roles dating back to 1989. "It was very, very different to what I do now," he says.
Roberts (pictured, right) says that by about 1996 he had become aware that he was always talking to people in the burgeoning IT industry about what they should do – he had friends working in new companies during the dot com boom at that time (which later of course became a bust).
"I had done a range of roles, sales management, then went into branch management. And then in 2001 I was looking after a branch, and I was a branch director of a retail operation," he says.
"When I left university in 1988, I went on what was called a ‘City Course' and interned at about 15 organisations, including Lloyds, big investment banks and the Bank of England. I wanted to go into banking as a way to help businesses grow, and help them fulfil their vision."
But as his career progressed, he noticed that no matter how senior he became, in such a large organisation he had relatively little autonomy. This really hit home one day when he was entertaining a group of managing directors and needed minor repairs to a room they were using, but was unable to get someone to fix it – he had to go through the approved corporate channels even for something minor, such as changing a light bulb.
He was in his early 30s and in a very senior role at a major company, with thousands of customers, but his friends had suggested he switch industries, and try a smaller company, and that sounded like a good idea.
"I had achieved a lot, but I wanted something more," says Roberts. "I came into Sabio one day about a problem they were having. And I saw a company with 35 people and six directors. They had huge potential, and huge intellects. They were very articulate, yet did not have some of the processes and organisational setup you would see working for a bank."
Roberts suggested an organisational fix to their problems which was partly about setting up regional operations. "And after about six months, they said whey don't you come and join us," he confirms.
Since then he has continued to apply skills he originally mastered in the financial services sector, at the same time learning about IT and expanding into this newer world. Starting off as business unit developer, he eventually progressed to board level. Today he manages the commercial side of a £29m company with 170 people.
Comms-care's Rob Darby
Rob Darby, sales director at channel support services provider Comms-care, has been with the fast-growing Cheshire company for 10 years. Prior to that, he worked for an IT recruitment agency for three years after graduating from sixth form college, where he focused on economics, media and IT studies.
"I always had the IT channel in my mind. I didn't know it was called ‘channel', but I knew I wanted to work in an IT company in the IT industry. And I didn't know if I really wanted to be technical," he says. "I did see the recruitment agency as a stepping stone."
When he began applying for industry roles, it wasn't long before he had two reseller job offers on the table. "One was Caudwell Communications and one was Comms-care," he says, and he met the sales director – current managing director Ben Davies – in the second interview.
"They must have liked what they saw, because I met Ben straight away, and he offered me the job as an internal account manager."
Then began a series of sales successes for Darby (pictured, right), who found he was making targets easily. He also got along well with his colleagues, as well as clients. He was then promoted to field account manager, and when Comms-care's managing director sadly passed away, Davies was moved up again.
There were two other candidates for the top sales management role, Darby says, but it was offered to him presumably because of the mix of skills he had developed, as he had not been there longest. One rival left the company shortly thereafter, he adds.
One key to his rise has been Comms-care's in-house training, which has given him the opportunity to spread his wings, he suggests.
Now, after nearly five years as on the senior management team, Darby says he is primarily concentrating on further developing his business development, strategy and sales skills – and it must be working, because he was asked to join the Comms-care board as sales director in January 2012.
"I was made aware that there would potentially be a role on the board," Darby says. "And now I'm managing managers, which isn't always easy."
Darby hopes to remain at the company as he is enjoying the challenges that are made available to him, and in time, he hopes to progress even further.
Xerox's Mark Duffelen
Mark Duffelen, director and general manager, Channels Group, Xerox UK and vice president, marketing, Channels Group Operations, Xerox Europe, agrees that relationships and a record of achievement are key to building career success. His first job was selling Wimpy burgers, then he went to university and studied to become a maths and games teacher.
However, after three years' teaching he became a little frustrated. "It was great, I loved it, but I really felt that I wasn't motivated," Duffelen says. "I wanted to be more the architect of my own success."
So he left to join the United Dominions Trust, a financial services firm that provided funding for the car industry, for garages and hire purchase agreements and the like. In about 1986, he was first introduced to Xerox through a friend of his – of course it was purely a copier company at the time – and when he was next looking for a job, a vacancy was available.
"I was coming from a leasing background – that was the connection," Duffelen suggests. "That was the way that customers acquired office equipment at the time. I think I got that opportunity because we were friends, but my background came in very useful."
Xerox fostered a competitive and dynamic environment that Duffelen (pictured, right) enjoyed. After two years, he was promoted to sales management and the Xerox concessionaire programme began. However, he was still looking for new challenges, and in 1990 he left and started up Xeretec, his own Xerox concessionaire, which by 2005 had grown to be one of the largest Xerox resellers in Europe.
Running his own business is something which continues to provide satisfaction. Although Duffelen sold Xeretec a few years ago and was eventually rehired by Xerox, even today he wears with Xerox's blessing another hat – that of another company he founded at the same time, document management specialist Adetiq.
"I had taken nine or 10 months off in between, and worked out that I actually missed working. I didn't see a purpose, I wanted to be inspired. That's very clear to me now," he says. "So by about September, I knew I had to find something to give me purpose. And at that time I was very close to the then Xerox MD Russell Peacock, and he got me back into Xerox, and I became general manager for Scotland."
Unusually, Duffelen loved the commuting. Remaining based in Wokingham, he had a flat in Glasgow as well. On Monday morning he'd fly in at 9:20am and back again by 7:30pm on Thursday. "It was great!" he enthuses. "And it was good to be back in the Xerox fold."
From then, it was onwards and upwards at the print vendor, taking the UK and Ireland Office division reins from Darren Cassidy after another few years. "And today I have responsibility for all business across channels, and I see that as a bigger role because we're responsible for some 70 other businesses across the UK, and all our employees and we need to get things right," he says.
And what continues to excite Duffelen is that opportunity to keep driving growth.
If there is one overarching theme in the above career trajectories, it appears to be ensuring you build quality relationships that develop open lines of communication.
Networking is part of it, but that often seems to be primarily about making new contacts – whereas the stories of Duffelen, Darby and Roberts appear to demonstrate the importance of fostering more in-depth connections, no matter what stage of your career.
Over the hills and further away
Surveys consistently reveal that many Britons would love to try their hand abroad at some point in their career.
Australia is consistently cited as a popular destination for ex-pat Brits, so with that in mind, we interviewed a couple of channel execs who successfully emigrated.
VMware's Andy Phillips
Andy Phillips is now senior manager for Asia-Pacific and Japan partner enablement at VMware in Australia, but he started out as an IT engineer with BT. Gaining CISSP, CCNP & CCNP in Security and IP was key to evolving his career towards different technologies, customers, and of course countries , he says.
"I quickly decided that the security industry and IP world was a lot more dynamic and was certainly the future. I made a further progression to the WLAN segment as customers were investing in mobility – and of course security is a major component of any mobility strategy," he says.
Graduating from West London Technical College with an HBTEC & BTEC in electronic engineering, he spent two years at BT before moving through various roles incorporating a range of pre-and post-sales, business acumen and technical skills at Norsk Data, OST and 3Com. At Thrupoint Technologies in 2004 where he was EMEA security practice lead, he was approached by Motorola to be WLAN practice lead in Australia.
"I was already seeing customers investing in mobility solutions, so I knew this was the future – and the role was based in Sydney," he says. "Let's say it was too good an opportunity to refuse."
Partners and the Aussie culture made it very easy to settle into his new role and location, and with his European experience behind him he was able to add value from the start, he says, drawing on technical presales, consultancy and channel development skills especially.
"After many years in engineering and working with channel partners extensively, I realised the importance of the partner community and the opportunity for me to take my skills and apply them to enabling partners.
"Over the past five years I have managed regional channel enablement programmes – entirely different to being technically hands-on," Phillips explains. "However, I have a ‘real' perspective of what partners face and the challenges of keeping up to date."
He has been in his current role for the past three years and is still enjoying the challenge of building partner capability and skills. "My role also covers six regions in Asia, it's a very dynamic region, very culturally different and is also constantly changing," says Phillips. "There is plenty more to do in enablement, so I see myself working with partners for quite some time."
Belkin's Ian McLean
Ian McLean is the managing director of Belkin across Australia and New Zealand and it was just good luck, he says, that got him started in IT in the first place. After reading for a business degree at the University of Portsmouth, in 1985 he did what many new graduates do and went backpacking, taking out a working holiday visa in Australia that at the time was only available to Brits under the age of 26.
"It was pure luck," he says. "I wanted to work for the last six months to have something for my CV when I returned to the UK. I then met Phil Howells from NetComm and was sent to Perth to set up NetComm in Western Australia. One week of training and one week at a computer show were my introduction to computers and connectivity."
Back then, modems and computing generally was still in its infancy, and it was "a good time to be part of things" with the channel vibrant and growing as well. He did so well that NetComm agreed to be his official sponsor to settle in Australia, and he stayed with the company for 10 years, moving to Sydney in latter years to run the OEM business Avtek and the sales and marketing team.
"At some point I realised that I would not go back to the UK, even though I had family there. I was then headhunted by Netgear to set up the business in Australia, and after 10 years I ran the Asia operation," he says.
Since then, McLean has been in consulting roles, at Channel Dynamics, and at Seagate, and for the past two years has been running Belkin. So what are the secrets of his success so far?
"I would say keeping things simple, customer satisfaction – both big and small customers – and the basic four Ps of the marketing mix. Treat everyone with respect, but be candid in your discussions. Empower and support your team. Make repeatable processes where you can," he confirms.
"Have fun, enjoy what you do. I have been lucky and this country is a great one to live and work in. Belkin is now my passion, a great company, with great vision and a leader that I respect."
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