Poaching Noel Lynch is the latest broadside in Fujitsu?s war of attrition against troubled AST. Lynch was, in the words of Jonathan Chapple, chairman of AST reseller Equanet, ?a channel man through and through?.
Frank O?Brien, a one-time AST sales director and now at Fujitsu, claims AST is unable to replace Lynch internally. This may sound like sniping from the bows, but it is backed up by others in the channel.
Morale at AST appears low, as is confidence in the company?s channel strategy. There is uncertainty about Samsung?s commitment to AST, despite the Korean having repaid $307 million of AST?s debt.
According to Chapple, AST?s channel is ?emerging? from its troubles but ?key departures are bound to have a delaying effect?.
The background to the channel confusion is a series of confidence knocks. AST reported a 1996 loss of $418 million; the company has not returned a profit for eight consecutive quarters. AST president Ian Diery resigned last September. And a lawsuit recently filed by AST shareholders alleged that Samsung engineered AST?s marketshare drop in order to reduce its share price and snap the company up.
The shareholders may have a point, says IDC?s Richard Zwetchkenbaum, who claims the Korean giant is fundamentally only interested in the consumer side of the company. ?It?s a distinct possibility that under Samsung?s ownership, the company will look toward phasing out the corporate business.?
AST?s mid range server line, Manhattan, ?out-trumps even Compaq, technically?, according to Chapple. But product transitioning has been so poor that one dealer thought they had been phased out.
?Since the Manhattan range was launched,? said Lynch, ?we have seen Compaq, HP and Fujitsu come out with mid range products and 100 per cent commitment to these product lines. AST has failed to keep pace with the speed at which the market changes, or to push the branding. Why buy Manhattan when you can buy HP, Compaq or Fujitsu for a fraction more??
The consensus in the channel is that AST?s support deteriorated after it moved to Ireland. Even AST?s marketing director, Con Mallon, admits that ?it?s still not perfect?.
With no leadership and a fast-track straight to Fujitsu, AST?s channel may have seen better days. Mallon remains upbeat, claiming AST?s channel is the envy of many vendors. Even Lynch is positive about the company?s ability to bounce back, saying the Samsung takeover may give new confidence. But the bottom line is that the more beholden AST is to its Korean parent, the more likely its drift into the consumer market. By neglecting its corporate channel, AST has everything to lose.
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