"I told them we were going to have some directors' car parking… I said the dress code should sharpen up… I said we were spending too much time on our charity initiatives…"
Is Softcat's new chief executive Graeme Watt taking a hard line on the reseller's industry-renowned culture? Actually, no.
Watt undoubtedly had big shoes to fill when replacing industry legend Martin Hellawell and, even by his own admission, questions were asked by some as to whether he was cut out to continue the culture started by Softcat founder Peter Kelly and continued by Hellawell.
In that case, what better way to hit the ground running than by playing an April Fool on the entire Softcat workforce?
"It was actually before I arrived, which made it even more risky," Watt told CRN. "Historically someone from the leadership team - it might have always been Martin, I don't know - has tried to weave an April Fools' thing into the company, and Martin said ‘given that I'm almost out of here and you've almost joined, you should do it'. I said ‘yeah, I'd love to do it'.
"April Fools is one of my favourite days of the year and I knew I could get away with stuff because a lot of people didn't know me.
"When you have a new CEO coming in, the chances are you're going to have to take what he said reasonably seriously, so I did a number of things."
Dress to impress
Among the points outlined in an email to Softcat employees was an introduction of directors parking, because it is "inefficient that I have to go out for a meeting and have to look for a parking space when I come back"; and a dramatic reduction in charitable activities because "while I applaud the amount of charity work the company does, it seems like we were spending too much time on these initiatives - and time is is money".
Other outlandish suggestions included installing a bust or portrait of now-chairman Hellawell, and a ban on casual clothing - which was the most controversial point among those who fell for the prank.
"I got a few responses saying ‘great, you're going to fit in well', but I think a lot more people fell for it or weren't quite sure," Watt said. "I think there was a lot of chatter going on on WhatsApp.
"The thing that upset people most of all was the dress code one. They really weren't in favour of dressing up. That's clearly very important so I won't be going near that one again!"
Like Hellawell, Watt sits in the middle of the sales floor at Softcat's Marlow office and is part of the hot-desk scramble in the London base.
This was the one thing that Watt feared may take him some time to adapt to - however, this was not the case.
"I was a bit concerned about how I might deal with that, having had an office for years," he said.
"It wasn't a very big one because I don't value the showiness - the confidentiality of it and the ability to isolate yourself from time to time [was useful], but I haven't missed that at all. I've fully embraced the Softcat way."
A large chunk of his first three months in charge, Watt explained, has been spent familiarising himself with the business and the people who make it tick.
What will certainly not happen in the early days of his tenure is a radical shift in Softcat's direction, or an overhaul of the management team.
"The focus for me has been about understanding what makes Softcat work," Watt said.
"Everything is new and it has been a big learning curve. I have been very disciplined to make sure that most of what I'm doing is learning about the company, because I don't want to jump to any conclusions. One or two people have said ‘will he fit in with the culture? Or will he come in and make sweeping changes?' The strategy is well set and yes it will modify and evolve over time, but every good strategy will. There will be no sudden shifts in what we do."
A helping hand
The new CEO's early stages at Softcat have been helped greatly by chairman Hellawell, Watt said, praising his predecessor for the "outstanding job" he has done in making the transition as smooth as possible.
The pair keep in contact regularly - either meeting or speaking on the phone once a week - but Watt explained that firm boundaries have been put in place to make sure they both know where they stand.
"Martin has been a great help there in that he has sort of untraditionally gone from CEO to chairman which is not a normal route, apparently, in public companies - but the advantage of that is that he's very much there for us, not just me, to lean on if we reach out to him," he said.
"If we say ‘we'd like you attend this event on behalf of Softcat, or pick up an award, or we want to pick your brains about an unusual situation', he has vast knowledge and expertise around the IT industry.
"He has stepped back from the business; he went dark for about the first four weeks of April, but on the other hand we're quite regularly in contact. The practical reality of that is he's helping me with the transition so it will probably die down a bit, but he's chairman of the board and he has his responsibly around hiring the CEO and CFO and around the whole governance and compliance of the company.
"With each other we have made it very clear where the boundaries are and they are no different to what you would normally expect between a chairman and a chief executive."
Distie to reseller
Watt joined Softcat following a career in distribution which saw him take on senior roles at Computer 2000, Bell Micro, Avnet and Tech Data.
The CEO said he has enjoyed being further down the supply chain since joining Softcat, which allows him to spend more time with end-user customers - something he didn't typically do during his time in distribution.
"I'm from distribution, which is quite a highly vendor-led part of the channel," he explained. "At Softcat, as a reseller, we're very customer led and so our job is to go and own customers. We help them in any way we can to optimise their IT environment.
"I've been speaking to customers more than vendors because Martin encouraged me to do that. He said the vendors will be all over you, half of them will already know you and they'll want to see you, but try to get the balance more to the customer side."
Watt also claimed that, looking up the supply chain, his relationship with vendors is now stronger than it was when he was working in distribution.
"I think it is very obvious to me that being a reseller like Softcat, and being close to the end user, that our value to the manufacturers just feels stronger.
"Ultimately, if we are owning the customers and the vendors are trying to sell their tech into these end users, we are in quite a powerful position in that channel and you feel that more strongly as a reseller than you do as a distributor."
Watt said one of the biggest benefits of stepping out of a global giant like Tech Data and into a smaller business is that he can push through decisions more quickly - rather than having to wait for sign-off from above.
But he does believe that some of the experiences he had in distribution could prove to be helpful in the years to come, as Softcat continues to grow.
"There are some things that I have done in my career to date that may or may not be brought to bear," he said. "I've been acquired, I've acquired, I have done ERP transformations and I've worked in multinational environments.
"I also have quite a network of European and global relationships and so when we sat down and talked about it I said I should continue those because you don't know when I might need to leverage them.
"I was in Las Vegas at [HPE Discover] and met with Antonio [Neri]. I met with Michael Dell in my second week at Softcat at the Dell Partner Advisory meeting and took a selfie with him to show Martin, and said something like ‘the king is dead, long live the king', to make sure he knew that I was equally good at networking with these key IT leaders. I see that as a very important part of my role."
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