When Felix Wong visits Ingram Micro’s warehouses, he says “it's like I’m a kid in a candy shop.”
“I love technology,” says Wong, who has served as chief country executive for Australia and New Zealand since July 2015. "I love all the technology we have at Ingram. So when I get to the warehouse, I see all that automation and it’s cool."
The warehouse is also a reminder of how Ingram has changed, and needs to keep changing.
“So if you look at distribution and ask ‘what is your real asset?’, it is very much the people you have in the business,” Wong told CRN. “As you're driving change, you actually have to bring people on the journey.”
And Wong feels that Ingram has both successfully navigated change and must do so again and again in the future.
Wong’s take on Ingram’s history is that from its inception in 1979, it continually improved its hardware-centric services, becoming more sophisticated as it went from distributing PCs to shifting complex data centre products, but essentially still focusing on moving product.
He therefore rates the 2012 acquisition of mobile device distributor BrightPoint, which also brought him to Ingram, as a significant inflection point.
“BrightPoint moved us into mobile device distribution and added a new channel. But it also added lifecycle management, reverse logistics, device disposal and financing.”
Those skills, and a series of acquisitions that helped Ingram to build its own cloud platform, set Ingram up to start thriving in the world of SaaS, cloud and subscription revenue, and offering a similar-but-different set of services for partners.
“Our cloud business was initially very small,” Wong recalled. “It was two or three people that basically spent part of their time working with the software team selling this stuff that was a cloud. Now we have 30 people in the cloud business, it's a sizeable business and the marketplace we operate is very big. And we're now the largest platform player in the world because we acquired the IP.”
“Don't get me wrong,” Wong said. “A big chunk of our business is still servicing the channel and providing the technology items that they need every day.”
But he described that side of the business – managing inventory and helping resellers to manage working capital - as “table stakes.”
“A growing part of our business is very much around educating, enabling, and providing knowledge into the part of the business community that needs it, which is really the small medium part of the marketplace.”
And again that’s where people matter. To grow new businesses like cloud, or Ingram’s finance services, Wong has had to hire people from beyond the distribution industry and make them part of an expanding and multi-disciplinary team.
“They might be from business development within vendors, they may be from related industries. Those people bring in IP and knowledge and capability of the business, and our existing people can learn from it. It's very much about teaching people new tricks.”
And for those whose skill set is in Ingram’s transactional heritage, it’s about making sure they feel valued and appreciated as they continue to deliver excellent services and ensuring their skills and experience informs the new people working on new businesses.
Wong told CRN that starting those businesses and hiring those new people to build new businesses is among his biggest challenges as a leader.
“As a leader I have to be willing to make the investments and my bets. We talk about being courageous in the business because it takes a bit of courage to go out and invest in these things.”
Like any business, Ingram Micro has budgets to meet. When it starts new offerings, “you're taking part of that to grow something that you're not going to get anything out of this year, it's going to be next year. But you also have to recognise that if you don't do that, you're going to be left behind.”
Because Ingram is a technology company, Wong the passion for technology that makes him excited to visit a warehouse is therefore critical, because it helps him to see why an investment is necessary.
Today, he feels that continuing to evolve Ingram to become more capable of helping its customers to become consultative and meet end-customers’ business needs.
40 years young
During CRN’s time with Wong he took obvious pride in Ingram having reached its 40th birthday, and shared his opinion that he sees Apple and Microsoft as members of the same tech-companies-born-in-the-1970s-and-still-going strong corporate peer group.
He thinks emerging technologies will keep Ingram growing.
“Artificial intelligence is exciting to me,” he said. “We already do analytical data mining.” Ingram can therefore now do things like predict when buyers will look to make a new PC purchase and use automated marketing to drive the sale for its partners.
“Pricing can be done algorithmically,” he added. “And in a lot of our warehouses, we've started to roll out different forms of automation. We're continuing to try different things at different warehouses around the world with automation.”
“I think in five years’ time robotics will be at the same sort of curve level way cloud is today.”
And he feels Ingram will be there ready to offer services that vendors and resellers need.
“The beauty about Ingram is, we are big. But we're willing to start these new areas to grow new areas of technology, business and markets, because we see the need to continue to transform. One of the key things is just the willingness to continue to evolve, and be willing to make mistakes, learn from the mistakes and survive and move on.”
And Wong knows that evolution will happen in part because of the feedback Ingram will get from the channel.
Between vendors’ push to change and the channel’s pull, Wong feels Ingram always has good market signals about what it needs to do next.
And he thinks that will lead to a merging of cloud and traditional distribution.
“I think cloud what we call our cloud business will blur with what we call our distribution business. And we’ll see the merging of our financial business with our traditional distribution business.”
And that coming together, he thinks, will give Ingram a shot at matching the kind of longevity he sees from IBM and HP.
“I look at this business, and I look at our willingness to transform and evolve. And yeah, I don't see why we can't keep succeeding.”