Partner Watch

Piece by piece

“Perceptions change with experience, so if you meet your commitments, deliver what you promise and guarantee customer satisfaction you can build a successful working relationship,” says Marissa Safe, COO and senior VP at FDC International.

An engineer by qualification, upon embarking on her professional career in the United States with companies such as LG and Everest Computers, Safe found that she actually enjoyed the idea of selling technology more than the idea of solution design or engineering per se. Upon returning to the Middle East, Safe then set up FDC International that focused on reselling LG memory products and CPUs.

15 years later, FDC International has grown to be one of the largest IT distributors in the region generating over $ 425 million in revenues in 2011. Today, the company boasts of an impressive portfolio of vendors such as Lenovo, Acer and Asus, among many others and has maintained its leadership in the components space while simultaneously venturing into other areas like software, security, peripherals and storage among others.

The company shares Safe’s passion for selling technology. “At FDC, we work towards being a trusted consultant that bridges the gap between vendors and the channel community. We focus on learning and encourage delegation. We consider ourselves value added distributors because we are not just box movers; we actively invest in many training initiatives, marketing activities, and road shows across the region. In addition to that we maintain logistics, service support and warehousing facilities to maintain a steady flow of supply across our countries for operations, of which there are over 15,” says Girish K, director, Components at FDC International.

Over the years, the company has built rock solid, trust- based relationships with its many vendor partners as well as resellers. “A work ethic is essential, the commitment to deliver is imperative for success. In business, situations aren’t always easy nor are they predictable, yet there is no room for excuses. Our strategies are built on this concept, so we are constantly on the lookout for new opportunities and emerging markets to ensure the business continues to grow despite regional economic or political events.  So if business in one country isn’t meeting the forecasted targets, we don’t waste time waiting for the situation to turn; instead we focus on tapping emerging markets and opportunities. Although luck can contribute to ones success, there is no substitute for hard work and dedication.” says Safe.

She describes finding people with the right work ethic as a considerable challenge. “The region lacks a strong work ethic; the definition of work is different-  people lack passion and are not willing to go above and beyond their job roles and excuses are abundant. The expectations for pay are very high, yet the quality of work is very low. It is very difficult to judge a person’s commitment and dedication to the job when we interview them. This is why we give our employees the room to grow and prove themselves to ensure we retain the people with the right attitude and right skill sets,” Safe states.

The concept applies not just to FDC’s employees but also its vendors and channel partners. “People’s personalities are different, whether they are partners, customers or vendors; we know that their needs and perceptions may not necessarily be the same as ours. Each and every person’s capabilities and capacities are different. So like we do for our employees, we take the time to understand the needs and goals of our vendors and partners. We actively collect feedback from our regional channels and share this information with our vendors to help them devise effective strategies to boost their business, these strategies even help our competitors. We advise and consult our vendor partners and don’t just add products in our basket, we ensure we are competent and understand the technology well enough.  We respect the competition and don’t practice unhealthy business or engage in price wars; we understand customers need to have a fair share of choice in the market in terms of price and availability,” she says.

Safe adds that the company maintains its product portfolio and brand image based on the very same ideas, through active knowledge sharing with all its stakeholders FDC works towards mutual growth. “Our massive geographic reach is perhaps our key strength and gives vendors access to valuable information that helps them devise effective regional strategies,” she says.

“While success stories across different countries may be the same, there are peculiarities. Everybody wants a good product and justify ROI but partners in Saudi Arabia want longer payment terms, while those in Jordan want exclusive partnerships. Similarly, product demand across every market is different, for instance while Saudi Arabia shows significant interest in the mobility space Egypt still shows strength in the components segment,” Safe explains.

Safe adds that selecting the right partners is a challenge. “We have seven business managers or area managers who are responsible for reaching out to the resellers. These managers then study a resellers’ references and business plan, collect their feedback on what they need from us and understand their goals and objectives. We look out for partners with a long term vision and the financial capability to follow through their commitments.  We don’t want partners with focus on trading; we want partners who want to add value, who can provision services. We want value added resellers (VAR).  Partners who want profitability to reinvest in expansion and growth,” she says.

Despite its explosive success in the Middle East, Girish points to credit limitations and lacking forecast reports on the part of resellers as being key business challenges. “Resellers tend to ignore the need for forecasting in the distribution line, where the margins are very slim and operations are spread out across many countries.  We need a tentative forecast so we can manage stocking and supply so as to maintain a healthy inventory. Based on these forecasts we then supply goods to our primary partners and share the rest amongst the smaller and often new partners. This helps keep room open for us to sign on new partners or venture into the untapped markets,” he says.

The company offers a range of technical and sales training programmes in addition to incentivising partners for their successes. FDC has recently completed a successful run of training sessions in Algeria, Jordan and Qatar. The company also recently held a three- day channel event in Dubai, UAE that brought together 120 channel partners from across the MENA and CIS region together with 14 prominent vendor partners.  Over the course of the event, FDC and its vendors took partners through a series of vendors focused product trainings and registered partners for limited availability incentive programmes.

“This was an opportunity for the channel and the vendors to connect. Under the umbrella of this event, vendors get to meet their channel partners from different countries and regions which helps them better understand the dynamics and peculiarities in demand and business opportunities. We also conducted an award ceremony recognising the efforts of the top three channel partners across each brand and the top three performing partners for FDC overall. This event was a draft event and based on the feedback from our vendors and partners we now have better idea of the logistics involved and the need for such platforms,” says Alan Pourmiza, infrastructure manager at FDC International.

According to Girish, the company is now working on venturing into the mobility space with the distribution of tablets and smartphones while maintaining its strong hold in components distribution.

“Being a well known components distributor, very happy knowing that many others think that the components business is dying. The vaccum that is created by their slimming investments is filled by FDC and that is the primary reason for the growth in our components distribution revenues. Our  growth has been significant enough for us to justify and maintain our own investments in this line of business. People have understood the need for upgradability and have started showing interest in high end components. So yes, the components business isn’t dying, there is room for innovation and upgrades particularly across the high end motherboards and over clocking graphic cards segment,” he says

Safe adds that the company will continue to focus on sustainable and healthy growth. “We want to expand operations with existing vendors. For instance, if we are doing business with a vendor in Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon, we want to extend this partnership to include distribution in Saudi Arabia as well. We want to deepen and strengthen our relationships with our vendor partners,” Safe concludes. //

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