Nextgen has appointed Wendy O’Keeffe as managing director of Asia, tasked with launching regional distribution operations from Singapore.
Effective immediately, Channel Asia can exclusively reveal that O’Keeffe will hold responsibility for building in-market capabilities from the ground up, relocating to the city-state to establish local teams across Southeast Asia and beyond ahead of an official market launch on 1 January 2021.
Through this appointment, plans are now in place to leverage O’Keeffe’s pedigree of launching distribution and services businesses across the region, following more than seven years as executive vice president of Asia Pacific at Westcon.
During this time - between 2009 and 2016 - O’Keeffe established Westcon in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, in addition to Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan and mainland China. Most recently, O’Keeffe held the position of regional manager of Australia and New Zealand at Tech Data since October 2017.
“In looking for someone to lead our expansion into Asia, Wendy is the obvious choice,” said John Walters, group CEO of Nextgen. “Our working relationship started back in 2000 at the Westcon Group and I have always had enormous respect for her both as a colleague and competitor.
“Her leadership skills, reputation, relationships and proven success throughout Asia is just the right mix to establish and lead the our Nextgen channel services business model into ASEAN with distinct local flavours.”
Drawing on more than 30 years of distribution experience, O’Keeffe - inducted into the ARN Hall of Fame in 2011 - spent a total of 15 years with Westcon Group alongside 13 years at Tech Pacific, acquired by Ingram Micro in 2004.
“Over the past decade I have watched the Nextgen business model mature into a strong industry competitor with its fresh, unique and innovative approach to distribution and services,” O’Keeffe added. “John is an industry legend, a passionate leader who drives a positive culture focusing on diversity, trust, courage and empowerment.
“Most importantly John places the customer at the centre of everything he does, always with the upmost of professionalism, delivering an exceptional partnering experience.”
In her new role, O’Keeffe will also work closely with existing vendors of Nextgen across Australia and New Zealand to help facilitate channel expansion into Asia, alongside developing partnerships with new vendors to drive regional growth ambitions.
Central to such efforts will be the replication of Nextgen’s channel services business in Asia, with a specific focus on enterprise software, cloud, data management and cyber security.
“Once we firm up those partnerships, that will determine which countries we enter during the launch phase,” O’Keeffe added. “I know Covid-19 is challenging but Asia is a market which is still growing.
“Our intention is to build up our expertise in key end-user verticals across each country with the view of helping partners maximise opportunity from beginning to end. We’re also seeing the rise of the system integrator throughout the region and plan to build on our strong relationships with the global and Indian players from Australia and New Zealand.”
In addition to distribution, the wider group offers a range of channel services including Stratus, a cloud centre of excellence; CyberLab, a proof-of-concept cyber training and solution facility and Optima, a software advisory firm.
Other offerings span Bang, a creative digital marketing agency specialising in MDF and pre-sales consulting services; Connect, a carrier-grade cloud provision, billing and ISV platform and Orbus Capital, a payment solutions platform designed to increase partner cashflow and deal sizes.
O’Keeffe - who will transition from Sydney to Singapore over the coming months - cited Nextgen’s unique competitive advantage as a key factor in her decision to return to the city-state.
“I’ve worked with John before and we share the same values which is important,” O’Keeffe explained. “Nextgen were so difficult to beat in the market, and I’ve experienced that first-hand during the past three years.
“I’ve worked at distributors large and small and when I was hired by John at Westcon in early 2001, I went from having a $500 million quota to $50 million, and hundreds of staff to 13. I did that because I wanted to specialise and it’s the same case with Nextgen, this provided an opportunity to build again.
“If I look back on my career in distribution, the best times were during the build phase. The Asian expansion at Westcon was so energising so regardless of whether the company is small, medium or large, the business development opportunity is what appeals.”
More than a decade ago, O’Keeffe said Westcon first entered the Asian market with a “build and buy” strategy in place, before moving to embrace organic growth due to the challenging nature of acquisitions across the region.
“It’s very difficult to buy in Asia,” O’Keeffe acknowledged. “The challenge when acquiring in emerging markets is that the valuation expectations are different on both sides of the table.
“We launched Westcon in Asia from Australia, not the global business, and we essentially started from scratch. The key to success is not only hiring local talent but hiring the best local talent, that makes the difference in terms of execution.”
Yet O’Keeffe was quick to accept that the recruitment of talent in such a competitive market is seldom straightforward, emphasising the need for a “considered and selective” hiring process.
“You have to hire the right talent in Asia and the decisions you make around that process must be highly considered which often takes a little time,” she said. “Our goal is to hire local talent in every market we operate in. We’ll hire a country manager first who embodies the ethics and integrity of Nextgen, and then they can build their teams.”
Of the 80 employees housed within the Nextgen business however, only two have a pure-play distribution background in Walters and O’Keeffe, highlighting a shift in market approach.
“Take our recent hire of Lynne Jeffery in New Zealand,” O’Keeffe outlined. “John hired Lynne who is not from distribution but is perfect for the role due to her services style mentality and background. Depending on which country we start in, which will be based on our vendor partnerships, we will also look to recruit a leader capable of understanding services and partnering.”