Q&A: Zones CEO On Evolving The Company, Culture And What's Driving Growth

Wrapping Up Year One

A year into his job as CEO at Zones, Murray Wright said that the solution provider, No. 31 on CRN's SP500 list, has been making some significant changes, and the investments are paying off.

Take a look at what Wright had to say about the changes to both the company's go-to-market strategy and its culture, as well as his insights into the industry and what he sees as the channel's 2015 outlook.

My big question is, it's been a year since you started as CEO of Zones. How has it been going?

I think it's been a pretty smooth transition to Zones. I'm really personally enjoying it. I think in the first 12 months we've accomplished quite a bit.

There's obviously more to do but I think looking back on the last 12 months, it's been a great transition for me personally and I'd like to believe we've made some good progress in our business as well.

What is the most significant change that Zones has made?

There's lots of changes in the marketplace. The dynamics are changing and they needed to be fine-tuned at Zones as well ... As we're continuing to grow the business aggressively, there are a few areas that we've focused on in the last 12 months.

One was providing our team members with better and more tools, starting with an ERP system that we introduced last year before I arrived. It's provided a tremendous amount of data for our employees so that the closer we are to the customers and the closer we have access to information, the better off we'll be ... We've also had quite a bit of time on our internal processes as we've grown so quickly over the last several years and crashed through that billion-dollar mark. I think it's important to make sure we're challenging ourselves to be more responsive, faster, enable our sales teams and empower our customer-facing teams and our partner-facing teams to make good decisions.

It sounds like you're working a lot to internally develop the company. What are you doing to grow the company externally?

My focus is all of the things I just commented on and continuing to build good relationships with our vendors and partners. I feel as though I've got a very strong sales leadership team and sales team, in general, and they do an excellent job of connecting with our customers and working with our customers.

From a priority perspective, those were the areas that I wanted to focus on. But, we've got some exciting results that have been driven by some of our overall market push efforts. That would include the Advanced Technology Solutions, and various parts of that business. It's very aggressively growing for us. We've also done a better job in aligning our initiatives with partner initiatives, so we get a little more specific. Whether that happens to be based around mobility, or security, or software, we've had some very good success around those technology areas.

Are any of your advanced technology solutions driving growth in particular? Or is it balanced?

It's a mix. I think, generally, if you were to look at it and say advanced technology and you think about the data center and networking, storage, all of that seems to be a very good growth for us.

We're having some success around the Internet of Things and positioning ourselves with customers by providing what we believe are very unique solutions in helping them solve some problems. We're in the early stages of seeing some great results there as well. Security surprisingly is another area that we've had a lot of success there too.

What about more traditional technologies such as PCs? Are those driving growth as well?

I would say it's been surprisingly strong. Surprisingly because I think for years people have talked about ... the death of the PC forever.

Our results on a year-to-date basis are very surprising from a positive perspective. I think that probably the end of support for XP had a role to play in all of that, I suspect, but in Q3 I guess we'll find out for sure. So far, our month for July was a record month for the company. There's indications that that trend for us is going to continue.

Who are your top five vendors right now?

The top five vendors for us are the usual cast of characters that you would see: HP, Microsoft, Cisco, Lenovo, Dell.

As the market continues to evolve, who is your biggest competition right now? Is it changing?

That's an interesting view, and I often tell our team that from the view of distribution who sells to thousands of unique VARs and resellers every month, it's a highly competitive marketplace.

You can cut that up by a regional perspective or from a national standpoint. Many of our large national competitors are publicly traded, so you can see the results that they're driving in the North America or U.S. marketplace, so everybody can see that. That competition remains intense, as does the more regional competitors who are more aligned with local markets. I don't think it's any different than it was last year. I think we're all looking to grow our business.

Going into your second year, what's the game plan for the next year or so?

We've got a very good start on our global footprint, and I expect as we go into 2015 that we'll become more global.

We're finding that our customers are very pleased with our ability to execute in various parts of the world. We're going to take that feedback and continue to invest in expanding our global footprint. We also know that we need to be having a bigger, wider portfolio of technology solutions for our customers. We're working hard on that right now, like everybody is. We expect that at this time next year we'll be a lot better than this year.

You mentioned a lot before about developing the culture at Zones. What's the strategy there for the next year?

I think it's really important for us to have a unique and engaging corporate culture, and we're working on that.

A lot of the things that we talked about earlier are really a reflection of making sure that we've got the right people in the right jobs, and we create the culture for them to be successful and contribute to the growth of the company. You can look at us driving the execution and working with the change management required to deliver on those things.

The culture development piece is interesting. Can you provide an example of what Zones is doing?

At this current time, there are multiple generations in the workforce at the same time.

It's our responsibility to make sure that we have an environment, whether you're a Millennial or you're a Baby Boomer or Generation Y, that you feel confident you've got a career trajectory, and you're in an environment where you're able to be successful. I think it's easy to say that, but it's difficult to actually in practice make sure that you've got that addressed. We're working hard on it. I would not say that we've got all of the answers there by any means, but we are certainly are working hard at creating the right environment and culture for us to continue to be successful for our team.

As you build out your technology solutions portfolio, are there any technologies you are looking to focus on?

I think you'll see us come out with a more comprehensive mobility strategy. I don't know that anybody really has all the answers for a full mobility solution.

We're working on improving our overall mobility solution that we can offer to our customers today. I think security, as you know, would be no surprise, whether it's physical security or just the focus on consulting to provide advice on security to customers. Managed services, we've just gotten started with managed services. We've got a growing portfolio of managed services, and I see that being another area where we're going to invest and continue to grow the business.

Overall, what's your 2015 outlook?

I wouldn’t tell you what we're planning to grow, but I can certainly share the fact that ... we've invested a lot in the foundation of our business, improving the foundation of our business.

If you think about tools, process and skill development, and adding resources and testing and taking feedback from our customers, our vendor partners and our employees, that's really what we've spent quite a bit of time on in 2014. As we were doing that, so far this year after seven months, our results are demonstrating that we're ahead of where we thought we were going to be at the beginning of the year. We're going to go into a planning process in the next couple of months here for 2015, and if the trend and the trajectory stays the way that is now, I would expect that 2015 will be a very exciting year for us.

What is the biggest challenge in 2015 for Zones?

I think it's really interesting, all of the changes that are occurring in the marketplace. That's the exciting part of being in and around the IT industry. I mean, look at the market changes. I can't accurately predict what's going to happen from the market perspective, but I want to make sure Zones is prepared to be nimble and make adjustments based on the market changing.

Of course, there's always the disclaimer about what's going to happen with the financial health of the United States, but if you assume that that remains fairly static, then the market dynamics and the changes in technology are all those things that we have to be aware of and determine how we can capitalize on the opportunities. No matter what happens, there's adjustments that we should be able to make to position ourselves for success.