Colourful Career of ASBIS Ireland’s Director

August 19, 2008

Colourful Career of ASBIS Ireland’s Director

Tech Central, Ireland’s most popular technology website, explores the remarkable career of Trish Egan, ASBIS Ireland's Managing Director.

Tech Central, Ireland’s most popular technology website, explores the remarkable career of Trish Egan, ASBIS Ireland's Managing Director.

Growing up in the 1980s, Trish Egan found herself joining the ranks of Irish nationals heading abroad in search of employment. Despite training in hotel management, her first job on leaving her home in Knock was in the finance department at a third-party maintenance company in Britain, where she drew on the accountancy she had studied at college. To date, she has never worked in hotel management.

Trish Egan in MoscowThat job was the beginning of a 15-year stint of living and working abroad before she returned to take over as managing director at Asbis Ireland in 2002. She has never worked in any other industry and admits, with a little surprise, to having spent more than half her life in IT.

After four years in the third-party maintenance world she made the jump into distribution, joining CMS Peripherals, where she stayed for eight years and rose to the rank of finance director. Ironi-cally, given her roots in Mayo, Egan spent all her time working at the London office of a distributor that had an Irish operation in Kiltimagh, a mere nine kilometres from her Knock home.

In 1999 she was headhunted to become finance director of the Asbis Group. Was she surprised at the approach? "Asbis required a finance director and I fitted the bill. I guess they recognised that there was a good fit with my professional offering and experience in the IT industry," she says.

Established four years before Egan joined, Asbis operates across EMEA with 31 warehouses in over 25 countries supplied from four main distribution hubs. It specialises in IT components, peripherals, own brand PCs and notebooks together with a growing range of consumer multimedia products.

What qualities did Egan develop during her time at CMS. "The business experience I gained before Asbis instilled in me the necessity of setting goals, planning, commitment, perseverance, honesty, hard work and learning from my successes and failures. Reviewing what worked well and not so well ensured that I learned from my mistakes - as well as knowing what always worked well," she replied.

The job at Asbis entailed relocating to the company's headquarters in Cyprus, but Egan is keen to downplay any suggestions that it was fun in the sun. "It was hard work but extremely rewarding," she recalls. There were over 100 people employed at the head office with "every nationality under the sun there". At that time, Asbis had built its business on taking vendors into Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Bloc countries. Egan found it "very exciting" travelling to places such as Russia, usually with an interpreter. "I used to think I was amazingly important," she says.

She found working for a pan-European distributor like Asbis "hugely different" to her experience at CMS. "There was a different set of dynamics and challenges."

After three years, Egan returned to Ireland and took up the position of managing director at Asbis Ireland. Fifteen years after leaving, she found herself back working in Knock. Was it difficult making the transition from a career spent in finance to managing director? "I found working in the fi-nancial side of business gave me a great grounding in all business elements," she says. "Also, I always had increasing degrees of experience in how to manage a company. The important thing for me was to have full confidence in the functional expertise and their input into the decision making process here at Asbis. Fortunately, I have been able to build a strong team of functional experts who have helped me to develop Asbis Ireland into the successful business it is."

She has been in the position for six years now and the Irish operation has grown into a €37.2m turnover operation employing 22 people. She says that although it "overlaps" with a number of other distributors, Asbis has "no direct rival" in Ireland. Among the brands it distributes in Ireland are AMD, Intel, Seagate, Mustek and Samsung, as well as its own-brand Prestigio and Canyon products. The Irish operation is able to pick and choose from a huge number of products and ven-dors held by its parent company. The buying power it gets through the Asbis group provides "real competitive advantage and we are able to offer real competitive prices on a comprehensive range of products. The current product portfolio encompasses over 15,000 products".

Egan says she gets offered a lot of vendor lines at group level but there are some products which she would not consider because they are subject to "continued price erosion from mostly UK distributors. When times are difficult in the UK, they always look across the water to see if there are easy pickings here".

Trish EganThe temptation to buy product from other countries is an issue that Egan is keen to address. The Internet has made it easier to compare prices and brands, so resellers and users "are more likely to consider buying from other countries, especially if price is the key differentiator". ASBIS is trying to counter this trend by warning people not to overlook "the true cost of ownership". Factors such as after-sales service (technical support and warranty) and payment terms, including the cost of cash versus credit, as well as exchange rates, rates should all be part of the decision making process.

"We believe customers should look for the best price but with the full service surround," Egan ar-gues. "At Asbis we focus on innovation, style, quality, price, service and support."

On the subject of the Internet, around 25% of Asbis Ireland's business is online, but this is signifi-cantly lower than in the group's other operations. "I'm amazed how much more the rest of our of-fices have gone online," Egan says. It's not unusual for other countries to conduct more than 70% of their business online.

Nevertheless, she claims, Asbis Ireland was one of the first to market the Internet as a big part of its overall business in this country. "We were a lone voice in the early days," Egan claims. While many argue that Irish customers like to buy face to face, she is not convinced it's that cut and dried.

The same goes for those who believe Irish customers prefer to buy from local or indigenous suppliers: "The Irish channel has always required that but when buyers see a lower price, you'd be surprised how quickly they change their minds."

In the meantime, the main preoccupations for Asbis in 2008 are how to manage a situation were customer expectations continue to rise and market forces continue to erode margins. "To combat this we have focused on trying to understand our customer's requirements holistically. Despite the margin erosion, our customers are still demanding extended payment terms, quality, stylish and innovative products, choice of brands, next-day delivery and immediate turnaround on warranty goods."

The challenge for Asbis will be to maintain revenue growth, maximise shareholder value and con-tinue to build on its relationships with suppliers and customers.

Egan is keen to promote a "shared company vision" as a key to success in business. "In my early career it was often apparent that there was no shared company vision and this often manifested itself with unnecessary disputes between different departments," she states. "Having a shared company vision where everybody in the business understands how they personally affect the success of the business is something I have always strived to achieve within Asbis."

Egan is yet another finance professional who has gone on to manage an IT business but, unlike some of the others, she does not race cars or jump out of aeroplanes in her spare time. "There are no strings to my bow," she says modestly. Egan and her husband are "ordinary, everyday people. When I go home, I go home".

©2007 Tech Central

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