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Get to know: Craig Somerville, MD and CEO of Somerville

Get to know: Craig Somerville, MD and CEO of Somerville

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On the lighter side of things we ask Craig Somerville, Managing Director and CEO of Somerville, what makes him tick.

What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?

Running your own business, you’re out there in a surf boat with the team, rowing continuously. It’s rare you get time to stick your head up above the gunnels to ask ‘what am I actually achieving?’ Welcome to my life for the past 38 years!

What I was really chuffed about, back in 2011, was being inducted into the Australian Reseller News Hall of Fame. It was an acknowledgement from my peers, and the industry in general, that, whatever I’m doing, there must be something reasonably OK about it!

What first made you think of a career in technology?

I sort of tripped into it. In Year 12, I wanted to be a geologist but the careers adviser at school warned me off. He said there were about 600 people in the country doing geology at university and about two jobs a year. So, I made a quick career decision. Electrical contracting looked like a better bet so I did a trade apprenticeship and started a business with my brother. We fairly quickly moved into networking and then systems and software. It may not have been an obvious pivot but it’s worked out for me.

Craig Somerville, Managing Director and CEO of Somerville

What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?

Day to day, when the world’s a wonderful place and everything is cruising along beautifully, I manage Somerville in a visionary style – relaxed, big picture, not too caught up in the weeds. During COVID, and at various times during the past few years when we’ve been growing quickly and enacting significant change, I’ve had to adopt a more authoritative style. It’s about adapting to the environment you’re operating in.

What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?

At Somerville, we’re very focused on infrastructure and we see some exciting innovation in the multi-cloud space. There’s a lot of talk about containerzation and technologies that enable us to build multi-cloud and portable work platforms, so we can move workloads around more easily. Obviously, there’s a lot going on in cybersecurity, with some really good stuff happening around visibility and continual monitoring, although we’ve always subscribed to the view that security is a practice, not a product. And while it’s a bit out of scope for us, IoT is going gangbusters.

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?

Sadly, a few years ago, I had detached retinas in both my eyes so that pretty much put paid to surfing, golf and adventure bike riding! I’ve been an avid fly fisherman since I was 14 and I love to chuck a rod in, in my backyard – we live on Narrabeen Lakes in Sydney’s Northern Beaches – and anywhere else in the world where the trout are jumping. Day to day, I like to unwind over a hot oven. I’m a foodie and a wine tragic and I find it relaxing going into shopping on the way home, buying a few ingredients and cooking a nice dinner from scratch. Homemade smoked salmon ravioli anyone?

If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?

There’s nothing I’d do differently because I never planned my career. We were two young guys starting a little contracting business and here we are, four decades later, and I’m the CEO of a technology services provider with a team of 80. I never planned for that to happen; I just followed the road and it’s been a pretty good journey. I love the ICT industry and the people in it – it’s very tight knit in Australia, everyone knows everyone – and although I’m moving towards the last lap of my career, I’ll always keep my finger in.

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?

Security is a big one. After recent ransomware events, we’ve seen businesses re-evaluate their spending. Not so long ago, it wasn’t uncommon for us to recommend technologies and there the proposals would sit. Insurance companies are helping drive the investment. They’re ramping up their expectations and taking a hard look at customers’ security postures when setting premiums; in some instances, commissioning third party security audits before they’ll renew policies. We’re also seeing a bit of a run of on-premises infrastructure upgrades, from customers that put their ICT spending on hold in 2020. The lion’s share of businesses are going cloud but not everyone.

What are the region specific challenges when implementing new technologies in APAC?

In the early cloud days, data sovereignty was a big challenge; a real impediment when it came to migrating customers. That’s why we built a lot of our own private infrastructure, so that could cease to be a problem. That aside, Australia and New Zealand, Somerville’s primary markets, are pretty quick in their uptake of new technologies. During COVID, logistics and supply were tricky but, from a purely tech perspective, we’re a global society and we usually keep pace with the US when it comes to rolling out new solutions.

What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?

As CEO, it was incumbent on me to get out there, outline a response strategy and make sure everyone was on the same page after COVID hit. Our leadership team – myself included – had to learn to make quicker decisions, and to get comfortable with uncertainty and pivoting on a sixpence. The crisis has taught us that we can do things differently and adopt new practices on the fly and I expect we’ll keep doing that in the next year – being nimble and decisive and willing to be innovative.

What advice would you offer to someone aspiring to obtain a C-level position in your industry?

It’s an oldie but a goodie: if you love your job, you never work a day in your life. So, if you don’t love what you’re doing, stop doing it and find something you’re passionate about – hopefully you can. I’m lucky because I love this business and the industry so it’s easy and satisfying to keep doing what I do. If you’re looking to grow a successful business of your own, focus on the fundamentals – budgets, forecasts, cost control and so on – and things will just work. And get involved. By networking, sitting on committees and being part of industry events, you learn from your peers and it’s good for your career.

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