Centari on a certainty with HP

Centari Systems has won Hewlett-Packard's (HP) dealer of the year award. Run by the brothers Johnston -- Jon and Lon -- Centari has only been in business six years but is already turning over $50 million with 70 people. This volume was a significant, though not the only, factor in topping the list of 13 resellers that deal with HP direct.

Jon, managing director, who is a Virginian by birth (but now an Australian citizen), originally came to Australia with HP nine-plus years ago, then left to start Centari two years later. Brother Lon only turned up a couple of years ago.

In fact, Jon said he left HP only because he was not happy with its Australian pricing structure. He felt customers were paying too much compared to their US counterparts. So at first he parallel imported from the US in competition with HP Australia and undercut them on pricing. Since then HP has fixed this problem -- though it took years of campaigning.

Some 85 per cent of Centari revenue comes from HP-related business, which Jon says is potentially risky. But it's a risk he's prepared to take.

He says the benefits of dealing with HP are significant. First, it's the breadth of product -- from high-end Unix servers to laser printers and subnotebooks.

Then there's HP's ethical way of doing business -- "it keeps its commitments, doesn't talk down competitors, and it looks after users making sure they are happy. This type of conduct costs, but in the long term it pays off," he said. It also makes its senior management readily accessible to its partners to optimise communication of ideas and concerns.

Another benefit was HP's determination never to interfere with the success of its partners by stepping on their territory. For example it would never sell direct, referring all business through one of its partners.

Said Lon: "This approach means a lot when you 'live' with a vendor."

With Jon having worked at HP in the US, Centari has maintained an excellent network with HP in the US, and this further enhances their partnership. Not that HP is perfect -- "they could still get quicker"."But our eggs are in one basket and it's a measure of our confidence to go with this single vendor.

"And that's HP." b

FOOTNOTE: Hewlett-Packard is seen as one of the good guys in the computer industry. Will this make the difference in its race to the top?

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