The Maclean family is well known in the IT industry and, a few months after father handed over to son, The Channel caught up with the pair to discuss their family business – public and private.
Time has just fl own by for Chris Maclean during his fi rst few months as CEO of Maclean Computing, after taking over from his father, Allan. As we reported on The Channel in June, Allan himself has now taken up the role of Chairman, leaving the management of the company in the capable hands of his son.
According to the pair, the succession has been planned for quite some time, “probably since I was a child,” says Chris. For Allan, having Chris running the company makes him more than just a proud father; he also feels safe in the knowledge that the business he has built is being run by someone with the right experience and skills for the task. “He’s here because he earned the job,” he assures .
And neither of the Macleans is a stranger to hard work. Every businessperson knows that making time for family and friends isn’t always easy when you are trying to drive a business to success. “It just doesn’t happen by coming in at 9 o’clock and going home at 4:30, that’s for sure,” comments Allan. Maclean Computing was founded in 1993 and it has earned its place in the industry thanks to an accumulation of a lot of longer hours – and “bloody hard work”, as Chris wisely puts it.
“There are stories in our history about how we came back here on New Year’s Day because of a network that fell over down at the waterfront and worked for 26 hours straight to rebuild it. To do that I had to come back from a holiday in the Bay of Islands, but that’s what you do when you have a business,” recalls Allan, adding that that’s the secret to their success: “an absolute focus on the needs of a business customer”.
The effort has paid off, as Maclean Computing is now one of the more prominent IT companies in New Zealand. Although it would have probably been a lot easier for Chris to have joined his father’s company straight after graduating, the aspiring businessman wanted to gain experience elsewhere and make his own way in the industry. Freshly graduated from Otago University and armed with his BCom and PostGrad Diploma specialising in management and marketing, Chris began a career that to date includes some of the best known companies in the industry, holding a number of senior sales and business development roles at companies such as MessageLabs.
Chris also spent seven years in the UK working with a number of fast-growing IT companies, culminating with a role at Ascentia. The company was then acquired by IBM and Chris was contracted back to IBM in New Zealand in 2006. Chris chose each overseas position carefully as part of his plan to prepare himself for the role he now holds today. “When I went overseas, I was specifi cally targeting companies to work for that were in IT, reasonably small but fast-growing. I got my experience abroad so when I came back I could add some value,” he explains. “Allan and I agreed that it was an important thing for me to do. You need to have different experiences and bring different things to the table.”
Although there was no official promise that Chris would work for the family firm, Allan could see early on that he was cut out for it. His faith in Chris’ capabilities as a CEO comes not only from the experience that his son has gathered over the years, but also from his natural talent and aptitude for the business. “It evolved as he went through high school and went off into business. I could see he was a man who had the capability to do that. Most of his jobs have been in preparation for this, even if not deliberately,” says Allan. Also, Chris is a keen technology enthusiast; always up to date with the latest and greatest in the world of gadgets. “You should see him with his iPod,” jokes his father. “If I went into the market, I couldn’t fi nd a better appointee,” he says, without hiding a proud smile, but quickly adding: “Don’t tell him I said this!”
Chris originally joined Maclean as the Sales and Marketing Director and the role was so demanding, he jokes that he almost felt relieved to be appointed CEO! The feedback regarding his appointment from all the customers and partners that Maclean Computing deals with has also been good.
Chris has been lucky to have a lot of good advice coming his way, including some wise words from competitors. Taking up responsibility for a company during a recession is an added challenge, but one that Chris has welcomed with open arms. “There’s a lot of upside to taking over a company during a recession. If we can survive and prosper during this period, we’re setting ourselves very well for the future and I’m pretty confi dent we’ll fly through this recession. We’ve had a fantastic start to the year and our first calendar quarter was miles up on the previous year.”
The new CEO doesn’t hide his excitement about his new role and his high expectations for the future of the company. Chris is leading Maclean Computing as it goes through an expansion phase. “This strategic plan has seen us hire a number of new senior management staff recently. We have grown the business from 55 to 72 staff over the last 12 months, acquiring ATL along the way, and we’re planning for ongoing growth.”
The appointment in May of Andrew Charlesworth as the new Marketing Director is, according to Chris, “another string to the bow”. He adds that the new managemnet team is settling in well and becoming “a neat team”. And you’d be wrong to think that the announcements will end there. “There’ll be another one or two more exciting things that we’ll be happy to share with the market.”
Allan still spends a lot of time at the company, working on a number of projects already underway in his new role as Chairman, including upgrading some of the internal systems, as well as mentoring his son. Like Chris, Allan Maclean is also pleased with the way the transition is happening. “Chris came here quite quickly to the role of Director of Sales and Marketing, which was kind of half of the business straight away,” he points out, adding that “it’s been a very smooth transition, with hardly any difficult moments”.
Despite running a family business, the Macleans try to separate work and play, although they don’t always succeed. “I’d be lying if I said we never talk about business at wrong times. We do and we always have, ever since I can remember,” admits Chris. It is his mother who ensures that they don’t get too out of line. “We’ve been quite lucky because my mother is a very strong character and she’s probably done a good job putting things together, particularly during the last couple of years,” he adds.
And Chris has his own young family now too. He and his wife have a one-year-old daughter and a baby boy on the way. When he doesn’t have his CEO hat on, Chris tries to make the most of his time, touring around New Zealand with his family. He’s also an avid fan of water sports, including boating and fi shing. As he says himself, “every senior role puts pressure on your social life”, but he is determined not to become addicted to work like his father admits to be. “I’m a workaholic; the last fi ve years have been work, work and work,” confesses Allan.
Indeed, Allan Maclean hasn’t quite caught up at home yet. Despite semi-retirement, at 65, his mind is full of projects and ideas. He plans to develop a network that he believes will be very useful for charities, and to do some travelling and trace his Scottish and Nova Scotian roots. “You won’t catch me babysitting too often!” he jokes. Chris mentions, however, that there has been a lot more work than retirement so far, although his father leaves the executive leadership side of things to his son these days.
For the new CEO, time is the biggest challenge. “There’s so much I want to do and I want to do it today,” he comments. “I can clearly see what the future looks like for us as a company and I just want to get there as soon of possible.” For Allan, it doesn’t seem like too long ago when Chris was putting memory into servers during his school holidays as his first job for Maclean Computing.
When asked if he would like any of his children to follow in their father and grandfather’s steps, Chris smiles and mentions the little boy who is still on his way to the world. “No pressure on the poor little fella, though!”