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Interview: Jon Sidwick, Maverick

From small business roots to being a major pan-European organisation bridging AV and IT, distributor Maverick has seen significant growth and success. Ian McMurray talked to Jon Sidwick, vice president, Maverick Europe

Why did you join Maverick?

Having previously been with a reseller, I joined Sharp, helping develop their LCD and projector business. I really enjoyed the experience of working with a large blue-chip multinational – over the 11 years I was there, I learned a lot about how a large organisation should work, and being exposed to a very different culture was fascinating.

But: having seen two distinct parts of the AV business, I decided I wanted to experience a different part – and distribution was the obvious next step. It was a natural progression for me. That’s how I ended up joining Maverick who, at the time, were just six people.

To be honest, it was both daunting and energising at the same time. Every decision that needed to be made, you made it yourself – and you knew that whatever you decided would make a real difference to the company.

What have you achieved as a company since then?

Remarkably, I’m celebrating my 20th year with Maverick in 2017 – ten of those with Maverick itself, and ten as part of Tech Data, Maverick’s parent company. Today, Maverick turns over more than €300 million, and we’ve grown to being present in 16 countries. And we’re growing fast: next year, we expect to be a €400 million company.

Over those 20 years, we’ve managed to create some very successful companies. Vision designs and manufactures excellent AV installation accessories. Hotlamps is, so far as I know, one of the last multi-country replacement projector lamp companies. PSCo came out of Maverick, as did Stampede and Design Integration, all successful businesses.

Has everything you’ve done been a success?

No business grows as fast as we’ve done without a few mis-steps along the way, and we’ve had a few. One example was when we created Pro Installation to address the education market, as there was a lot of BECTA funding washing around at the time. But that funding dried up. We were probably about a year too late to the market.

My attitude has always been, though, that it’s better to try and fail rather than not to have tried in the first place. I’d rather be criticised for doing something than for not doing something. And our successes have far outweighed our failures.

How has your Maverick career developed?

One of the reasons I’m still at Maverick is that it feels like I’ve had a new job every three or four years – and that’s a function of how we’ve been growing. In the early days, the team and I were all about establishing Maverick as a business in the UK – but we’ve scaled to become a European business. Now, recognising that many major integrators – such as AVI-SPL and Whitlock – operate worldwide and are looking for consistency of service delivery across countries, we’re growing our presence in North America, where we’re leveraging Tech Data’s AV team. We have plans too in the Pacific Rim. Our major vendors – the likes of Cisco, Logitech and Microsoft – are also all looking for a single point of contact with their key vendors.

How do you see the industry today?

Our industry has always been about delivering exceptional experiences, and that isn’t changing. High-end AV may not be the largest part of the market, but it’s still growing rapidly. Yes, customer expectations are higher than ever but our industry is responding. Increasingly, we’re living in an ‘experience economy’: wherever consumers go, whatever they do – go to a museum, go shopping, go to a football match – they expect it to be an ‘experience’ – and, as an industry, that’s what we’re uniquely good at.

The exceptional growth, and the larger part of the market, is coming in collaboration systems – which is why we’re seeing a lot of venture capital investment in that area. To take advantage of that, I think integrators need to take on board two things. One is that what we all bring with us – and it’s too easy for us to forget how good we are at it – enormous skill in understanding how to deliver great images and great audio, and that’s an ability that IT integrators don’t have. That doesn’t apply any less in huddle spaces. The other is that the nature of the market opportunity is changing. Now, the opportunity isn’t so much about a one-off €20,000 boardroom – it’s about twenty €3-5,000 huddle spaces. We need to be just as excited about that. Those opportunities are out there: we’re regularly talking to major organisations, each of which is looking to equip literally thousands of meeting rooms around the world.

You distribute the Microsoft Surface Hub. How’s that going?

The Microsoft Surface Hub has been fantastically successful for us. We only started shipping it a few months ago, but it’s already our best-selling product in revenue terms. There are two really important things to understand about the Hub. The first of these is the total familiarity of the user interface. People talk about ‘simplicity’ in collaboration systems, when what they should be talking about is ‘familiarity’. Research has shown that, with traditional conferencing systems, it takes an average of 12 minutes to set the equipment up before the meeting can actually begin. Now, it just takes a mouse click: users just find it intuitive and comfortable. For the same reason, users like Skype – it’s something they know – which is why SRS [Skype Room Systems] from the likes of Logitech will become massively popular.

The other thing to understand is just how much the Surface Hub legitimises the whole idea of collaboration systems. There’s hardly a major organisation anywhere in the world that isn’t a Microsoft customer – and Microsoft is a brand they feel very comfortable with, especially in the IT organisation, to whom it’s pretty much worth its weight in gold.

What we’re seeing, and we as an industry need to embrace, is a transition from products to platforms. The question now, when talking to an organisation, is very much “How do you work?” I saw a wonderful example recently when I visited the new Barco HQ in Kortrijk. There, in common with many other organisations, they found that, when people get together in the cafeteria, they’re very often having informal, ad hoc meetings. So what did Barco do? Fit out the cafeteria with collaboration systems.

What do you see as being important for the AV industry in future?

There’s no doubt in my mind that IoT, VR and AR will be extremely significant to our industry in the future. People say “but the IoT is already here” – but it really isn’t. There’s so much more we can do with it, and I think it can be a huge accelerator for the AV industry, in areas such as smart retail solutions. You’ll see the first evidence of Maverick’s IoT capabilities at ISE 2017. VR and AR can be similarly transformational in terms of what can be done with education and training. The key here is to understand that only 5% of what’s involved with VR/AR is about the headset – the other 95% is all about what’s behind it. At Maverick, we’ll be looking to be a bridge into the necessary skills.

You were recently elected to the InfoComm Board of Directors. What’s behind that?

First, I’m passionate about the AV industry. It’s a great industry to be in, and one that’s given me a lot. I believe that it’s essential, for the AV industry to be relevant and to grow, that we have a strong, successful InfoComm. It has a huge role to play in how the industry develops, how we equip ourselves to take advantage of what the future holds for us and how we continue to deliver those exceptional experiences that are what we’re all about. I wanted to give something back to the industry, and being an InfoComm board member seemed like a good way of doing that.

Second, we need InfoComm to be truly international in its scope, and InfoComm is fully aware of that. I’m hoping that my European perspective can help it achieve its goal of being a truly worldwide organisation.

Third, I think we at Maverick have an excellent understanding of what’s going on in the industry – a view of the new world that is dawning as AV and IT converge – and I’m hoping that sharing that understanding can be helpful to how InfoComm moves forward.

How has the industry changed over the past 20 years?

One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in the industry over the past 20 years has been in terms of scale. Back in the day, I probably knew the children’s names of the 20 or so resellers I worked with. It was very much a relationships-based business. Now, Maverick has 30,000 customers across Europe.

The other has been the entrance into the industry of companies who were never previously associated with AV – I’m thinking of Cisco, Logitech and Microsoft, for example. When you get companies like that coming in, you know you’re part of a market that’s incredibly attractive to participate in.

What are your plans for the future?

I still think of Maverick as my baby. I’ve been on a wonderful journey with a great team, some of whom are still with us and some of whom have gone on to be very successful elsewhere. It’s given me a real kick to see the people I’ve worked with develop and grow and have brilliant careers, and to perhaps have played a part in that.

In the near term, there’s still so much to achieve with Maverick, it’s hard to think of doing anything else. And I truly believe that these are the most exciting times we’ve ever known in the AV industry. Perhaps it might be good one day to go back to being a part of something small – but that won’t be any time in the next few years.