Hallelujah--AST's back

There were lots of quotable quotes from Peter Uffindell and David Henderson last week as AST relaunched its operation in Australasia after a nightmare couple of years internationally.

There were lots of quotable quotes from Peter Uffindell and David Henderson last week as AST relaunched its operation in Australasia after a nightmare couple of years internationally.

It’s a press event in the computer industry do at which products barely get a mention but this was one of those. “Fall from grace”, “meltdown”, “reinvent”, “mission” were all terms used and Henderson declared himself, hands raised in hallelujah-mode after being reminded of his Toshiba experience, a convert to “just in time” and “build to order”.

AST New Zealand head Peter Uffindell says the company will need to “get back in touch with its end-user customers and dealers” and that rebuilding this relationship was “fundamental and basic” to the relaunch.

California-based AST has been dogged by troubles. It’s gone through three chief executives in two years, posted nine loss quarters in a row and cancelled a server project based around thin clients. But AST Australasia chief Henderson insists the operation was always profitable in New Zealand and Australia before it’s presence was canned earlier this year.

Korean technology giant Samsung saw the opportunity and bought into the company last year and now owns a stake of just under 50%, a relationship Henderson expects to provide direct sales benefits.

Henderson took up Uffindell’s “get back in touch” theme, saying that when AST left its reseller channel “some said they had abandoned it” and this had to be rebuilt. He expects most of the company’s dealers to come back on board.

Henderson says that in the last few years the market has changed dramatically with buyers showing increased resistance to vendor pitches and increasingly reclaiming control of the process and specifying what they want to buy.

He also talks much about AST refocusing and studying the models of successful PC sellers like Dell and PC Direct. He expects AST in Australasia to be operating a build-to-order model through a dealer channel by January 1997. To that end, AST has established a build-to-order assembly plant in Silverwater in Australia.

Henderson poses the question: “Why should a number 10 PC manufacturer exist? What’s the point?” AST wants better than that, he says, and Australasia was going to be a beta site for the new model that if successful would be adopted internationally.

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