Stéphane Réjasse, managing director for Fujitsu Technology Solutions in the Middle East, has had a 22-year career in information technology that spans Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Previously based in Lebanon, where he worked at CIS Group, and before that as a marketing manager at Hewlett Packard in Switzerland, he has presided over impressive growth at Fujitsu since joining the company in 2005. Thanks to his long experience in the field, he has been able to successfully promote Fujitsu’s technology solutions to some of the region’s largest clients. A French national and graduate of MACI-Institut du Management des Affaires et du Commerce International in Bordeaux, he is currently based at Fujitsu’s regional headquarters in Dubai’s Silicon Oasis. He spoke with Executive about why Fujitsu Technology Solutions has been able to thrive in spite of the economic crisis, and how he plans to further its growth in the region.
E How long has Fujitsu been operating in the Middle East and how has its role changed and grown over the years?
Fujitsu opened its first office in Dubai about eight or nine years ago. Back then it only had three people; when I joined in 2005, we were 12. In the beginning, about 95 percent of our business in the region was what we call “volume” — laptops, desktops, things sold through retailers, and 5 percent was “value,” big computers, data centers, IT systems.
When I joined, I announced my intent to create and kick-start the value side, while continuing to grow the volume side. Now we’re about 70 percent volume, and 30 percent value, so we’ve made some really great inroads and advances. Value is a growing business, but it’s a matter of investment. Until recently, Fujitsu Solutions had not invested enough in this region.
E Can you explain Fujitsu’s relationship with Siemens and how that relationship has evolved? What does this mean for your customers?
The two companies have been tied since 1923, and for the last 10 years, Fujitsu and Siemens have been in a joint venture, 50-50. They signed that agreement in 1999, so now it is coming to an end. We realized that IT services are not core to Siemens, and Fujitsu is only about IT. So we took over Siemens’ share of the contract, which was expected, and now Siemens is our biggest client.
For our clients, it means that we are now able to service them globally, whereas before we were limited to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Fujitsu can really become a worldwide player.
E What needs and demands are you responding to in the Middle Eastern market? What products have proved most successful and why?
We’ve been very successful as far as retail and corporate customers go. You have two types of consumers here: one is very price-sensitive, and cost is the most important thing, although they also want very good technology. Our Esprimo laptops, which begin at about $500, have been very popular for individual users and small businesses.
On the corporate side, there are people where price is not an issue. They are happy to splash out for design, status, and the latest technology. For this market our Lifebook, which costs around $3,000, has been extremely popular. It’s very heavy-duty, but stable, which they appreciate. It also has the feature of being able to plug in a SIM card and connect to the Internet anywhere data service is available on the mobile network, like a 3G card. We’ve tested it out in the middle of the desert — you can answer emails, browse the Internet.
For the service side, our Primergy systems have been very successful, on account of their very, very advanced technology, particularly a feature called virtualization, whereby you can create a virtual machine for a system and then close it down when you are not using it. It allows you to launch new servers as your business grows. In this field, we are way above HP and IBM, so it turns out that our investment in this technology was a safe bet. Also, everything is made in Germany and Japan, which is something that our clients here really appreciate.
Fujitsu has posted some extraordinary growth numbers in certain markets; 241 percent year-on-year growth in 2008 in the United Arab Emirates despite a 10 percent contraction in that market, 484 percent in Saudi Arabia.
E How are you doing in the region overall and how have you been able to buck the downward trend in the way you have?
Because of our advanced technology, it’s actually been easier than before to sell these products. That’s one explanation for our success, that it’s really thanks to the technologies we’ve invested in. Maybe before the crisis hit, companies and governments were in the comfort zone. They thought, “Why change?” But once the crisis hit, they have been forced to consider different alternatives. Whereas before they were not willing to listen, now they see the technology and they want to buy it.
For example, we are working with many government clients. In Saudi Arabia, we are heavily involved, particularly in the education sector and with the new government agencies they are creating, like the Saudi Food and Drug Administration. They’re building a new office, and will be expanding extremely rapidly. That agency is wall-to-wall Fujitsu, specifically because of the virtualization, which will enable them to cope with their growth. In Saudi, we’ve reached 12 percent market share.
We also work with the King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, with Etisalat in the UAE, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology in Egypt, and in Lebanon we work with Solidere. We’re also in Pakistan, Bahrain, and by the end of the year we’ll be in Kuwait and Qatar.
Retailers tell us that there is no problem, but when I walk around the malls I see they are empty. However, perhaps because Fujitsu is sold through places like Carrefour, as well as specialized retailers like Virgin, we are not feeling the effects as much. Carrefour is doing as much business as ever — people always have to eat and get their groceries, even in a recession, and maybe they see the products there.
E How does your performance in the region compare with Fujitsu’s experience of the crisis elsewhere?
Fujitsu is the number three worldwide IT provider, and in the Middle East it’s ranked number six. So our strategy here is to carry on investing in order to close that gap, and reach the same worldwide ranking here within the region. It’s really just a matter of investment. Fujitsu has been here quite some time, we just haven’t invested enough in the Middle East.
In terms of the economic crisis, in Europe, the IT sector as a whole has gone down 15 percent in the past year, while Fujitsu is down 8 percent. In the Middle East, however, the IT market is up 8 percent, and Fujitsu is up 40 percent.
E So there have been no negative effects of the economic crisis?
We’re feeling more the effects of the political situation in Iran at the moment. So much business in Dubai is linked to Iran and a lot of it has been brought to a standstill.
E What is your Lebanon market like and how does it relate to Fujitsu’s strategy for the region overall?
The Lebanese market is always resilient, out of experience, I would imagine. I have lived in Lebanon, in Beit Meri, and I was always surprised at peoples’ attitudes, no matter what was happening politically, even during all the bomb blasts and everything in 2005.
The real estate prices are going up by the day, and the market is very bullish. So even though right now it is only 3 to 4 percent of our business, it’s an interesting market. They are building very advanced projects, and the banking sector is very strong. Many of the banks — the Central Bank, the Lebanese-Canadian Bank, Société Générale — are using our services.
There are still a lot of opportunities. It’s not as depressed a market as Dubai, which is very quiet right now.