Point of Connection

StarTech.com president Lynn Smurthwaite-Murphy talks about pulling
up roots, the lure of rapid growth and not facing the music

Photo: Lynn Smurthwaite-Murphy

LYNN SMURTHWAITE-MURPHY is in her first year as StarTech.com president. Born in Montreal, she lived in a variety of places growing up, including Amherstburg, Burlington and Saudi Arabia. She graduated from the University of Guelph, majoring in history and sociology. Prior to joining StarTech.com late last year, she was executive vice-president for N.A. at Westcon-Comstor in Oakville. There, she managed a staff of 600. StarTech.com has about 400 employees, three quarters of whom are based in London. She is married and has two daughters. She and her family are in the process of moving to London.

What did you know about StarTech.com when they approached you? I was not familiar with StarTech.com when I was approached by the recruiter, but I was familiar with some of their competitors.

You spent 18 years at Westcon-Comstor. How difficult was the decision to leave? My decision to leave Westcon-Comstor was very difficult. I had been there through the three lifecycle stages of a company: just past start-up when we earned $236 million in revenue and had two locations; rapid growth and international expansion taking us into 70 countries and just over $7 billion in gross revenue; and finally to a more mature company where we focused on maximizing efficiencies and expanding our capabilities. The people and the culture were fantastic, and I had been exposed to so many different companies, business models and learning experiences. I was anxious to go back to the rapid growth phase, which is one of the things that attracted me to StarTech.com. This is what I enjoy the most, and therefore I knew I would ultimately have to leave. My departure was well planned and I left a very strong successor in my place.

How similar are the two companies? The two companies are in the same IT supply chain industry, both in the same channel but playing different roles. Westcon is a distributor offering warehousing, logistics and services to resellers, direct marketers and service providers on behalf of the vendors they support, whereas StarTech.com is considered a vendor in this space. This represented an opportunity for me to bring knowledge and experience to the role while learning something new at the same time.

StarTech.com is known primarily for providing a bridge between old and new technologies, helping people with connectivity puzzles. Will that continue to be its focus? StarTech.com has perfected the model of hard-to-find made easy when it comes to connectivity, which includes bridging new and legacy technologies, but our portfolio continues to expand with new categories and products being launched on an ongoing basis. We’ve already launched over 300 new products this year, a record number for us. Many of these products support new technologies such as USB-C and Thunderbolt 3, while some expand our product offering in new areas such as display mounts. We will continue to look for ways to expand our portfolio and global reach. The customer is the centre of what we do as a company, so as long as they continue to find value in the products and service we offer, we will continue along this path.

What are expected sales in the current fiscal year? We expect our sales to exceed $250 million this fiscal year, and our long-term goal is to reach global sales of a half billion dollars by 2021.

You have plans to expand globally. Does that mean manufacturing overseas or selling more to new markets? Our global expansion strategy includes selling to new markets as well as expanding within some existing markets where we believe we are underserved. Our most recent expansion markets are Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and there is a huge opportunity for growth there.

What’s your technology mix? I have a tablet, cell phone and two laptops, a Mac and a PC. Love my Mac!

What’s the most frustrating technology challenge you’ve faced recently? Well, it used to be that I was missing that critical connector, but now that I work for StarTech.com that is never a problem. I guess the next most frustrating technology challenge is slow or down WiFi. In that situation, waiting for the page to load is like watching paint dry.  How did we ever survive before all of this?

Do you play a musical instrument? I have zero musical talent, and the fact that I don’t play a musical instrument is a blessing to everyone else.

You’ve been involved in a variety of charitable activities over the last 20 years. Will that continue here in London? I believe in giving back to the community. I am currently meeting with a number of groups to find the best fit, but I do intend to continue my involvement.  Interview by Christopher Clark