Long before setting his sights on making 3Com Canada the most respected kid on the networking block, managing director Nick Tidd was quite adept at wowing audiences with his technology savvy and a bit of fibbing.

He recalls that as a 12-year-old he got a job refurbishing mainframe terminals

with his father. “I remember going to OHIP (the Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan). My tool belt weighed more than I did,” he laughs. “I used to tell the folks when they’d look at me coming in with my bag and my pimpled face: ‘Yeah, I’m a child prodigy, I’m here to refurbish the terminal.’ Not telling them that there was literally only three parts to it.”

Now with three kids of his own he performs different feats of technical wizardry. He led 3Com through a major restructuring in 2001 and after the upheaval of staffing and budget cuts found himself and the company in pretty good shape.

“We’re very bullish in our outlook going forward,” he says. “I believe that we are in the best position that we’ve ever been in now and our go forth strategy is rock solid.”

The more aggressive attitude and strategy towards the channel has caught the industry’s attention. Tidd says creation of programs such as the Margin to Win program, which wrapped up last month, was meant to send a clear message to both partners and competition that 3Com is betting on its partners and expecting them to be a strong demand facilitator.

Margin to Win provided a 10 per cent distribution cost discount on LAN switching gear to partners who swayed customers 3Com’s way. The customers also got a 10 per cent rebate. Combined with the trade up program and specific vertical market programs enough noise was created that other companies sat up and took notice, Tidd says.

“We’re seeing some of our networking competitors start to make statements about the importance of the channel, but I don’t think any have demonstrated the commitment that 3Com has to the channel,” he says. “At the end of the day the proof is in the growth and strength of your partner base and ours continues to be getting stronger.”

The Mississauga, Ont.-based company had a successful year, becoming a significant presence in the voice-over-IP space in part due to a partnership with Citel Technologies Ltd., which has allowed it to offer 3Com networked telephony solutions to companies using Norstar phones – an area traditionally dominated by Nortel Networks.

Tidd insists that Nortel’s fall from grace had nothing to do with the Citel partnership; that strategy would have been a focus for 3Com regardless of Nortel’s shape.

“There’s 14 million Norstar phones in existence and in the networked telephony space one of the highest costing items in the architecture is the phone,” he says. “And where IP doesn’t need to be pervasive with all the functions and features as a handset, it makes a lot of sense to cascade some older technology.”

Tidd says that this move was just one more way 3Com tried to create opportunity for itself and its partners in a time when customers are looking for ways to do more with less. Using existing telephones reduces capital costs and allows the customer to migrate more users over when they need to.

One of the areas Tidd sees increasing opportunity for 3Com is the home networking space. Or his vision of it anyway, Tidd refers to it as the “teleworker environment.” Canada’s geography and the many time zones business people have to deal with when scheduling calls has meant a steady and increasing demand in that space.

But what’s interesting, he points out, is that security concerns have moved that market segment ahead as much if not more so than people’s work/home time balance choices.

“What we see happening is that the same level and type of product required in the enterprise is making its way into the home market, and quite frankly it’s sponsored by a corporation,” Tidd says. “And corporations are now starting to pay very close attention to how and when and in what way people are accessing the corporate networks from home. That’s a shift from where we were 12 months ago.”

3Com steadfastly holds to its strategy of the channel being its only way to market. It’s been a good strategy so far, he says.

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