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Terry Smagh of Infor wants to grow the business the way fine malt whiskey is made

Audrey Simon
Audrey Simon • 8 min read
Terry Smagh of Infor wants to grow the business the way fine malt whiskey is made
Terry Smagh of Infor wants to grow the business the way fine malt whiskey is made
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In October last year, the government eased Covid-19 restrictions, lifting the cap on the number of household visitors. It was good news indeed for Terry Smagh, senior vice-president and general manager of Asia Pacific and Japan, Infor, who is known to throw legendary Deepavali parties in his home, complete with an open bar and tables laden with food. His warmth and hospitable nature extends to his place of work too: When Options visited him at his office in Shenton Way, he was ready with a platter of finger sandwiches and pastries.

As a people person, Smagh will be the first to admit that the Covid-19 lockdown was hard on him. But with a glass-half-full perspective, he says that the lockdown allowed him to pause, reflect and regroup.

Smagh is the first local to be hired last August to lead Infor, a company that builds complete industry suites in the cloud and efficiently deploys technology that puts the user experience first, leverages data science, and integrates easily into existing systems. Smagh has prior experience at companies such as BlackLine, IBM, Oracle and data analytics firm Qlik.

At IBM, he was the executive leader of its Asia Pacific cloud and analytics business. He was also responsible for supporting partner development and overall enterprise sales momentum in hybrid cloud software, cloud services and analytics solutions. Before that, he was managing director and vice-president for Asia at Qlik, where he successfully developed customised enterprise sales, channel and marketing operations models across the region and accelerated new office openings in key Asia Pacific (Apac) business centres.

As the first local to lead Infor, Smagh says it is humbling. He identifies Apac as a huge market that is the fastest-growing market after the US and Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). “Right now, the largest manufacturing hub outside of Germany is China and the largest democracy is India. Then the largest Asean economy is Indonesia. There’s so much going on over here. And I felt that for Infor to get a local in is a master stroke because we are serious about the market,” he says.

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Over the past two decades, Infor has continued to refine its commitment to industry-focused enterprise software solutions — built in the cloud, and purpose-built for customers’ unique business needs. In the last two years of the pandemic, the company has grown rapidly as a wholly owned, standalone subsidiary of Koch Industries, crossing US$1 billion ($1.3 billion) in run-rate Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) revenue growth, and achieving 18% y-o-y growth across its fast-growing Apac region.

Putting Smagh in the driver’s seat offers him the opportunity to hire people who have worked with him before — he makes it a point to emphasise the word “with” and not “for”. Gesturing to the open office plan in front of him, he says, “If you think this is empty? You should have seen the office the first day I walked in. Nobody.”

That situation has since been remedied as he slowly filled the office up with trusted ex-colleagues, some of whom have been with him throughout his career. He says: “You see those guys outside? Collectively they have worked with me now for 100 years.” He does a quick mental calculation out loud, adding up the figures of 20, 22 and more, and concludes the total is about 100 years.

See also: The local experience

We ask if there is a secret recipe for retaining staff in today’s climate filled with a record number of resignations. Smagh says: “There are some organisations who prefer to hire someone like me because I bring an army of diverse people into the organisation.” Although Infor is smaller than the organisations he has worked for, he says size does not matter as the focus is “strategic in our intent, tactical in our execution”.

He adds: “Do I want to work with a flashy big company or a smaller one? Big companies will tell you that they don’t pay you top dollar but their name carries more weight because you work for them.”

With the spate of retrenchments at other tech companies, will this put Infor in a better position when finding the right employees? Smagh says: “The question is, should you just take any job that comes your way? You need to question your desire.” He points to an example of a new employee who has chosen to work for Infor instead of the bigger tech firms. The employee said that he prefers to be a big fish in a small pond, where his contribution and effort will be recognised.

Whiskeys, watches and cars
In between his demanding job and being a son, husband and father of one — a boy — Smagh collects luxury items. He counts cars, watches, and more recently whiskeys as part of his “toys for boys” hobby. His car collection at one point amounted to 10 vehicles parked outside his landed property in the eastern part of Singapore. He adds that he has since become a little more selective in his choices.

For timepieces, he has the usual luxury suspects such as Rolex, Tudor, Audemars Piguet and more recently, IWC. His collection comes up to about 20 watches — a number that, he quips, is likely to go up with retailers calling him and tempting him with new releases.

Last but not least, there are his whiskeys — about 100 bottles, although the number changes as he drinks “the collection”. The road leading up to his whiskey collection began when as a young adult he was introduced to Black Cat Whiskey, which he purchased at 7/11 or ordered watered-down versions with a mixer at a club. He recalls: “That was how we used to do it, one jug with 20 straws at Zouk.” Of course, over the years, Smagh has progressed from $10 whiskey to one that can cost as much as $1,000. Now, his collection includes: Pittyvaich 29, Glenlivet 21, Talisker25, Mortlach 21, Caol iLa 25, Tomintoul 25, Singleton 21, Benrinnes 21 and Dalwhinnie 30.

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Smagh’s love for whiskey is evident in his discussion of the drink. “When you start to nose the whiskey, you begin to understand the flavours of it. Just like wine, it really matters what glass you use and how the air temperature alters the taste. The complexity of whiskey is that a drop of water can dramatically alter the taste.”

He prefers his malts to blended ones, for a good reason too — he sees a parallel between the process of making fine malt whiskeys and running a business.

He explains: “There are four processes in the year: there’s malting, mashing, fermentation and lastly distillation. The first phase is malting and it is how I identify businesses — what the business is all about. Mashing is bringing people together with the right branding and awareness. Next, the fermentation process — for business, it’s three things: What’s my value proposition? Why? What’s my go-to-market?”

This leads to the distilling process, which he says is about getting things out there, to pitch the brand. “That’s when you execute your business when you convert, so when you succeed, you get enjoyment,” he says.

Business analogies aside, there is one person Smagh enjoys sharing his whiskey with — his dad. When not surrounded by the buzz of work, travelling for business, entertaining clients and giving media interviews, Smagh loves to savour a glass of the finest whiskey with Smagh senior while unwinding on the balcony of his home and watching the sunset as they get each other up to speed with their lives.

The info on Infor

What does Infor do? Senior vice-president and general manager of Asia Pacific and Japan, Terry Smagh, breaks it down for us

Infor is a global leader in business cloud software and we specialise in industries such as warehousing, supply chain manufacturing, fashion, and F&B utilities. Our unique selling point has always been our commitment to industry verticals. We delve deep into a variety of industries and we have purpose-built applications for these industries, with real-time processing.

Our solutions help run mission-critical operations. Take real-time warehouse management invoicing — this simple process now has an array of options, complexity, and benefits to consider, which can be the source of distinct competitive advantage, better financial performance, and happier customers. We have services that are designed to deliver sustainable operational advantages and quicker time-to-value by using out-of-the-box functionality while offering governance, compliance and the security along with it.

We are 20 years old and are present in more than 175 countries, from Tokyo to New Zealand. We also have global development centres in Apac: one in Hyderabad, one in Manila, and one in Dalian, China.

We are owned by the Koch brothers. That gave us financial strength. It’s about fostering enduring longevity of partnerships, and mutual success, and more importantly, it is getting our customers to the next phase of growth. We want to see customers having a sustainable future with us and Koch’s vision is bringing companies together, and because it’s privately held, there is no impetus of saying, ‘hey, I’m going to flip you tomorrow.’ They’re not the typical venture capitalists where the private equity comes in and acquires you.

We are a leading industry in cutting-edge technology with lots of R&D gone into it. We rewrote our entire software. At Infor, we have a mindset of what the future is about and where our customers want to go with Software-as-a-Service, the cloud, so we took some of our main core products and rewrote them to be native to the cloud. It’s a big market differentiator in terms of what we do.”

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