“Sometimes, it’s the business that chooses us, and not the other way around.” This was a quip from a businessman I had spoken to during one of my interviews, but it could very well apply to a lot of business owners who made it big. And the way Merrick Chua told the story of how his business had evolved, he certainly is one to fit the mold. Chua is the president and chief operating officer of MEC Networks Corp., a company he founded some 18 years ago.
Like many at that time, he recalls starting out by selling computers. “In 1995, the trend back then was to be in the business of computers—from the whole line of computers, to assembly, parts and accessories, almost everyone wanted to put up their own shop. So we also put up our own,” Chua said. He got the company name he says came from a nickname they used to call him, which is “Mec.” He also remembers that there was another foreign brand that used to be famous at that time, which sounded similar to his nickname, so he decide to use the name for his company.
But barely a year later, he noticed that there seemed to be more of these information technology (IT) shops sprouting almost every month. It was then that we started reviewing, “do we want to compete with these people, or we want to move to a position wherein these people becomes our customers?” he said. Chua said that this made them decide to shift the direction in which their business was headed, from a computer shop to a distributor of IT products. This way, he reasoned out, the numerous computer shops that were existing at that time would become their customers instead of competitors.
From the time his company shifted gears, they never looked back. Today, MEC Networks is one of the country’s premier information and communications technology (ICT) distributors, offering world-class and state-of-the-art solutions, technologies and infrastructure in one complete platform. It’s like a one-stop-shop for everything that deals with ICT, Chua said, from selling to marketing and knowledge transfer, where “we teach the market how to appreciate and implement our products to our system integrators or dealers.” Their company’s expertise, he said, can be broken down into four main areas: from the set-up, which includes connectivity, wireless infrastructures, wired networks and IP and unified communications, to security which includes network security like firewalls, VPN services, email security, and IP surveillance including IP cameras, video encoders, network video recorders and video analytics. The two other areas are expansion or storage, and optimization, which deals with network performance and troubleshooting.
Among the products MEC Networks distribute include Rosenberger & TE Connectivity (cabling), Dell Networking, Extreme Networks, HP Networking and Lantech (network switches), Axis Etrovision and DVtel (IP cameras), and their most recent product, the optical LAN from Tellabs.
With a chuckle, Chua said that one of the challenges his company constantly deals with when promoting the work that they do is how to explain their business to non-IT. He said that their products are something most people use everyday, although many don’t realize it, because it cannot be seen and is almost intangible. Chua added that it’s a bit better these days because the infrastructure products that they are carrying, like the wireless products, can now be instantly recognizable because everyone uses the wifi and these are the ones that people can easily relate with.
Choosing a destiny
When asked why he chose to go into the computer business right after college, Chua said that it probably had a lot to do with his interests and passion. “I’m an electronics and communications engineering graduate and even while studying, I would buy computer parts, assemble and sell them on the side,” Chua added.
He said that this was also the reason why he immediately entered into the computer business right after college. “I never had the opportunity of trying to build any other career, and this was probably because I came from a family of entrepreneurs,” Chua said. The irony, he said, is that he avoided taking up a business course because growing up, he would hear about the numerous challenges his family encounters while discussing their business, and he told himself the world of business is so complicated he didn’t want to get into that. “When I was entering college, I considered seriously, would I take a business course and end up to be a businessman, or I’ll just take up something like engineering and be a professional? Then I decided business is tough, so I ended up taking an engineering course,” Chua added. But while in college, he said that he finds himself increasingly doing business on the side, and he describes it as like a “destiny you cannot get away from.”
These days, Chua said that he is perfectly content that he chose this path. He gets a lot of help in running the company through his supportive wife and the talented pool of people that he has in his employ. He admitted though that it’s sometimes a struggle to give more quality time for his kids, especially when their work demands more of their time beyond the usual hours. Like most parents, he tries to compensate by doing more family bonding together, especially during vacation. “I also play golf as regularly as I can,” he added. But if there’s one thing he would actively want to pursue more, he said that it is training more pool of talents and open more opportunities for them here, so they won’t need to go out of the country to find work. “That way, I am hopefully able to contribute to help them realize their potential, and most of all, help our country from the exodus of great people to other parts of the world,” Chua said.