Influenced by his parents' incredible work ethic, Alan Chan has risen up the ranks to lead cloud network provider Fastly's channel across Australia and New Zealand. Having spent years taking on additional work even when already overloaded, Chan now finds balance through his love of basketball and giving back to the local community.
What was your first job?
After migrating to Australia at a young age, my parents started a vegetable farming business in southwest Sydney. They worked up to 16 hours a day so I always helped out after school, on weekends and obviously on school holidays. It was non-stop. Three times a week they would get up at 2 am to take their vegetables to Paddy’s Market in Flemington.
Growing up, working on the farm taught me many lessons. We would work in 40-plus degrees heat, freezing cold mornings, or heavy rain. Your livelihood is also controlled by the weather – one hailstorm or flood could wipe out your entire year’s income. I always remind myself how fortunate I am to be in my current position.
How did you get started in the IT industry and progress to where you are today?
I always felt technology was the future. My uncle was the service manager for a leading hardware manufacturer. He hired me out of high school to replace 3,000 resistors on a batch of faulty motherboards. This taught me how to use a soldering iron and it was a pathway into IT.
After graduating from university, I worked for a leading system integrator and had an opportunity to join Symantec in 2000 at a time when a virus outbreak was causing major disruption for businesses globally.
In the past 20 years, I have continued to challenge myself and worked in many capacities – technical support, pre-sales, sales and most recently, in the channel. I like to remind my colleagues IT is a team sport. Whether you are pre-sales, a technology evangelist or in the channel, it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the wider impact each role plays in delivering the end result. In our industry, you also have to be “a student of the game” so along the way I have completed numerous certifications, including Novell, Microsoft, Certified Information Systems Security Professional, and gone back to university for my MBA.
What has been your biggest business mistake, and the lessons you've learnt from that experience?
My biggest mistake was perhaps not having an off switch at work. For many years I was too afraid to say no to my peers or manager on additional work even when I was overloaded. There is no shortage of work in our industry.
It is simply not healthy to be working 60-plus hours a week consistently; we are human beings and need downtime. When you’re tired and overworked, the quality of your work drops so you will make more and more mistakes.
I create balance by giving back to my community. I’m an active basketball team manager at the local association where my son plays at. I try to help kids who want to make it a profession, but also the kids that do it for fun. I’m also a Sydney Kings member so you'll find me at their games, super excited on their recent back-to-back championship after 17 years drought.
What are some of your plans for the company in the coming months?
We have recruited some really well-respected partners in the region over the past year. In the coming months, I am laser-focused on supporting our partners in building a business around Fastly and jointly strengthening our growth ambitions. We want our partners to be successful and be rewarded for their trust and investment made in Fastly.
Fastly can’t be successful without our partners and they are integral to our growth. We have competitors that have workforces five or six times larger than us so, for us to compete, we have to be smarter and truly embrace our partners.
Earlier this year we launched new flexible consumption models around our products, this is an “all-you-can-eat” package, with simplified pricing for partners, that is “solution-based” rather than product-based. “It’s about, ‘What problems are you solving?’ And then, ‘Here’s the bundled, simple packages that are predictable for you.’” This replaces the way our industry has done things in the past,” as it replaces the usage-based models that formerly posed a challenge for many channel partners.
What are some of your biggest ambitions - personally and professionally?
Personally, I am constantly reminding myself to stay physically, emotionally, and socially healthy. Looking to ensure there is a good balance of yin and yang in my life.
Professionally, I have lived in Asia and enjoyed doing business there. I would welcome the opportunity to reconnect with customers and partners there. This also means I could explore Asian cultures, history, arts and the different types of martial arts.
I like to tell younger team members that if they get the opportunity to work overseas they should grab it, even if it is an internal role. Our big advantage in the tech industry is that your skill set is translatable across the globe. It’s very difficult to say you understand APAC if you only travel there once a quarter or once a month. Living there gives you a different appreciation of the local culture and how business is done.
What has been the best piece of advice you've ever received?
Earlier in my career during the dot com boom an older manager told me life was a “marathon and not a sprint”. When I was younger, I just kept doing stupid hours. I’m older and wiser now. So while work is never done, especially in the cybersecurity industry, you need to understand what is truly important in your life and prioritise accordingly. This is even more important when you are working across time zones.