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Olivetti PC boss wants to push notebooks, servers

The new-look Olivetti Personal Computers is to push hard into notebooks and servers and step back from most consumer product development. At a press conference held in Venice, Italy yesterday, Bernhard Auer, chief executive of Olivetti Personal Computers, said the revamped Olivetti will look to the two PC growth areas as it seeks to return to black ink in 1997, after the 1996 restructuring and decision by the Olivetti group to sell the PC business unit.

The new-look Olivetti Personal Computers is to push hard into notebooks and servers and step back from most consumer product development. At a press conference held in Venice, Italy yesterday, Bernhard Auer, chief executive of Olivetti Personal Computers, said the revamped Olivetti will look to the two PC growth areas as it seeks to return to black ink in 1997, after the 1996 restructuring and decision by the Olivetti group to sell the PC business unit.

"We're also hoping to continue to grow in desktops," Auer said. "If you focus on servers you automatically have a drag along on the desktop lines. The only area of de-focussing is consumer products." One recent high-profile consumer effort by Olivetti, the futuristic Envision device, signally failed to achieve sales ambitions last year and ended up in the bargain bins.

However, Auer said that Olivetti will "not completely withdraw but de-emphasise consumer products. It requires a particular skill and at the moment we have a successful [consumer desktop PC] line called Xana, but we're trying to do a few things well. Concentrating on our traditional business turf gives us the best use of our energy for now."

Auer said that the new owner, Piedmont International, has not set him specific long-term business targets. "Piedmont is a shell. The one gentleman orchestrating asked us to provide a business plan, as you would expect. We were scrutinised by all sorts of analysts and a plan was set by Olivetti PC management who conducted a major piece of the [1996] turnaround. The objective is to make a small profit for fiscal 1997. We came a long way in 1996."

Auer doesn't expect any significant job losses in the wake of the new company but said Olivetti will work more closely with third-parties to maximise efficiency. "There won't be a major restructuring in terms of thousands [of people]. The majority of the restructuring happened in 1996. Our real 'restructuring' will be based on an intelligent knowledge of product coming down the road, and by working closely with companies like Intel to design what we want." Taiwan's Chaplet, for example, will manufacture notebooks for Olivetti under licence.

Whatever else, Auer said the Olivetti brand will remain to the fore. "It's not only a plan, it's a must. The Olivetti trademark we can use for 20 years and then it can be renewed for another 20 years. The Olivetti brand, despite all the turbulence, is still a recognised brand and, according to my not very scientific analysis, it is a warm brand name."

Auer also seems unlikely to lose his sense of humour. "If you're familiar with what it costs to set up a new brand name like Bernie and Serafina's Computers [referring to himself UK PR Serafina Espie], you'd understand why we're keeping the Olivetti name," he said in a parting quip.