Dell Partners Tout ‘Operations Animal’ Clarke’s Sole COO Role With Whitten Gone
Mark Haranas, Steven Burke
‘Jeff is an operations animal,’ says Bob Venero, CEO of Future Tech Enterprise, a Dell Titanium partner. ‘He is one of those guys that when something is broke or something needs to be stood up or re-engineered, he is the guy you want at the helm doing it, not only based on his knowledge and skill but the tenacity that he has to make it happen.’
Dell Technologies partners said they see Vice Chairman Jeff Clarke’s return to a sole COO role in the wake of the sudden resignation of co-COO Chuck Whitten as a sign of good things to come.
In fact, partners said they expect Clarke, a 36-year Dell Technologies veteran, to double down on what has made him a trusted lieutenant to CEO Michael Dell: namely drive operational improvements that benefit Dell Technologies and its partners.
“Jeff is an operations animal,” said Bob Venero, CEO of Future Tech Enterprise, a Dell Titanium partner based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “He is one of those guys that when something is broke or something needs to be stood up or re-engineered, he is the guy you want at the helm doing it, not only based on his knowledge and skill but the tenacity that he has to make it happen. Not to take anything away from Chuck Whitten, but you always have a fear of someone coming in from the outside who doesn’t have the DNA of Michael and Jeff. From my perspective Jeff remaining as COO and helping drive the direction of Dell is the best thing that could happen.”
Dell Technologies last week said that Clarke will once again become the sole COO, a job he has held since December 2019.
Whitten joined Clarke as co-COO two years ago in a move the company hailed at the time as joining Clarke and Michael Dell to “lead Dell’s next phase of growth.”
For his part, Venero, who has grown his Dell Technologies business by a whopping $100 million over the last year, said he sees Dell breaking out for more growth in the wake of the shakeup.
“If the Dell leadership made this decision there is no doubt in my mind that it is going to benefit Dell, its partners and its customers,” he said. “Look at what Jeff has accomplished. Every area he has touched from PCs to workstations to internal operations to factories Jeff has touched all of it and Dell is the better for it. Jeff has been at Dell for 36 years. He has been a constant at the company. Michael is very smart about surrounding himself with the smartest people in the business not only technologists but outstanding operational executives. Jeff is the epitome of that exceptional operational executive. With a leadership team like Dell has you can be sure the company is going to continue on the growth trajectory that has made it the No. 1 end-to-end IT technology company in the world.”
Another partner pointed out the confusion around having two COOs.
“It’s not surprising that they’re shifting away from having a co-COO,” the partner said. “Clarke has long been seen as the lead COO so it ultimately comes down to efficiency with how your leadership teams are acting and compensated. Redundant COOs seemed unnecessary.”
When Whitten joined Dell, Clarke at the time pointed to the hiring of the 22-year veteran of strategic consulting firm Bain & Company as a “pivotal” moment for the company.
In a press release announcing the hiring of Whitten, who had worked with Dell Technologies on growth initiatives, Clarke said: “Coming off a record FY21 and first quarter of FY 22, we are growing and our opportunity is growing faster. Chuck joins the company at a pivotal time to give us greater leadership capacity to cover more ground, assess more opportunities and speed decision making to best serve customers.”
Dell’s client solutions group sales in the first fiscal quarter were down 23 percent to $12 billion and the company’s infrastructure solutions sales were down 18 percent to $7.6 billion.
“Jeff’s been Michael’s right-hand man forever,” said one top executive from a solution provider who is a global Dell partner, who declined to be identified. “With Chuck and the ‘co-COO’ position gone, Jeff and Michael are sort of back together at the top running Dell like they’ve always been.”
Clarke and Michael Dell have been the heart and soul of Dell Technologies for decades and are a one-two punch when it comes to operations and innovation at Dell, the partner said.
Michael Dell began upgrading and selling PCs to professionals around Houston as a high school student in the early 1980s eventually making at least $50,000 per month in revenue and outgrowing his 27th floor dorm room at the University of Texas, according to his autobiography, “Play Nice, But Win.” He incorporated Dell Technologies after he dropped out.
Even before Dell became a Fortune 500 company in the early 1990s, Clarke joined the company in 1987 as a quality engineer. Over the decades, Clarke became influential in Dell’s engineering, product vision and go-to-market strategies which elevated Dell to became one of the largest PC and IT infrastructure providers in the world.
“Michael and Jeff shaped Dell into what it is today,” Miller said. “And now it looks like they’ll solely lead [Dell] in this new era of big data, cloud, AI, and how Dell will play a big role in that story.”
With Whitten’s sudden departure after just two years, Miller said it feels like Whitten might have not been the right fit to lead Dell Technologies into the future.
“It’s interesting because [Whitten] was put in the limelight for the past couple of years at Dell’s biggest events,” said the executive. “He’s obviously gone for a reason. … Dell’s next earnings call at the end of August will be interesting.”
CRN Senior Editor O’Ryan Johnson contributed to this report.