CDW's CEO Richards: Customers Listening To Our Story

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Nearly a year after taking the reins as CDW's CEO, Thomas Richards is putting his mark on the company with increased resources, more solutions and services initiatives and -- thanks in part to Charles Barkley -- a story to tell.

At the Global Technology Distribution Council's Vendor Summit in Newport Beach, Calif., this week Richards shared some of the changes and improvements he's made since he succeeded John Edwardson as head of the Vernon Hills, Ill.-based director marketer on Oct. 1, 2011.

"When I got to CDW [as president and COO in 2009], I asked John Edwardson what our story was. He said we don’t really have a story. I asked, 'How do we communicate to people who we are?' He said people know who we are and what we do. I said, 'We need to work on the CDW story,'" Richards told the crowd of distribution and vendor channel executives.


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So, Richards said, CDW hired an advertising agency, which came up with the slogan "The Guy Behind The Guy" to describe CDW's role as the back office for corporate IT departments. But, audience testing found only 60 percent of customers loved it. "It was offensive to some people. Why would we introduce anything that offends any of our customers? They said it's funny. But, we worked too hard to get a customer to lose any of them based on an ad," Richards said. "So, I became known as 'The Guy That Shot The Guy.'"

Back to the drawing board they went, and CDW decided to "have some fun telling our story," Richards said. They hired Charles Barkley to appear in a campaign in which the former pro-basketball player is hired by CDW as a ringer for its corporate hoops league.

CDW got 100 million impressions from the campaign, including 5,000 people who downloaded it from the company's website. "We even had a couple of customers go to the website who told us 'I didn't know you guys did this' and it started the sales process," said Richards, who knows a thing or two about basketball, having played the sport at the University of Pittsburgh.

Meanwhile, Richards has been busy bulking up CDW's resources too. The company now has 1,110 specialists and field sales staff, compared to 635 in 2007, he said. Revenue has increased as well. Through the first two fiscal quarters of 2012, sales were $4.90 billion, up 8 percent from $4.54 billion in the same period last year. The company's also earned $47.7 million through June 30, compared to a $39.0 million loss in the year-ago period.

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