Dell's (Yes, Dell's) Vitagliano Talks About His New Role

It was a stunning move when Frank Vitagliano announced he was leaving Juniper Networks after seven years. But that may have been trumped by the news he was hired by Dell. Vitagliano, a longtime channel icon with nearly 40 years of experience, spoke with CRN's Scott Campbell about why he joined Dell and what he plans to bring to the company. The following are excerpts from the conversation.

You spent seven successful years at Juniper, so why Dell, why now?

I worked Juniper for seven years. It was a great run, a terrific company with frankly a lot of great colleagues and friends there. But, it was time for me to do something else. It's really more about where I'm going to vs. where I'm going from. I'm kind of excited because I've been watching what's been going on with Dell for a while.

I've watched them for years and in the early days really admired what they were doing. It transformed the PC business. Over the last couple years, I've watched very closely their acquisition strategy and what's been going on in terms of the transformation with the company. The last piece, the piece that really got me excited was Greg Davis [Dell's vice president and general manager of global channels]. I've known him for a long time and been really impressed with the job he and Jim [DeFoe, vice president of global commercial channels sales and programs] have been doing. They're really becoming a major channel player, and I've watched that evolve over the last three or four years or so. All of that got me pretty excited to go over.

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How long had you talked with Dell about joining the company?

I've known Greg for years. We worked together at IBM. We've been channel chiefs together for a while. We always kind of catch up when we see each other and talk about what's going on in the industry, the transformation they were making. We talked quite frequently. In the last 60 days or so, it started to get serious. Once I started my exit from Juniper, it was pretty clear that there was an opportunity for us.

Looking back at your time at IBM, could you ever have envisioned then that you would eventually join Dell, who was something of the direct devil at the time, both to IBM but also to the channel?

I've learned over the years never say never about anything, particularly in this industry. We've seen a lot of stuff happen. I admired Dell for years. Competing with them was very frustrating. They did transform that business. I'm a strong believer in the channel. They still touch customers with a direct sales force, but they've added the leverage of go-to-market strategy with the channel.

NEXT: Four Channel Principles

Greg Davis said you were someone that he could ping ideas off of, someone who would offer him advice as he was ramping up PartnerDirect. Do you remember any particular words you had for him?

It's pretty simple. At the end of the day, it's clear that solution providers have a lot of choices, vendors they can partner with. Most significant to this is you have to have a value add. There's got to be a reason that partners want to partner with you, in terms of a go-to-market strategy. I've always maintained the most significant aspect of working with the channel is stay focused on partner profitability and the ability for them to sell your products and services. We talked about some basic things. I've held true to four principles all along. He didn't need for me to tell him about them because he's been around, but they are:

One, it's really critical to grow mutual revenue and profitability. The partner has to grow and the vendor has to be able to do the same. Two, vendors must continually invest in channel programs, offerings, support, all the things partners need to stay successful. Three, we talk about this a lot, the ease of doing business. That's critical that vendors continue to work that. If they don't, that equates to [increased] cost, which cuts profitability. The fourth is vendor management, working with the sales force that's in the street, [helping] the partners and sales teams to bring [solutions] to customers.

Dell's future is a bit up in the air, so to speak. They are in the middle of a proposed leverage buyout and who knows what will happen there. Was that a consideration when you were thinking of joining the company?

No, it really [wasn't]. First, I wouldn't want to comment on that [leveraged buyout] and I couldn't. Certainly, I've been following it. At the end of the day, the things that mattered to me making the decision were, one, the company itself. I've been very fortunate to work for two world-class companies, now a third. That was the No. 1 consideration. The second piece was the commitment to the channel. That's where I made my career. It's what I want to do. That was a very important consideration. Third is obviously the overall value proposition that [Dell] can provide to the marketplace and customers. Those three things made sense.

That I get excited about the company and the brand goes without speaking. That is a top-notch company. The commitment to the channel I've witnessed the last four, five, six years has been very significant. Lastly, I've been watching what's been happening in their acquisitions strategy and their ability to provide all the pieces of an IT solution. All that came into my decision and was important to me.

NEXT: Vitagliano's Plans For Dell

Your first day on the job is [April 15]. What are your immediate goals and what are you hoping to accomplish with the company?

The first thing is meet the people, get to know the internal team and the folks I'll be working with. Just as importantly, meet the partners. I may know a lot of these folks today and had relationships with them [in the past], but I want to re-engage, make sure they know the business. One approach I have is to stay very, very close to the field and really make sure that I understand their world. I've got a lot of work to do there, to understand who the partners are, why Dell's value proposition makes sense to them and what I can do to build on that success. Obviously, one of the things I always try to do is build broader, deeper relationships with partners so Dell can become a much more strategic partner to them, as opposed to one of vendor products they sell. That will be a very important to me in the beginning.