If you ask Edward Coleman about what it means to be a solution provider, he'll reply with a simple philosophy: "Channel companies are closer to, and more focused on, the individual customer, whereas I think vendors are focused on the overall markets," says the chairman and chief executive of CompuCom Systems. "We focus on each individual deal, each transaction as part of our existence."
It's that kind of methodical attention to detail that has made Coleman--this year's recipient of the VARBusiness 500 Lifetime Achievement Award--one of the foremost and respected leaders in the channel. Few technology executives can claim the kind of experience and pedigree Coleman possesses. He has amassed 30 years in the IT industry, and much of that was spent in the channel. After earning an M.B.A. at Indiana University, Coleman spent 17 years with IBM in various roles, including head of IBM Credit's national sales force and vice president and general manager of channel financing. After that, he led systems integrator MTS and spent four years as an exec at Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC).
In November 1999, CompuCom's board of directors ended a national CEO search when they successfully recruited Coleman to succeed longtime leader Ed Anderson as the company's chief executive. "I feel blessed to have worked with some great companies like IBM, CSC and CompuCom," Coleman says. "It's a tremendous honor."
Coleman has distinguished himself at CompuCom by leading the national reseller through the recession and IT spending slump and instituting a much-needed yet painful transition to a more prominent IT services business. Coleman started the shift even before the Dallas-based company's high-volume product sales began to plummet. While overall revenue has fallen in subsequent years, the company's services operation has become its most successful and profitable business. "What I'm most proud of in my career is helping to move CompuCom from a PC provider to what many see now as an IT services provider," Coleman says.
The transition, however, isn't finished. While CompuCom gets more than 50 percent of its profit margins from services, that business is still only about one-quarter of the company's overall revenue. Still, many solution providers large and small have attempted such reinventions and have crashed and burned. Raymond James financial analyst Brian Alexander wrote in a recent report that CompuCom's future is looking brighter. Alexander states that CompuCom's management has maintained a strong financial structure--the company has been profitable every year since it was formed in 1987--and that the reseller's shift to services has already begun to yield benefits as IT spending improves.
In addition to bolstering services and concentrating on enterprise data centers and high-performance application development, Coleman says midmarket customers will play an increasingly large role in CompuCom's future. The chief executive wants smaller, more targeted contracts that run two years instead of 10 for midsize businesses. Whatever the size of the customer or contract, Coleman insists on treating each deal with care and attention. "We have to stay focused. We don't approach the market by trying to be a full IT outsourcer for Fortune 1000 companies," Coleman says. "We want to help CIOs acquire, integrate and manage their Intel environments and platforms."
CompuCom will need Coleman's steady hand as it moves forward under Platinum Equity, a private firm that recently purchased majority ownership from Safeguard Scientifics for $254 million. "They're going to build on us directly as a standalone company, and that will be a huge plus for the company," Coleman says.
Coleman is confident that Platinum will help CompuCom continue toward a stronger, more prominent services business. That, coupled with Coleman's leadership and philosophy, bodes well for the reseller.
"I have a belief that in the IT services business the true differentiator is the quality of service," Coleman says.