Channel Company CEO Faletra Inducted Into IT Hall Of Fame At CompTIA Event

Seventeen years ago, The Channel Company CEO Robert Faletra inducted technology industry giants Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and William Hewlett and channel pioneers former Ingram Micro CEO Chip Lacy and ComputerLand founder Bill Millard into the IT Hall of Fame at the very first Hall of Fame event.

On Tuesday night, it was Faletra himself being inducted into the IT Hall of Fame at a ceremony held at industry association CompTIA's Annual Member Meeting at The Rancho Bernardo Resort in San Diego.

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Faletra, a fierce advocate of the solution provider business model for 30 years, was honored for his role in helping to shape the modern IT channel first as a journalist, then as an editor of CRN, and now as CEO of The Channel Company, leading the charge for the channel in the cloud computing-mobility-social networking era.

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Frank Vitagliano, a 30-year channel veteran, CompTIA board member and Dell vice president of channel sales, gave the formal induction remarks, joking that Faletra dreamed as a young boy of some day being inducted into the Baseball Hall Of Fame alongside Boston Red Sox greats Ted Williams and Carl Yastremski. Unfortunately, Vitagliano said, Faletra was simply not a very good baseball player. "He had nothing else to shoot for but the IT Hall of Fame," said Vitagliano, "and he made it right next to people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, [Compaq channel legend] Ross Cooley and [IBM channel titan] Dave Boucher."

Faletra's most notable accomplishment, said Vitagliano, was his unbending commitment to building the solution provider business with news, information, research, events, and software and tools, all aimed at helping partners grow the business working hand-in-hand with vendors and distributors.

"At the end of the day, Bob was the guy that always put the solution provider first in everything he did, whether it was as a reporter, senior executive or now as CEO of The Channel Company," said Vitagliano. "At the same time, he was able to maintain an influential relationship with the entire vendor and distributor community and the rest of the industry. He made his mark. A lot of what he fought for has led to the industry we are in today."

Ultimately, Faletra's impact has had a "profound" effect on how the channel has developed and matured into a business model that is at the heart of the sales growth enjoyed by thousands of technology companies, said Vitagliano. "If Bob didn't champion the cause of solution providers through all of these years, I am confident that somewhere along the line the channel voice would have been lost. At the end of the day, the group that he has most impacted is the solution providers. By helping them and being a voice for them, it enabled and strengthened them so that they could get their business models to the point they are at today where they have become significant partners for vendors in terms of how we go to market. Bob at this point is viewed more as an advocate for the overall business and the industry. He has impacted the entire industry."

NEXT: Faletra Counseling And Providing Channel Advice

Vitagliano said he sees Faletra, who has counseled and provided channel advice to a number of the industry's leading CEOs, continuing that role as the CEO of The Channel Company. "I see a new level of enthusiasm [from Faletra] as he leads the channel into the cloud," he said. "I see him focusing and working on the things that really matter to the channel."

In his acceptance speech, Faletra said he has been fortunate to get to know many of the industry giants, from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates to Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell to Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman.

Faletra recalled traveling to a weekend retreat for select editors at Gates' Washington state home with other billionaire CEOs flying in via helicopter. "I am kind of like the Forrest Gump of the industry," joked Faletra. "If Forbes ever does a list of people with small bank accounts that know the most billionaires, I would be No. 1 on the list."

Faletra recounted what he has learned from some of the channel and industry titans he has met along the way, including former solution provider and entrepreneur Mark Cuban and former Microsoft channel chiefs Jim Nielson and Sam Jadallah.

From Microsoft channel chief Nielson, who who would arrive at work at 5 a.m. so he could be home to tuck in his children, Faletra said he learned: "As Jim told me, 'You rent your kids, you don't own them.' That's what I learned from Jim."

Ten years later, then-Microsoft channel chief Jadallah called Faletra from Nielson's funeral. "Sam told me, 'It isn't the money you have got in the bank, or your job, it is your friends and family that you leave behind,' " said Faletra. "That's what I learned from Sam."

After seeing former Apple CEO John Sculley get on stage to demonstrate the Newton handwriting-recognition device, and then go back to his seat and start taking notes on paper, Faletra said he learned: "Do what you say you are going to do."

From entrepreneur Cuban, a former CRN columnist who went on to sell his solution provider business to CompuServe and then founded, which he sold to Yaho! for $5.9 billion, Faletra said he learned: "Timing is everything."

From channel titans Cooley and Boucher, who competed aggressively in the market but always maintained a good relationship, Faletra said he learned: "You can be friends and still be competitive."

From CompuCom Executive Chairman Jim Dixon, who built the solution provider into a $2.3 billion Solution Provider 500 power through many treacherous twists in the market, Faletra said he learned: "Staying power and perseverance pay off over time."

Finally, from Vitagliano, a street-smart channel executive who has built deep and long-lasting channel relationships that he has taken from IBM to Juniper and now to Dell, Faletra said he learned the key to being successful is: "Build a great team, be loyal to get loyalty in return, and any question in life can be answered by a scene in 'The Godfather.' "

NEXT: Faletra On A Lesson From His Father

Faletra said he learned from his father that it is always about the people first and foremost when you are running a business. "I am proud to say that the vast majority of the people who work at The Channel Company have been working with me for 15 years or more and some 20 years or better. At the end, even though I have gotten to know all of the CEOs and titans of the industry, I always learned more from the people in the channel."

Ultimately, Faletra said, the solution provider business is about listening. "At the end of the day, we are in the business of listening," said Faletra. "If you listen, you can learn a lot."

That message of listening is critical to success in the solution provider business, said Francois Daumard, a 15-year channel veteran who helped build critical solution provider relationships at Microsoft, Apple and now as vice president of channels North America for Fiberlink, an IBM Company, who was at the IT Hall of Fame ceremony.

"For me, hearing Bob talk about listening was inspirational," said Daumard. "This business has become what it is because we are in the business of listening. It couldn't be more true. What I love about Bob is he has met all these amazing people in the industry and been able to learn from them and still have his own opinion about the business and where the industry is going. To me, it was like seeing a living legend get his due. It's great for the channel to see such a precursory observer, unique influencer and relentless advocate of the channel join the pantheon of the IT industry luminaries."

Faletra ended his acceptance speech by noting that when you are in the channel "nobody knows what you do and it is too complicated to explain."

"I have been doing this for 30 years and my friends and family still don't know what I do," said Faletra. "I usually say it is hard to explain. It almost makes it sound illegal. But that is what it is being in the channel. And this award won't make it any easier. The kids are going to ask me: 'Dad, are you in the Baseball Hall of Fame?' No. 'Are you in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?' No. It is the IT Hall of Fame." To which, Faletra said, his kids are likely to reply: "What's that?"