CRN Exclusive: New Blood At Lenovo To Help Take On HP, Dell

Lenovo is bracing for a 15-round battle with Dell and Hewlett-Packard in the server market by appointing Sammy Kinlaw, the company's new executive director of North America channel sales for the company's Enterprise Systems Group, and adding new IBM channel blood to its x86 server team.

Lenovo promoted Kinlaw Wednesday in a move that places him in the System x hot seat, where he is tasked with taking on Dell and HP and driving sales for the company's newly acquired commodity x86 server business.

Lenovo now becomes the number three worldwide x86 server maker in terms of shipments with 11.7 percent market share. That's behind HP with 25.7 percent and Dell with 22.2 percent, according to the latest numbers from IDC.

[Related: Lenovo's Channel Chief Q&A: What's Next After IBM's Server Buy]

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Kinlaw, who has been with Lenovo for nine years, steps down from his role as executive director of North America channel sales to become a key Lenovo rainmaker tasked with helping the company achieve its ambitious goal to drive $5 billion of server revenue by Oct. 1, 2015.

Kinlaw joins new IBM enterprise leadership that came to Lenovo as part of its $2.1 billion purchase of Big Blue's x86 server business in a deal that closed Wednesday.

Adalio Sanchez, former general manager of IBM's System x business, will continue to lead the Lenovo x86 team as senior vice president of Enterprise Systems at Lenovo. Former IBM-er, Brian Hamel joined Lenovo Wednesday as vice president of the Enterprise Systems Group.

"Sammy knows his business, he knows the channel and he has proven track record of driving new opportunities for channel partners," said Lenovo channel chief Chris Frey, vice president North America commercial channels and SMB.

Kinlaw began his Lenovo career in 2005 as director of distribution sales where and was promoted four years later to executive director of channel sales. It was in this position where Kinlaw is credited for igniting Lenovo's channel partners to help it drive PC sales. Prior to that, he worked at IBM for 12 years as a business unit executive. Kinlaw reports to Hamel.

"We need to make sure we infuse Lenovo's speed, execution, tenacity and pace into [the] x86 server business," Kinlaw said. "Those are the Lenovo attributes that got us where it is today."

Kinlaw said he plans to grow Lenovo's x86 server business at a 20 point premium over the market. To achieve that growth he will focus on courting SMB solution providers through its distribution partners, as he did successfully with the PC.

"If Lenovo follows that same playbook for the server business it did with IBM's ThinkPad business, I'm sure they will be successful," said Todd Swank, senior director of product marketing at Equus, a Lenovo partner based in Minnetonka, Minn.

"IBM had a different philosophy focusing on the high end of the server stack," Kinlaw said. "We won't relent on those opportunities, but IBM spent less time addressing the SMB end of the market," he said. "We are going to open up the SMB aperture and increase distribution of System x into that market."

Swank said Lenovo has its work cut out for itself.

The server market is particularly difficult because, "people don't switch their server brands very often. It's a tough nut to crack," he said. The cloud is making the market more competitive, Swank added, as small businesses tend to abandon servers and move to the cloud, a trend impacting all manufacturers.

"Kinlaw has been a vocal and visible part of the IBM and Lenovo transition team," said Tom Hughes, director of alliances for Technology Solutions Group at Greenwood Village, Colo.-based Ciber, a longtime IBM x86 server partner. "Lenovo has clear and transparent emphasis on the channel. I don't know if I can always say that about IBM."

IBM, for its part, has said it drove 60 percent to 70 percent of its revenue through the channel within its Systems and Technology Group. IBM as a whole drives 20 percent of its revenue through the channel. Lenovo maintains it drives 80 percent to 90 percent of sales through business partners.

Kinlaw declined to provide growth targets for growing the System x partner community.

"We need to widen the market," he said. "We want intelligent growth, but there is plenty of room for growth to tweak the System x partner community to win the total addressable market more aggressively."