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Business Software Channel Pioneer Mort Rosenthal Passes Away

Steven Burke
Mort Rosenthal accepts his CRN Hall of Fame award in 2001

Mort Rosenthal, a channel titan who pioneered the concept of selling software to businesses via the channel as the founder and CEO of Corporate Software, has passed away.

With a maniacal focus on premium services, Rosenthal built Corporate Software -- considered the gold standard for selling software into businesses -- into a $1 billion company.

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Rosenthal died earlier this week and the cause of death is unknown, according to the first report of his passing on

Rosenthal, who was inducted into the CRN Industry IT Hall of Fame in 2001, founded Corporate Software when businesses "could only buy software through retail outlets or catalogs, and purchasing those offerings and getting support from a reseller was unheard of," according to his Hall of Fame biography.

Robert Faletra, a member of the 2014 CRN Hall of Fame and the CEO of The Channel Company, parent of CRN, recalled Rosenthal as one of the colorful visionaries that helped build the channel brick by brick. "Mort saw the value of the channel as a way to bring the power of software to businesses," said Faletra. "He was relentless in his pursuit to make software purchases simple, and he was a tireless advocate for the channel model."

Don Bulens, a former Lotus software executive and the CEO of UniDesk, a cloud desktop management software maker, said that when Rosenthal founded Corporate Software software for PCs were being sold only at retail locations. "Corporations that needed a variety of PC applications software struggled with that retail software concept. What Mort saw was an opportunity to serve corporations that wanted to be able to buy anything, anywhere and be provided with support. He disrupted the entire distribution model for PC software."

In fact, Bulens said, when Corporate Software appeared on the scene there was "almost an overnight shift from retail to more corporate-focused software specialty resellers. Others followed, but they were always following the innovation that Mort brought to the market."

Bulens recalled being "schooled" in the ways of the channel when he first met Rosenthal in 1989. At that time, Bulens, a member of the original Lotus Notes distribution team, was pitching a direct enterprise license that went around the channel.

Rosenthal insisted the direct licensing model would fail because it ignored the power of the channel to serve customers grappling with heterogeneous IT environments. "Mort taught me to put a customer hat on," said Bulens. "He opened my eyes to how important the channel was in supporting customers."

That channel lesson some 26 years ago, Bulens said, has stuck with him throughout his entire career.

Rosenthal was a visionary who created a whole new channel to sell software solutions to businesses, said Martin Wolf, a longtime distribution executive who is now president of Martin Wolf M&A Advisors, Walnut Creek, Calif., one of the top channel investment advisory deal-makers.

"Mort identified a real need, he addressed it and did it very well," said Wolf. "You see channel companies today with large corporate software units, but Mort was the first. Businessland didn't do that. Computerland didn't do that. IBM had their own retail locations and they didn't do it. He built Corporate Software into a significant asset. Mort was a smart guy and it is unfortunate that he is gone."

In 1995, Rosenthal merged Corporate Software with a division of R.R. Donnelly. When Rosenthal left R.R. Donnelly in 1997, the global software services business had $2 billion in sales with 10,000 employees.

A self-described serial entrepreneur, Rosenthal went on to found a holistic health center called WellSpace; a mobile phone retailer carrying all devices and carriers called Independent Mobile; and a business mobility services provider called Enterprise Mobile.

"Mort was someone who saw around corners and saw big opportunities to make life easier and better," said Bulens. "Some of his ideas didn't always work out, but in the case of Corporate Software, it was a monster success."

Dan Bricklin, the inventor of VisicCalc and CTO of Alpha Software, who knew Rosenthal as an investor in his company Trellix Software, recalled Rosenthal's passion for life and business. "Mort was fearless in terms of going into different areas," said Bricklin. "He approached it all with such enthusiasm."


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