Lenovo N. America Pres. Ghilardi: Lack Of Channel Know-How Led To Exec Turnover

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Lenovo North America President Emilio Ghilardi, who in his two-year tenure has overseen an almost unbroken string of executive departures, suggested that those who have left simply didn't understand the channel.

In an interview with CRN, Ghilardi said the executive team now in place at the China-based PC giant's North American headquarters in Morrisville, N.C., possesses channel savvy that former execs did not.

"Eighty-eight percent of our business is the channel," Ghilardi said. "You just cannot not understand channel dynamics and pretend you're running an IT business. You just don't get it. We have a lot of senior executives at the company that have spent half of their lives, if not more, working with channels. We don't just do business with the channel. We designed our company around it. It's one of the differences we don't talk enough about."

[Related: A New Lenovo Sees Data Center Market As Its 'Growth Engine']

"We have been really trying to take away the best people and put them where they can make a difference," Ghilardi said. "When you put the right people in place, you can see the clarity of the vision, the simplicity of the programs and the understanding of what it takes."

The difference in the leadership team's approach to the channel is palpable, said Michael Goldstein, CEO of LAN Infotech, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.-based solution provider that works with Lenovo.

"It's great that that's the messaging, that it's all about the channel," Goldstein said. "We've definitely seen an uptick in calls and communications from their team. They're contacting us. They're doing all the right things. It's an extremely competitive space. Everybody's scrambling to make the piece of pie a little bigger, and the proof is in the pudding, but we do see a push from them."

Now is an opportune time for Lenovo to deliver its "all-about-the-channel" message because Dell EMC and HPE's programs are in chaos, said Cliff Gumkowski, Lenovo's vice president and general manager of data center group solutions sales. Dell's $58 billion acquisition of EMC, and Hewlett-Packard's split into two distinct companies, Hewlett-Packard Inc. and HPE, creates opportunities for Lenovo to deliver a program tailored to partners' needs, said Gumkowski, a 15-year Dell veteran who joined Lenovo about a year ago.

"There's some chaos in the other partner programs out there right now, and we're taking advantage of that," Gumkowski said. "We're looking at what the partners are telling us would be best-in-class because of what's happening with Dell and HP. There's chaos in that environment, and that gives us an opportunity to improve our program. We look at ourselves as more of a neutral play and being a neutral play, our partners can be more aggressive. There's a lot of questions about Dell and HPE, which is great for us. If there's a question, we have an opportunity."

Ghilardi himself came to the North America president position a little less than a year into his Lenovo career in a flurry of executive changes that saw former North America head, Aymar Lencquesaing,  reassigned to head the company's Motorola Mobility business.

In the same reshuffling, Gerry Smith took charge of the company's data center group, replacing Jay Parker, who had left Lenovo to take a job as vice president and general manager of Dell's North America enterprise solution sales. Smith, who was later moved to a position leading Lenovo's PC and smart devices unit, left the company early this year to become CEO of Office Depot.

In late 2016, sales veteran and former channel chief Chris Frey left his position as vice president and general manager of Lenovo's commercial sales operation, a position he held for just 18 months. He was replaced early this year by Executive Director of Commercial Sales Marshae Mansfield

In the meantime, Lenovo has recruited several executives that Ghilardi says fit the company's channel-first mode, including Gumkowski, who was brought on from Dell about a year ago; Intel veteran Kirk Skaugen, who was made the data center group chief in March; and Kim Stevenson, also an Intel veteran, to be senior vice president and general manager of the data center group.

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