Channel Icon Frank Vitagliano To Be Inducted Into IT Hall Of Fame

Frank Vitagliano, a channel legend known for his ability to forge long-lasting relationships in the rough-and-tumble IT sales trenches over four decades, is being inducted into the IT Hall of Fame.

Vitagliano, who by sheer force of his personality and ironclad integrity, has become a living example of how to drive partner sales growth and loyalty, will accept the honor at CRN parent The Channel Company's XChange 2017 conferenc e on Aug. 15 in Orlando, Fla. CRN founded the IT Hall of Fame in 1997 and it has been administered by CompTIA since 2010.

"Frank is the ultimate role model and relationship builder," said Quy "Q" Nguyen, founder and CEO of Allyance Communications, one of the top global communications solution providers, choking up as he discussed Vitagliano's impact on the IT channel and the industry. "He has had a huge influence on me and many, many others in the channel. No one does it better than Frank. He approaches business as a people-first proposition and then makes the business connection. He understands that deals are done not only in the boardroom but after 5 p.m. in social settings. He always takes the time to get to know people."

[Related: Channel Icon Vitagliano Set To Take Helm At SP 500 Powerhouse Computex Technology Solutions]

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That ability to develop personal relationships has had a profound impact on Nguyen, who met Vitagliano 15 years ago. "As a rookie coming into the channel, everyone was always talking about Frank, and everyone always wanted to be around him," said Nguyen. "He was a mover and shaker that understood people and was admired and respected by everyone. He didn't do business like everybody else. I knew when I met him I wanted to be just like him."

Vitagliano joins a long line of industry and channel luminaries in the IT Hall of Fame, including industry titans Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs; Dell Technologies founder and CEO Michael Dell; and Microsoft co-founder, board member and Technology Advisor Bill Gates. A host of channel executives have been inducted into the IT Hall of Fame as well, including former CompuCom Systems CEO and 2016 inductee Jim Dixon; and IBM channel pioneer Dave Boucher, a former Vitagliano colleague.

Vitagliano's Horatio Alger-like climb to the top of the channel started in the IBM mail room in 1973. From there, Vitagliano moved steadily up the IBM corporate ladder with his channel career set in motion when he became an inside sales rep selling office supplies in 1977. That inside sales job turned Vitagliano on to the channel. It became his passion to soak up everything he could learn about the channel.

That was in no small part due to two mentors, Ross Venuti, who hired Vitagliano as an inside sales rep at IBM, and IT Hall of Fame member and former IBM general manager of distribution channels marketing Boucher, who urged Vitagliano to get a Ph.D. in the channel. Vitagliano responded by becoming a professor of sorts on every piece of the channel ecosystem from distribution to solution provider to the customer.

After "retiring" from IBM in 2006, Vitagliano took the senior vice president of global channels job at Juniper Networks, where he built a world-class channel program and mentored a new generation of channel leaders. From there, he went on to take the vice president of North America job at Dell. Vitagliano's appointment was hailed by partners and instantly brought channel credibility to the company.

After nearly four years at Dell, in a move that has become the perfect second act given his long career helping solution providers, Vitagliano became a solution provider himself in January as the CEO of Computex Technology Solutions, No. 120 on the 2017 CRN Solution Provider 500, a highly regarded national managed services provider.

"Frank Vitagliano is the face of the channel," said Michael Goldstein, CEO of LAN Infotech, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., solution provider who has been a huge fan of Vitagliano’s since he first met him at an Ingram Micro VentureTech partner event many years ago. "When you look up the word 'channel' in Webster's dictionary, there is a picture of Frank. Relationships are what really make us do business with a vendor. Frank got that. He's like a religion in the channel. As a solution provider, you had to follow him to whatever vendor he went to because you knew he would always have the solution provider's best interests in mind. Frank knew that it always came down to relationships above all else."

Vitagliano's appointment at Dell was a pivotal moment for the company and the channel, said Goldstein. "We knew Michael Dell was serious about the channel when he brought Frank on board," he said. "Dell passed a big channel test when it hired Frank. It said that Dell was putting skin in the game. Frank had an unblemished channel track record, and when Michael brought him on board it signaled a big-time commitment to the channel."

Vitagliano over four decades has built what amounted to his own solution provider army of sorts because of how respected he was by partners. "It was more than selling IT products or solutions when you partnered with Frank," said Goldstein. "It was personal. Frank understood us and made us want to go out and sell for him. He made you want to be part of his team."

Vitagliano also had an uncanny knack for making the complex simple when driving one-to-one relationships with partners. "Look at IBM, Juniper and Dell, those are complicated channel programs," said Goldstein. "Frank made it easy for the partner. You felt comfortable with him in the channel chair helping you navigate all the partnership hurdles. He was always there to pick up the phone and have a meeting to help you. It takes a special talent to get that done. There are a lot of channel leaders, but there is only one Frank Vitagliano."

Robert Faletra, CEO of The Channel Company and himself a member of the IT Hall of Fame, said no one is more deserving of the IT Hall of Fame honor than Vitagliano. "Frank's career speaks volumes for doing right by the partner and the value of staying true to your word and building relationships that stick," he said. "Frank set the bar for partner engagement and raised it each year as the channel chief for IBM, Juniper and Dell. Now as the CEO of Computex, he is changing the conversation between solution providers, vendors and distributors, and we will all be the better for it."

Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO of CompTIA, said the non-profit IT industry association is "thrilled" to have Vitagliano join the exclusive group of industry game-changers and visionaries. "Frank's no-nonsense, down-to-earth leadership at several of the channel's premier companies has contributed greatly to the growth of the industry," he said.

"On a personal level, Frank has proven time and time again that demonstrating integrity, being engaged, establishing relationships and delivering results lead to lifelong friendships and career success," said Thibodeaux.

Vitagliano, for his part, said he was "humbled" and "honored" to be included among the IT industry technology and channel giants.

"It's obviously a huge honor," he said. "I don't identify myself with the Bill Gates and Michael Dells of the world. I identify with the channel leaders in the Hall of Fame that I looked up to and respected like Dave Boucher, [former Compaq Vice President ] Ross Cooley, Bob Faletra, Jim Dixon, and [former Tech Data CEO] Steve Raymund. They were all role models for me. I have been in the channel for virtually my entire career."

One of the secrets to his success, said Vitagliano, was to maintain at all times the highest level of "integrity and professionalism" in every single relationship. "I never viewed anything as a transaction," he said. "I viewed it as a relationship. When you view things as a transaction, your whole goal is to get that transaction done. And in some cases, they don't always get done in a way that helps sustain a relationship. One of the things that I am most proud of is that my word was my bond. In working with folks, I felt that the most important thing I could do was be open and honest with people. As a result, it helped forge relationships. People may not have always been happy with the answer they got from me, but they were comfortable that there was a level of integrity built into the relationship. That to me was most important thing."

Vitagliano said one of the keys to being successful in the channel is understanding every piece of the channel ecosystem: vendors, distributors and solution providers all serving customers. "All those pieces are critical to the delivery of IT into the marketplace," he said. "I spent a ton of time developing and forging relationships with distributors and solution providers. One of the things that I am most proud of is that I was able to do that for a very long period of time. Those relationships were sustained during good times and bad times."

Vitagliano said he never viewed his role in the channel as a stepping stone to another job. "I always viewed the channel as a destination, a place that I wanted to be," he said. "There are some scenarios where some people go in and out of the channel role and they don't view it as sustainable. As a result, they don't spend the amount of time they should developing the relationships and trust with people. I spent a lot of time looking at the distributor and solution provider business models, what was important to them and how I could work with them most effectively."

Those long-standing relationships withstood deals that went bad, sales disputes and hard conversations over the years. "No one likes it when those things happen," said Vitagliano. "But when they do and you deal with it, people get comfortable with one another, and that is where strong bonds get developed. People like doing business with folks that they know care about them and are going to be there for them."

Vitagliano said he will be joined at the XChange 2017 ceremony at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando by his wife of 40 years, Jane, and his daughter Jillian, a third-grade schoolteacher in the Fulton County School district in Atlanta. He also will be joined by a number of mentors, including Boucher and Venuti.

Also attending will be a long line of channel leaders Vitagliano has mentored over the years including Donna Grothjan, vice president of worldwide channels for Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company; Blaine Raddon, director of worldwide partner development at Hewlett Packard Enterprise; Ken Marks, vice president of Americas Channels at Splunk; and Derek Maggiacomo, director of U.S. partner sales at Juniper.

Vitagliano said he is looking forward to thanking CompTIA, The Channel Company, his family and all those who have supported and inspired him. It's also an opportunity to reaffirm the principles that ultimately opened the door to the IT Hall of Fame. "It's all about building relationships through trust and integrity that can sustain good and bad times," he said. "Those are the principles that have worked for me."