Frank Vitagliano credits the lessons he learned from his parents growing up in a tight-knit Italian family in a blue-collar working-class neighborhood for leading to his rise from a teenager working in the IBM mailroom to a technology channel sales icon and the newest member of the IT Hall of Fame.
"My parents are a big part of my success," said Vitagliano, recalling growing up in a six-family home that was filled entirely with 15 members of his extended family. "I learned from them the importance of integrity and doing the right thing. It sounds easier than it is sometimes. I learned about treating people right and getting things done. Watching how my mother and father did things while I was growing up was very good for me."
Vitagliano's father, Frank – whose nickname was "Footsie" – drove a truck for 30 years for The Massachusetts Lumber Co. and then finished his working life as janitor. Footsie was admired as one of the most likable guys in the neighborhood – affable, gregarious and always ready with a kind word for others.
His mother, Julia – who worked as a waitress at Elsie's, a Jewish deli – was always in motion, never sitting down, a Type A personality. Even after a full day of work, she always made sure dinner was on the table at 6 p.m. and then worked into the night cleaning and putting two kids -- Frank and his younger sister, Angela -- to bed.
Those early lessons on character and doing the right thing have served Vitagliano well. Nicknamed "Little Foots" as his father's son, Vitagliano put himself through Northeastern University under the IBM tuition reimbursement program and then worked his way up the ladder to become by all measures the greatest channel chief of the modern IT sales era.
Over four decades, the Iron Horse of the channel has helped deliver literally billions of dollars in technology sales as the channel chief for three companies- - IBM, Juniper Networks and Dell. And then the hard-working kid from East Cambridge, Mass., created the ultimate second act to his fabled channel career by becoming CEO of one of the most respected national solution providers in the country – Computex Technology Solutions.
Through it all, Vitagliano has forever redefined what it means to be a channel chief, mentoring dozens of channel executives and becoming a hero to a new generation of channel executives. They see Vitagliano as the "Mayor of the Channel" -- a living legend for his ability to develop long-lasting, unbreakable bonds with partners with his old-school neighborhood ethos. Partners say Vitagliano combined a natural integrity and tireless work ethic with an uncanny ability to make things happen in the sales trenches. They say Vitagliano's word was his bond.
As for his colleagues in the vendor and distribution communities, they credit Vitagliano with being a channel symphony conductor of sorts, bringing together the unique strengths of partners, technology vendors and distributors to drive game-changing solutions for customers with an unbending commitment to drive win-win-win relationships in the often-tenuous channel ecosystem.
When the channel business model was under attack as Dell's supply chain prowess came to the fore in the PC era with a direct sales model, it was Vitagliano, then at IBM, who stood his ground and led the charge on a head-to-head economic analysis between the Dell direct model and the channel – an economic analysis that showed the channel model was just as cost-effective. Vitagliano also was one of the driving forces behind the distribution partner communities that have become a staple of the industry. And when Dell wanted to prove its channel mettle, it was Vitagliano the company turned to for help accelerating channel momentum.
Bob Faletra, CEO of the Channel Company and a 2014 inductee into the IT Hall of Fame for his fierce channel advocacy over three decades, said CompTIA, which took over the IT Hall of Fame seven years ago from The Channel Company, made a great choice in Vitagliano. He said Vitagliano -- the ultimate channel chief – succeeded by doing business the "old-fashioned way," meeting people face-to-face and building win-win scenarios for partners and technology vendors with unmatched integrity.
"As a channel chief, Frank did it better than anybody else and, more than anybody else, and he did it the right way -- with integrity and perseverance," said Faletra. "At the end of the day, Frank always did what he said he was going to do. And he did it by getting on a plane every week, meeting people face-to-face and asking, 'What is going on in your business, and how can I help so we both can be successful?' It's the way business used to be done and still should be done. Everybody thinks they can sit down at a keyboard now and make stuff happen. The reality is business is still a face-to-face proposition."
Vitagliano always looked at the thousands and thousands of partners he worked with day in and day out as customers, said Faletra. "Many vendors just don't look at the channel as a customer," he said. "Now Frank is a customer for all these vendors. He has come full circle. He is one of the few executives that has done it all, from working for a big company like IBM to a smaller company like Juniper and then a company trying to break into the channel like Dell. And now, as CEO of Computex, Frank is a partner. Frank knows the channel at a very deep level. If I need to ask somebody about a nuance in the channel, Frank is the guy I call."
Faletra said Vitagliano's trademark in the channel was honesty and integrity. "Partners always knew that Frank would give it to them straight and try to work with them, and if he couldn't help he would be honest and tell partners that," said Faletra. "Frank wouldn't just tell you what you wanted to hear."
Through it all, Faletra said Vitagliano has never forgotten his roots as a kid growing up in East Cambridge. "His closest friends are still the guys he grew up with, none of whom are in the IT Hall of Fame," said Faletra.
Going To College And Working At IBM
Vitagliano realized early on that if he wanted to go to college he would have to figure out a way to pay for it. That door swung open when Vitagliano's father got him a job in the IBM mailroom. "I was 17 and needed a job," he recalled. "My father knew somebody who knew somebody at IBM who said, 'Call this guy.' It was as simple as that."
As a high-school senior starting in December 1972, Vitagliano, who played high-school baseball and football, would leave school at noon and make his way to IBM's Newton Corner office, where he would help package and ship typewriter and typewriter ribbon orders. In his typical go-the-extra-mile manner, Vitagliano turned what was a part-time job into a full-time job by hanging around the office after his 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. daily duties were done and helping out in other departments like accounting and operations.
"When it came time to graduate high school, IBM offered me a full-time job," he said, recalling his good fortune. "Of course, I didn't grasp the significance of the fact at the time that this was IBM – one of the renowned companies in the world. The reason I took the job is I knew they had a tuition refund program."
Vitagliano worked at IBM during the days and attended Northeastern University at night. After seven years of going to school in the evenings, Vitagliano received his Bachelor of Science in business management.
Three years into working for IBM, Vitagliano's channel career was almost derailed when his Uncle Bobby Boncore -- who had a well-known tuxedo rental business in the Boston area called Mr. Tux -- offered young Frank a job managing one of his stores.
Vitagliano's father, rarely one to interfere, stepped in to make sure Vitagliano stayed the course with IBM. "My father, who never really pushed me, heard about it and made it very clear that was not something I was going to go do," said Vitagliano. "He realized what a great opportunity I had in front of me working at the greatest IT company on the planet. To this day, I don't know why I listened to him, but I did."
Vitagliano has more than once questioned what kind of turn his life would have taken if he did not listen to his father. "I know this," he said in deadpan fashion. "There is no Hall of Fame for tuxedo rentals."
Vitagliano's father was not one to sit down and have heart-to-heart conversations. He led by example, said Vitagliano. "I watched my dad and how he dealt with people and how people liked to talk to him and be with him," he said. "He was just a good guy. You can be a good guy and succeed. I learned that from him."
Vitagliano also knew when he saw his father working second shift as a janitor after The Massachusetts Lumber Co. had gone out of business that he wanted to build his own career doing something he loved. "That had a very profound impact on me," he said. "You could tell my dad wasn't happy during that time, but I watched how he handled it. He got up every day and went to work. That is the way I have always approached things: You show up. You get on the field and do what you need to do."
As for his mother, Vitagliano recalls her as a force of nature – always pushing and driving forward. "If she wasn't working she was cooking or cleaning the house," he said. "She was always doing something and was always there for my sister and me. She would take the bus from East Cambridge to Harvard Square each workday and arrive back at home in the afternoon with a full dinner on the table for the family."
Vitagliano remembers fondly those dinners, especially his favorites: eggplant parmigiana and stuffed peppers. "Sunday dinner was always a big event," he said, recalling the house that was purchased by his first-generation immigrant grandfather. "That was a big deal because it was our entire family in that house."