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CRN Exclusive: Specialty Distribution Titan Jeff Bawol To Retire From Tech Data After 40-Year Career

Michael Novinson

Jeff Bawol made two decisions as a 20-year-old college student that defined the rest of his life: he married a young woman named Erin and began working as a customer service rep at Hamilton-Avnet Electronics.

Bawol graduated from Detroit's Wayne State University; he stood by Erin and Avnet. The couple moved from his hometown of Detroit to Texas and then to Arizona as Bawol rose up the ranks at Avnet, leading the company's $5.76 billion Americas IT distribution business for nearly nine years before Avnet Technology Solutions was sold to Tech Data for $2.6 billion in February.

Now Bawol plans to leave behind the second love of his life to spend more time with his first. He is retiring to spend more time with Erin, and the three daughters and four grandchildren they helped bring into the world. Bawol will leave as Tech Data Americas senior vice president of enterprise solutions on Jan. 31, capping a 41-year career that paralleled the evolution of distribution from the mainframe to cloud computing, mobility, and IoT.

[Related: Tech Data Americas President Quaglia On The Avnet Integration, Accelerating Investments In Next-Gen Technologies, Going On The 'Offensive' And Why The New Tech Data Is Just 'Getting Started']

"I'm a consummate deal-maker, and I love to do strategy," Bawol told CRN exclusively. "It is a little bit bittersweet, of course, but at the same time, I'm so excited to spend more time with my wife, and my grandkids, and my children, and just move on."

Tech Data will search for Bawol's replacement, and hopes to have a new leader in place by Bawol's last day, said Joe Quaglia, Tech Data's president of the Americas. Bawol said many members of his team handling technology practice areas and vertical markets have 10 to 20 years of experience with the company and won't miss a beat after he departs.

"I think my team is ready and raring to jump in and continue with that tremendous service they're used to," Bawol said. "The legacy will live on and continue on."

The benefits of marrying Tech Data's legacy in device-oriented broadline distribution with Avnet's expertise in infrastructure-focused specialty distribution have been apparent for quite a while, with Bawol saying that Avnet actually considered buying Tech Data a number of years ago. But Avnet at that time wasn't "bold enough" to carry out a deal, Bawol said.

"I think this was the biggest, baddest, boldest move [Tech Data CEO] Bob [Dutkowsky] and the team could have made," Bawol said. "I think it's industry-changing. I think our competitors are still trying to figure out how to deal with it."

The opportunity for solution providers now spans all the way from the endpoint to the enterprise, Bawol said, incorporating both cloud technologies and predictive analytics.

Bawol gave his supervisors notice of his plan to retire all the way back in spring 2016. However, knowing the acquisition by Tech Data was likely near, Bawol's supervisors convinced him to stick around, and he ended up contributing through the close and subsequent integration process.

"We've been very open with them from the first day on that this was not going to be a long-term play for me," Bawol said.

When January ends, Bawol plans to leave the heat behind and go to Park City, Utah, where he and Erin finished building a new home a year ago. There, he plans to hit the slopes with his family and grandchildren – McKinley, 4; Harper, 3; Paxton, 1; and Halay, 1 – who, despite their very young age, already know or are learning how to ski.

"As soon as they can stand, they're going on skis," Bawol said.

Bawol is a self-proclaimed "exercise nut," and relishes the opportunity to remain active in retirement without having to squeeze in a trip to the gym at 4:30 a.m. before whipping Tech Data into shape.

"It's exciting, but at the same time, it's a little bit sad," Bawol said. "I'm going to miss the people, I'm going to miss the customers, and I'm going to miss the engagement."

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