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CDW Details CEO Succession Plan, Also Names New Chief Operating Officer

The plan to install Christine Leahy as CEO began four to five years before, said current CEO Tom Richards.

The current and future CEOs of solution provider behemoth CDW got on the phone with investors Tuesday to discuss its succession plan, hours after it announced the company’s current leader was stepping down.

[Related: CDW CEO Tom Richards Is Retiring ]

Tom Richards, who has been CEO for nine years, announced that he will retire on December 31, while Christine Leahy, the company’s chief revenue officer, will take over the following day.

“I’m very pleased and excited that Chris will be the next CEO at CDW,” Richards said on the call. “She’s the right person at the right time to take this role at CDW. She’s worked side by side with me since I got here in 2009, and I can tell you that not only is she experienced and has great qualifications, but she also has the passion and commitment that I think are critical to being successful as CEO at CDW. Speaking on behalf of the board, we are very confident that Chris will serve CDW and our shareholders in an exceptional way.”

For her part, Leahy said she is not looking to rock the boat when she takes over.

“What will change? The answer is nothing,” she told investors. “It will be business as usual for CDW. We have a strong and enduring business model. At the core of that model is a simple, but powerful formula: Make sure we profitably win in the market. Doing so enables us to continually invest. It’s this investment in the future that ensures we stay relevant to customers and to partners and deliver value to shareholders. That will not change.”

Leahy, a 16-year CDW veteran who began her career at the Vernon Hills, Ill.-based solution provider as general counsel, was unanimously approved as the company’s first female CEO by the board, following a lengthy selection process that Richards said he began four or five years ago.

“I have a firm belief that an executive and particularly a CEO’s primary responsibility, is to develop the leadership team and groom somebody to take their place,” he said. “The process was long and thorough and detailed as I’m sure Chris would agree with. We looked both inside and outside the business and I’m very pleased to announce that the board unanimously supported my recommendation that Chris be appointed as my successor.”

Joining Leahy as part of the succession plans is Christina Corley, currently CDW Senior Vice President of Commercial and International Markets, who will take on the newly created role of CDW Chief Operating Officer in January.

Corley, a seven-year CDW veteran and former Chief Operating Officer of national solution provider Zones, will be responsible for sales and sales operations, strategic solutions, services and international.

Industry expert Martin Wolf, president of martinwolf M&A Advisors of Walnut Creek, Calif., said Richards is one of the best in the business.

“To follow [previous CDW CEO] John Edwardson was not an easy task and Tom has done a fabulous job,” Wolf said. “Tom is like the (former Boston Celtics great John) Havlicek of the channel. He wins, and he wins nothing but NBA championships.”

Under Richards’ leadership the company delivered solid financial results, growing from $9.6 billion in revenue in 2011 to more than $15 billion in 2017 and rising from No. 270 on the Fortune 500 list to No. 189. Since the company’s IPO in 2013, its share price has increased five-fold, delivering a current market capitalization of $13 billion, the company said. On news of the succession CDW stock swelled $0.38 cents to close Tuesday at $89.27 per share.

“I would say that Tom Richards has a record of over delivering on commitments. If Tom is confident, then I’m confident that she’ll take what he’s done and expand on it in her own way,” Wolf said of Leahy. “Tom Richards said they’ll do a good job, so you can take that to the bank.”

A graduate of Brown University and Boston College Law School, Leahy joined CDW after working as a corporate lawyer at Sidley & Austin, one of the most prestigious law firms in the country. During her time at CDW Leahy has served a number of roles, including general counsel, senior vice president, international, where she led the development of the company’s international strategy, including the acquisition of Kelway, now CDW UK.

Her most recent job was as the company’s chief revenue officer, where Richards said she has been “creating synergies across our sales organization and integrating things so that we are even more focused and productive than we have been in the past.”

“Something I said to the board is ‘Look, I think there are three things that this person has to have. They have to have a strong IQ, intelligence quotient, a strong emotional quotient, and you have to have an operating DNA and I think Chris has demonstrated that over the last couple years,” he said. “We’re in a great place with Chris’s announcement and the announcement of Chris Corley as chief operating officer. I think we put a structure in place that will enable us to accelerate the performance we’ve had in the past.”

Richards -- who will work one final year with the CDW board as executive director -- is vowing a “seamless” transition of power at CDW as he steps aside and looks towards retirement.

“I’ve been in this business over 40 years now and the time is right,” he said. “I’ve always felt that there’s a time and a place to have a new voice. I think this is the right time and the right place to have a new voice leading CDW.”

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