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Channel Mourns Loss Of Affable, Accountable Vology Leader Joe Serra

Serra, a solution provider and distribution executive revered by colleagues and peers for his bright smile and ability to create a culture of accountability, passed away over the weekend.

Joe Serra and Barry Shevlin enjoyed Saturday lunch together every month for more than a decade at the Columbia Restaurant in Sand Key, Fla.

The two neighbors, friends and sometimes colleagues would talk family, shop and Tampa Bay Rays baseball and use the other as a sounding board for tough business issues. Though the conversations differed at each meeting, the entrée choices were always the same: Serra had the restaurant’s famous 1905 Salad with turkey, while Shevlin had a salad with shrimp.

Shevlin’s lunches with his longtime friend and top lieutenant at solution provider Vology came to an end sooner than anyone could have imagined. Serra passed away this weekend, and is survived by his father, wife Susan, and four children: Joe, Jillian, Sean, and Leza. A celebration of Serra’s life will be held at 1 p.m. Jan. 11 at Anona United Methodist Church in Largo, Fla.

[Related: Distributor Global Convergence Brings Services To Channel Partners]

“He’s been in and around the industry for quite some time, and he was well-liked,” said Shevlin, CEO of Clearwater, Fla.-based Vology, No. 173 on the 2019 CRN Solution Provider 500. “He seemed to know everybody. People just adored him.”

Shevlin hired Serra at Vology not once, but twice, recruiting the longtime leader first from Tech Data in 2006 to build Vology’s professional sales organization and transform the business from a reseller of pre-owned Cisco equipment to a true value-added reseller. Then in November 2018, Shevlin brought Serra back from GCI to infuse Vology with services expertise and mature the firm’s organizational structure.

“Philosophically, we’re just aligned from a leadership perspective,” Serra said. “Always led by example.”

Serra’s greatest impact was on Vology’s culture, Shevlin said, particularly as it relates to improving accountability throughout the entire organization. Serra signed every single email with the saying “See It. Own It. Solve It. Do It.” and worked his hardest every day to put that slogan into action, according to Shevlin.

Serra was consistently the first person on his team to dig in and meet with any customer who’s having an issue, and the first person to take responsibility and hold himself accountable if something went wrong, Shevlin said. He always took responsibility when things in his zone of responsibility weren’t right, Shevlin said, and almost never pointing fingers or blamed other members on his team.

“He liked to keep things simple,” Shevlin said.

Customers viewed Serra as an executive who knew how to navigate around roadblocks and could count on him to communicate promptly, directly, and concisely, Shevlin said. Both times Serra was at Vology, Shevlin said he attracted people to the firm who were aligned with its philosophy of leading by example, resulting in significant gains in Vology’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) for both customers and employees.

Serra’s scope of knowledge also grew dramatically from his Tech Data days, Shevlin said, and he was one of very few executives to successfully make the transition from being product-centric to being services-centric. His laser-like focus in recent years on service delivery and service excellence strengthened the culture of Vology’s services organization and helped company mature its service delivery processes.

“We enjoyed each other’s view on the industry,” Shevlin said. “He was very well-known and very well-liked.”

Outside of the office, Global Technology Distribution Council CEO Frank Vitagliano recalled spending three days at the US Open Tennis Tournament with Serra and his wife Susan. It was a weekend focused on building both a business and personal relationship that turned into a longstanding friendship between Vitagliano and Serra and their wives.

That weekend ended up at The Monkey Bar in New York City with Serra - who was then vice president of product management at Clearwater, Fla.-based Tech Data - holding court and celebrating a new friendship into the wee small hours of the morning.

“Joe was a fun guy to be with,” Vitagliano said. “He had a smile that would light up a room. Joe was an old school channel executive that built very, very strong relationships based on trust, mutual respect and also results. He built channel plans and strategies and then sealed them by going out and playing golf or having a beer.”

That ability to build strong personal and professional relationships showed just how much Serra - a 30 plus year channel veteran who spent 18 years at Tech Data and four years as executive vice president of solution provider Vology - “enjoyed being in the channel and working with solution providers and vendors,” said Vitagliano.

In fact, Vitagliano said Serra’s ability to cross from distribution to the solution provider side of the business was a “testament” to Serra’s “understanding of the channel.”

Vitagliano, who had been in touch with Serra regularly as recently as several weeks ago, got choked up recalling just how much Serra and his wife’s friendship meant to him.

“It’s a huge loss,” said Vitagliano. “It is a loss to the industry. But in times like these that becomes a helluva lot less important than the personal side of it. He was a good friend of mine. He was a great family man and he was well liked by everybody he came into contact with. I will personally miss him.”

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