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Presidio CEO Bob Cagnazzi Pledges To Do More To Battle Racism

Steven Burke

“When you see something like what happened to George Floyd, you realize it shouldn’t take a tragic incident like that yet again to bring this issue to the forefront. This seems to be even more of a breaking point than ever. It is sad that it has to come to this.”

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Presidio CEO Bob Cagnazzi said he is committed to ensuring the CRN Solution Provider 500 powerhouse takes substantive actions to help stem the tide of systemic racism, an issue brought to the forefront with the death of African-American George Floyd.

“I don’t think we’re doing enough to eliminate systemic issues within our society,” said Cagnazzi in an interview with CRN. “When you see something like what happened to George Floyd, you realize it shouldn’t take a tragic incident like that yet again to bring this issue to the forefront. This seems to be even more of a breaking point than ever. It is sad that it has to come to this.”

Presidio, No. 22 on the 2020 CRN Solution Provider 500, has had a longstanding commitment to diversity and is determined to make a difference in the battle against racism, said Cagnazzi.

[RELATED: Bob Cagnazzi - Presidio Is Ready To Help Customers Weather A Recession]

In fact, Cagnazzi pledged to pull together a “thoughtful” response in terms of actions that Presidio itself can take in the wake of Floyd’s death. “This is an issue we have to tackle further,” he said. “It is not only the right thing to do from a societal standpoint but also from a business standpoint.”

Cagnazzi, who has been at the helm of four top solution provider organizations over the past 34 years, said there are large swaths of African-Americans who are not participating in the economy at the same level as others.

“We need to have programs and policies that help bring those folks into the IT workforce,” he said. “That satisfies demand, provides jobs and careers and development. We have got a need and we have got resources. We just have to develop the resources to match the need. We want to be thoughtful about how we might be able to participate in that.”

Cagnazzi was one of the first solution provider CEO leaders to step up and address Floyd’s death.

In a Twitter post on May 31, Cagnazzi wrote: “Everyone should have the right to breathe freely. Everyone should have the right to freely breathe with the same privileges others enjoy. Racism in any form should not be tolerated.”

Floyd’s death—which has sparked nationwide protests—came after white police officer Derek Chauvin pinned him to the ground with his knee on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds, according to the criminal complaint for second degree murder, third degree murder and second degree manslaughter with culpable negligence against Chauvin.

Below is an excerpt of an interview with Cagnazzi on Presidio’s response to the death of Floyd.

Expound on the statement you posted on Twitter on George Floyd’s death, saying ‘everyone should have the right to breathe freely.’

It is disheartening. It is horrible. It’s heartrending and really sad to see that this seems to happen time and time again.

We are in a world right now with COVID-19 and everything else where there is just a lot of disruption. As you know, in the technology world, disruption is usually a pretty good thing for folks who are technology providers because it provides opportunities.

But these disruptions—other than COVID-19—are not new. That is what I think upsets me the most. These are persistent, systemic issues in our society, and none of us has done enough to help turn that around.

At Presidio we have focused on a number of issues around women in technology and diversity. As I start looking at it more closely, I have to wonder if we are doing enough. I think the answer is probably not.

I don’t think we’re doing enough to eliminate systemic issues within our society. When you see something like what happened to George Floyd, you realize it shouldn’t take a tragic incident like that yet again to bring this issue to the forefront.

This seems to be even more of a breaking point than ever. It is sad that it has to come to this. We are seeing more people than I think we have seen in quite a long time speaking out pretty forcefully in the business community. That is a good thing. Hopefully it can help us understand how to create lasting change around this and not just talk about it.

Mostly the business community has just talked about it. I don’t think there has really been enough systemic change.

What do you think of the statements from some of your CEO vendor partners?

[VMware CEO] Pat Gelsinger has spoken out. And obviously [Cisco Chairman and CEO] Chuck [Robbins] has been very vocal on this for a while. Chuck is not new to any of these fights. He has been out in front—ahead of most of the CEOs in the tech industry—on homelessness, diversity and a host of other social issues.

Were you inspired by Robbins’ comments on this issue?

I give Chuck all the credit in the world. He has been an inspiration on a lot of things. I think he probably encouraged more people to come out on this issue than would have happened previously.

This hits very close to home. All of us sit around the dinner table and discuss these issues. You realize that this is probably a dinner table discussion you have had before and you are still having it.

What kind of things might Presidio do to help change these issues for African-Americans?

I am not sure at this point in time. I am trying to think through what it is we can do that really makes a meaningful impact.

We are not Intel [which pledged $1 million to anti-racism, social-justice groups]. We don’t have the resources that an Intel has. But we want to—to the extent that we can—make a meaningful impact rather than just having a ‘program.’ Too often that is the response, and you don’t really get any results. I don’t have an answer right now. I want us to be thoughtful about this.

Is this an issue you anticpate tackling further going forward?

This is an issue we have to tackle further. It is not only the right thing to do from a societal standpoint but also from a business standpoint.

There is a large gap in talent between what is required and what we need in the field and what is always available. There are large swaths of people that may not be participating in our economy at the same level that other people are. We need to have programs and policies that help bring those folks into the IT workforce. That satisfies demand, provides jobs and careers and development. We have got a need and we have got resources. We just have to develop the resources to match the need. We want to be thoughtful about how we might be able to participate in that.

So are you committed to setting some targets and goals on bringing African-Americans into the workplace?

What I can say is we have a commitment to do more than just a line on a website. We are committed to putting together programs that will actually achieve our goals.

It is not something we are going to put an objective on right now. We want to be more thoughtful about it.

We have always been committed to diversity, but this highlights that we haven’t done enough.

How did you feel as the CEO of a company with an office in New York City watching the violence erupt there and in other cities?

I feel proud that we live in a country where people can protest things that are wrong. And then you get upset when those protests turn violent. Sometimes that can obscure the message. The message is pretty powerful, valuable and needed. You don’t want people to take the opportunity to point to violence in a protest as a way to minimize or dismiss the message that people are trying to put across. By and large most people are peacefully trying to get across that message, making an impact and hopefully creating change. That shouldn’t be lost. You’re sad. You’re dejected. You are proud of what people are trying to do to help things. And you are hopeful that things will change.

How do you see the pandemic and the protests in New York City impacting companies?

We are confident New York will come back. They will begin to open it up shortly. That is coming. Folks will go back to work at some point in time.

We have spoken about [evaluating our] real estate [strategy going forward in the wake of the work-at-home dynamic]. That is a not a decision we will make today. We have leases. But we will certainly, along with I am sure every other company that has expensive real estate in the city, look at what that footprint is and try to understand how much you are going to need.

New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the world. It is one of the largest IT markets in the world. I do worry—not so much with the disruption that is going on—but with the realization of so many people working from home and some of the cost of doing business issues in New York that that will spur businesses to leave the city and set up shop elsewhere because they have seen how productive they can be with a more distributed work-from-home environment. That, I think, hurts New York City in so many ways. The tax base will be smaller. Opportunities for careers will be lessened. It will be a less vibrant city if that happens.

Long term I think anybody that cares about New York City is going to care about what it looks like 10 years from now based on some of the things that you see happening today.

Certainly, we have some of the same issues every other city has. If economically a city can’t retain and create opportunity for people—any population—it becomes a real struggle.

 

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