Former CDW CEO Tom Richards Mourned As ‘Focused Coach’ And ‘Gifted Teacher’

‘Tom was brilliant,’ writes CDW CEO Christine Leahy. ‘He was humble. He was strong. He was kind. Tom was a competitor. A talented athlete. A focused Coach. A gifted Teacher.’


Former CDW CEO Tom Richards, a one-time star basketball player who was beloved by CDW employees for his coach’s acumen that brought out the best in people, has passed away.

CDW CEO Christine Leahy, who took over from Richards as CEO in 2018, informed the channel community of his passing in an email sent to CDW partners.

“I’m writing to share the devastating news that former CDW CEO, Tom Richards, passed away last night after a short illness,” said Leahy. “Tom was CDW’s CEO from 2011 to 2018 and under his leadership CDW set new standards of excellence. Tom was brilliant. He was humble. He was strong. He was kind. Tom was a competitor. A talented athlete. A focused Coach. A gifted Teacher.”

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Industry colleagues mourned Richards as a down to earth leader who viewed his CEO job as coach, driving employees to reach new heights with his quiet, unassuming leadership style. That approach paid off in dramatic sales growth. Under his leadership, CDW sales grew from $9.6 billion in sales in 2011 to more than $15 billion in 2017.

Richards, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Pittsburgh and a masters degree in management from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), joined CDW in 2009 as president and chief operating officer and became CEO in 2011. He added the title of chairman in 2013.

In a 2013 25 Most Influential profile, CRN recognized Richards for making CDW “bigger and better” than ever as the company returned to the public market. “He has signaled his intent to gain share and outpace the market and already is delivering on that pledge,” said CRN.

Richards held everyone he interacted with to the “highest standards,” but did so with “compassion,” wrote Leahy. “What I will take from him above all else is his unwavering belief and ability to see the possibilities in others. Under Tom’s leadership people blossomed.”

Addressing the partner community, Leahy wrote: “I know you will be grieving this news alongside the CDW family and all who knew and loved Tom. We will share more information in the coming days. For today though, I would ask that you take time to reflect on the life and legacy of Tom.”

Richards was a standout basketball player in college and high school where he scored 63 points in a game.

In an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Richards recalled scoring 63 points in his final home game at Moon High School. He started the game 1 for 10, but made 26 of 35 after that rocky start.

At the University of Pittsburgh, Richards moved from a “shooting guard to a point guard and became a starter on the 1973-74 team that is one of the most memorable in Pitt history,” wrote Pittsburgh Post Gazette Reporter Mike White.

White noted in the article that “Pitt’s head coach at the time was Buzz Ridl. “One of the best things I learned from Buzz Ridl is about the ability to become demanding as a leader, but never be demeaning,” Richards told White.

“We think our success in life sometimes is because of hard work,” Richards said in the article. “But what it’s really all about is the people along the way who did it with you.”

Richards met his wife, Mary Beth Dorogy, a women’s basketball player, at the University of Pittsburgh. The couple have two children who were also talented basketball players: Jason who spent time on the coaching staff at the University of Pittsburgh and who now works medical equipment company Stryker and Lindsey, who an assistant women’s basketball coach at Pitt and now works at PepsiCo.

AMD North America Channel Chief Terry Richardson, who worked with Richards during his tenure at HP and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, said Richards was a “true gentleman and a class act” who embraced the concept of team as a result of his sports pedigree.

“I know employees at CDW really enjoyed working for him,” said Richardson. “He was very focused and customer centric and built long lasting relationships with customers and vendors.He was one of the legends of the channel. He will be dearly missed by all of us in the channel community. We extend our condolences to his family and CDW.”

Richards was a focused leader who “exuded character,” said Checkpoint Software Technologies Head of Worldwide Channel Sales Frank Rauch, who worked with Richards at both VMware and HP.

“Tom was always willing to spend time and give you advice whether it was in the boardroom or at dinner,” said Rauch. “He was very generous and was a good listener. He wanted everyone to succeed. He understood the win-win balance of a partnership. People wanted CDW to win because of Tom. He was just a great leader.”

D&H Co-President Dan Schwab recalled Richards as a fantastic leader and a great partner. “He had incredible vision and led CDW during a period of its growth and success,” said Schwab. “What is more important is that he was a wonderful person. His legacy is the many friendships he had in the channel and the big impact he had on people within CDW and the channel.”

That measure of the impact Richards had on others was echoed by Leahy in the preamble to her message on his passing with a quote from former Nobel Prize Winner and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived; it is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”