Channel Coup: Dell Lands Vitagliano In Bid To Boost SMB Partnerships

Dell has significantly boosted its channel credibility with the addition of channel icon Frank Vitagliano, a 40-year industry veteran, to its management roster.

Vitagliano, who brings with him extensive relationships with a wide swath of networking, security and infrastructure solution providers, joins Dell on Monday as its vice president of channel sales, where he will oversee all regional (SMB) and specialty solution providers.

In March Vitagliano left his role as senior vice president of Americas Partners for Juniper after spending seven years with the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based networking vendor.

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"I've known Frank for years. He clearly brings a wealth of knowledge about the channel, a wealth of respect from the partner community and the ability to build channel programs to deliver initiatives to channel partners," said Greg Davis, vice president and general manager of global commercial channels at Dell, Round Rock, Texas. "That's the opportunity we're excited about."

Vitagliano said he has watched Dell from afar and has admired its progress in the IT industry and in the channel.

"Over the last couple years, I watched very closely their acquisition strategy and what's been going on in terms of the transformation of the company. It really got me excited. Also, I've known Greg Davis for a long time, and he really impressed me with the job he and Jim [Defoe, vice president of global commercial channels sales and programs at Dell] have been doing. They're really becoming a major channel player."

In addition to driving Dell's SMB partner initiatives, Vitagliano will also handle specialty solution providers including any legacy partners that Dell picked up through acquisitions that remain selling just one platform, such as EqualLogic or SonicWall, Davis said.

Some Dell partners were ecstatic that Dell has scooped up a longtime channel leader in Vitagliano as the company works to build up its PartnerDirect program and stake a bigger claim in the indirect sales market it once shunned.

David Nahabedian, principal and co-founder of Integration Partners, a Lexington, Mass.-based solution provider and Juniper partner, said Vitagliano and Juniper meant so much to his business that he will take a closer look at Dell now, something he would not have done before.

"He made our business very personal to him. I felt we could go to him with questions or challenges and he would always get an answer. It wasn't always what we wanted but he was always fair to Juniper and fair to the partner community," Nahabedian said. "It is bittersweet to see him go, but we will consider what Dell has to offer, and we would have never done that if Frank hadn't gone there. I'm not even sure if there's a fit in our business [for Dell], but with Frank there, it makes us think about it."

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Vitagliano's channel roots are critical as the Dell aims to significantly increase its enterprise business as Founder, Chairman and CEO Michael Dell moves to close the company's proposed $24.4 billion leveraged buyout.

"I think Dell's got some very good channel people right now. ... The addition of someone like Frank is more frosting on the cake," said Bruce Geier, president and CEO of Technology Integration Group, a San Diego-based solution provider. "This adds another channel veteran. Frank has a long tenure with the channel working different pieces of the channel, and this will only benefit Dell."

Defoe will now be responsible for large national partners, including direct marketers and global systems integrators, Dell's Davis said.

"Jim has done a terrific job growing our channel business and winning [market] share. We've reached a point where we're ready to invest in additional sales channel leadership," Davis said.

Davis said he has had numerous channel-related conversations with Vitagliano through the years. What's more, he sought advice from Vitagliano as Dell was developing its PartnerDirect program.

Dell started talking about bringing one-time IBM colleague Vitagliano into the fold about two months ago, Davis said.

"Knowing his capabilities, having that relationship, we talk quite often. Any opportunity we had to talk about deal registration or sales coverage or partner programs was something we all try to do. Frank has always been someone I have great respect for," Davis said.

Prior to his time at Juniper, Vitagliano was a popular channel executive at IBM, where he spent 33 years before leaving in 2006 to join Juniper.

Davis also spent 8 years at IBM, including a stint as director of North America channel sales and operations.

Vitagliano joins Dell at a time when the company is at a crossroads. Dell has agreed to a leveraged buyout led by Silver Lake Partners, but it has also received alternative bids from other groups led by The Blackstone Group and Icahn Partners. Negotiations are ongoing, and it's unclear who will own it or whether CEO Michael Dell will remain at the company.

Vitagliano said the proposed buyout did not factor into his decision to join Dell.

"At the end of the day, the things that mattered to me making the decision were, one, the company itself. I've been very fortunate to work for two world-class companies, now a third. That was the No. 1 consideration. The second piece was the commitment to the channel. That's where I made my career. It's what I want to do. That was a very important consideration. Third is obviously the overall value proposition that [Dell] can provide to the marketplace and customers. Those three things made sense," Vitagliano said.

Bob Venero, CEO of Future Tech Enterprises, a Holbrook, N.Y.-based solution provider, said Vitagliano's hire is evidence that Dell is indeed very committed to the channel.

"They're investing in the channel: channel programs, channel people. The more the channel programs mature with Dell, the more it will start to change the DNA for team members that have been a direct focus, the better off it will be," Venero said. "It's a very smart play on their part."

NEXT: The Diverging Needs Of Dell Partners

Dell began planning to add the role now filled by Vitagliano about 12 to 18 months ago, Dell's Davis said, because of the diverging needs of different kinds of partners.

"Some partners still have their whole business tied to iSCSI storage or specialized around security. They have different sets of needs than other resellers, and we try to align our teams that way and we wanted management teams that can tailor to that," Davis said.

Solution providers are unlikely to see any disruption in their day-to-day relationship with Dell as a result of the addition of Vitagliano, Davis said.

"Our goal here is our partners should not see a change in their day-to-day coverage. We have tech sales people that are assigned by partner type around the country now. Partners should not see a change in the account team or the way they interact with Dell from a day-to-day standpoint, just the additional of a sales leader focusing on one part of the business."