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Channel Veteran Frey Is Out As Lenovo Head Of Commercial Sales

The sudden departure of Chris Frey as head of the North America sales comes with Lenovo in fourth place in the worldwide server market- two years after the company acquired IBM's low end server business.

Chris Frey, Lenovo's commercial sales leader and a 10-year Lenovo veteran, is leaving the China-based PC giant, vacating his role just as Dell Technologies turns up the heat in the hotly contested mobile and server markets, CRN has learned.

Frey's departure comes just 18 months after he took an expanded role as vice president and general manager of commercial sales overseeing all North America sales with a charter to significantly expand Lenovo's footprint in large commercial accounts. He led Lenovo's North American commecial channel.

[Related: Lenovo Channel Chief Frey Gets Expanded Role, Will Oversee North American Commercial Business]

"After devoting 22 years to IBM and Lenovo, Chris Frey has decided to leave the company to spend more time with his family," said a Lenovo spokesperson in an email to CRN. "We are grateful for his dedication and commitment to Lenovo and leadership of our channel and commercial sales organizations over the years."

In the wake of Frey's departure, Emilio Ghilardi, president of Lenovo North America, will add to his duties as the acting commercial PC general manager, while the commercial data center team will report to Cliff Gumkowski, vice president, North America Data Center Group Sales.

Frey's sudden exit comes two years after Lenovo acquired IBM's low-end server business in a blockbuster $2.3 billion cash and stock deal.

Lenovo's worldwide server share has remained relatively flat over the last year, finishing the second quarter, ended June 30, with $969 million in server revenue compared with $949 million in server revenue in the same period one year ago, according to market researcher IDC. Dell finished the most recent quarter with $2.6 billion in server revenue, a year-over-year increase of about 10 percent, according to IDC.

Lenovo remains in fourth place in worldwide server revenue behind Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Dell and IBM.

Future Tech CEO Bob Venero, who has known Frey for 20 years, said he will be missed greatly. "I have nothing but respect and admiration for Chris and what he has done in the channel," Venero said. "I wish nothing but the best for Chris and his family."

Michael Goldstein, CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based LAN Infotech, a Lenovo partner for the last five years, said he also is sorry to see Frey leave the company. "Chris was the face of the Lenovo channel," he said. "Chris was a big motivator for channel partners and a vocal proponent of partners within Lenovo."

LAN Infotech, like a number of Lenovo partners, has continued to team with Lenovo on notebooks, but never aggressively got behind the Lenovo server line after the Lenovo acquisition of IBM's low end x86 servers.

"We have always been a big Dell server partner," said Goldstein. "We really didn't see any server advances from Lenovo that would lead us to bring on the Lenovo server line. Our engineers and customers are very happy with the Dell server line."


Goldstein said the executive that replaces Frey is going to have to big shoes to fill. "Chris was the one executive at Lenovo that we knew and trusted," he said. "Whoever replaces him is going to have build new relationships with the channel."

Frey admitted that Lenovo had badly missed the mark in a candid presentation on the Lenovo server business last June at the Tech Data Channel Link conference.

Partners still don't know what Lenovo intends to do in the server market, Frey told Tech Data conference attendees at the time, saying management had mistakenly approached the server business like the PC business, giving partners marching orders to push boxes rather than data center solutions.

"We told you to sell one- and two-unit towers. We forgot, or we didn't know or we were ignorant that you sell solutions in the data center, not just a piece of hardware," Frey told conference attendees, according to a report.

Frey's departure comes just a little more than a year after Jay Parker, a vice president in Lenovo's Enterprise Business Group, resigned to take a job as vice president and general manager of North America enterprise solutions at Dell. As part of the Dell-EMC merger, Parker was made head of global server and networking sales.

Douglas Grosfield, the founder and CEO of Five Nines IT Solutions, a Kitchener, Ontario-based strategic service provider, praised Frey as a "friend to the channel," but agreed that Lenovo had badly missed the server mark.

"Lenovo tried to forklift all the partner programs from IBM to Lenovo and it didn't work," he said. "They expressed a desire to change that and modify the program but we never saw it happen. Most of those programs that Frey played a big role in supporting made a lot of sense five years ago but today are outdated. The server industry is changing rapidly right now. Hyper-convergence is making a big bang in the market and the server business is starting to see some of the same fall off we have seen in the PC market. While Lenovo the Red Dragon has awoken they are big beast and there is a lot of inertia."

Grosfield's calls to action for Frey's replacement: "This is an opportunity for Lenovo to put someone in place that puts his ear to the ground. As a strategic service provider leading the next evolution of managed services we own the last mile to the customer to a degree we have never seen before. Vendors like Lenovo need to hear our voice and not try to keep making us drink the same Kool-Aid they have been serving us for the last five years."

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