Last spring, in the midst of the merger of Dell and EMC, World Wide Technology CEO Jim Kavanaugh on a whim sent a last-minute invitation to Michael Dell.
In an email, Kavanaugh reached out to invite the Dell chairman and CEO to meet with him and other members of WWT's board while they were in Austin, Texas, for another meeting.
"We said, ‘Michael, you're probably swamped, but we're going to be in town for the next two days and if you're interested in coming down and spending a couple hours with us, we could chat about what you're doing and hear your thoughts,'" recounts Kavanaugh, who is also a co-founder of St. Louis-based WWT, No. 8 on the 2017 CRN Solution Provider 500.
You can imagine the board's surprise when Dell quickly accepted.
"Thirty minutes later, he responds and says, ‘Happy to do it.' In Michael style, we met him down in the lobby and he came walking in all by himself, no huge entourage, just kind of strolling down the street by himself," Kavanaugh said.
That willingness to put aside his other cares to make time for a partner is just the kind of evidence that has made believers out of top solution providers like WWT, convincing them that when Dell the company shifted away from its direct-only heritage in 2007 to embrace the channel it had once eschewed, Dell the man was 100 percent committed to the shift.
"The direct business model Dell had in the early days was very innovative and entrepreneurial, but as the market morphed and changed, he changed with it," Kavanaugh said of Michael Dell. "His ability to adapt and reinvent himself and the company is just not easy to do."
Dell Technologies' channel renaissance is a testament to Michael Dell's agility and adaptability, to his passion for customers and technology, and to his deep commitment to using data to drive growth at his namesake company, solution providers said. Dell is a leader with big ideas, a clear vision and high standards. That commitment, vision and data brought him around to the channel and he's not looking back.
For partners, Dell's channel evolution is indicative of Michael Dell's willingness to change in order to benefit the business, and his commitment to going where the data leads him.
"Michael is incredibly adaptable," said Ken Lamneck, CEO of Insight, a Tempe, Ariz.-based solution provider and No. 13 on the 2017 CRN Solution Provider 500. "Dell's first foray was all about ‘go direct.' That worked extremely well in the early years, and of course it was sort of anti-channel, and then he started to recognize that business models were changing and that the channel was actually a more efficient way to reach all the customers he needed to," Lamneck said.
"He was able to be pretty agile and adaptable, and he had to change the culture of his organization internally where he had preached direct to them for so long," he added. "He certainly understood what it was going to take to change the culture of his company and embrace the channel, and he took a very long view of it because it wasn't going to happen overnight, and it didn't happen overnight. He's been incredibly consistent. There were a lot of naysayers out there who remembered competing against Dell when Dell was going direct, so it's not like people [in the channel] just rolled over and said, ‘This is going to be great for us.'"
Solution providers said they see Dell as a leader who's right a lot of the time, but not afraid to change tactics when he's not.
"It's exciting to see Michael evolve to the point where he puts even more value in the channel than he has in the past. Obviously, that creates enormous opportunity for everybody," said Dan Serpico, CEO of FusionStorm, a San Francisco-based solution provider and No. 46 on the 2017 CRN Solution Provider 500. "It's a testament to him, really. How long has he run that business? Thirty years? They've come through how many changes over the course of time? He's very entrepreneurial, but very focused. He's very capable of changing his mind, of reading the market, admitting that strategies aren't working, or that there are strategies that will work better. That's why his business has been around as long as it has and has grown as much as it has."