Lenovo Channel Chief Frey Gets Expanded Role, Will Oversee North American Commercial Business

Chris Frey

Chris Frey, who has driven significant SMB channel gains at Lenovo during his nine years with the company, is taking on an expanded role that will see him also work with enterprise customers, according to sources.

Frey is now vice president and general manager of Lenovo's North America commercial business, a role that includes duties previously handled by 10-year Lenovo veteran Thomas Looney, who is retiring.

"I'm extremely excited about the opportunity that lies ahead of me," Frey said in an exclusive interview with CRN on Thursday. "Having the responsibility of the channel business, and now all of Lenovo's commercial business, will allow me to craft a strategy that's good for both Lenovo and partners that will allow us to scale together."

Frey said he will be responsible for both SMB and Lenovo large accounts, and he'll also continue managing Lenovo's North American channel sales.

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"As I make a major focus on accelerating growth in our large commercial accounts business -- like the growth we have seen in our SMB business -- we will continue to grow the percentage of business we do through the channel," Frey said. "I anticipate the partner community will see a big benefit in terms of profits and margins."

Frey said that his oversight of both commercial and channel sales means partners, should expect more visibility, interaction, and growth with both Lenovo's end-user sales teams and its SMB channel teams. "Our channel strategy does not change," Frey said.

Bob Venero, CEO of Holbrook, N.Y.-based solution provider Future Tech, No. 234 on the CRN Solution Provider 500, said he sees Frey's new responsibilities as a game changer for solution providers looking to make headway with Lenovo servers in the enterprise market.

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"Our challenge with Lenovo has always been working with their channel support model that has been primarily focused on the SMB market," Venero said. "With Chris taking on these new responsibilities, my hope is the channel reps will be able to support us in the enterprise going forward."

Venero said he sees the potential for a dramatic reduction in channel conflict with direct sales reps. He compared the Lenovo reassignment of responsibilities to a Dell move to consolidate direct and indirect sales under Dell President of North America Bill Rodrigues two years ago.

"That definitely helped reduce channel conflict at Dell and I think it will do the same at Lenovo," Venero said. "It delivers a much stronger message to the channel from Lenovo especially on the heels of the acquisition of the IBM server business."

In the past six months, Lenovo has made several changes within its channel leadership. Sammy Kinlaw, was promoted to executive director of North America channel sales for the company's Enterprise Systems Group in October.

Despite the turnover, some partners are optimistic about Frey's ability to maintain the vendor's channel focus.

"We are very curious how Chris' new position will impact the channel," said Joe Lore, sales director of at Sunnytech, a Lenovo partner based in Woburn, Mass. "My first concern is making sure Lenovo keep up its channel momentum."

Lore said he believes that Frey's promotion will be a boon to the channel. "Chris now has one foot in the channel and one commercial sales. The channel is so ingrained in what he has been doing for so long, it's going to shape how he handles his new role," he said.

Douglas Grosfield, CEO of Xylotek Solutions, an Ontario-based solution provider and Lenovo partner, described Frey as an "extremely effective advocate for the channel."

Grosfield said that Frey is well suited for his new position within Lenovo, as the company faces the challenge of integrating both IBM's x86 server business and Motorola's handset division, along with the channel programs it inherited with them.

Lenovo says eighty percent of its North American business goes through the channel. In October of 2013 it reported that it generates between $5 billion to $6 billion in revenue North America with over 25,000 partners.