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CRN Interview: Ingram Micro's Kirk Robinson On 'Continuing To Be The No. 1 Distributor Worldwide'

Chief Country Executive for the U.S. Kirk Robinson explains why Ingram Micro is laser-focused on the needs of partners.

Whether it’s educating partners on disruptive technology trends like IoT and cloud, or helping partners pull deals across the finish line with creative financing, Chief Country Executive for the U.S. Kirk Robinson said in an interview with CRN Senior Editor O’Ryan Johnson that Ingram Micro is laser-focused on the needs of partners. “We’re firing on all cylinders,” he said. “There’s more opportunity in this industry than I’ve ever seen. And we’re looking forward to taking advantage and continuing to be the No. 1 distributor worldwide.”

There is a lot going on right now in the market, whether it’s trade tensions or recession warnings. How is Ingram Micro doing in 2019?

Kirk Robinson: We’re in the zone right now. We had a great 2018. We’re building off that in 2019. We’re up to $50 billion in revenue, and we just keep growing. That comes from investing in the right areas, investing in the talent and all the programs that we have to support our customers to help them deliver the right experience to their customers. We broke a lot of records last year, and we’re growing off that. One of the biggest things we did was we really challenged our team with the phrase, ‘Get comfortable being uncomfortable.’ As you’re probably aware, if you’re playing in this industry, you’re going to be uncomfortable if you’re trying to keep pace with the change. And if you’re not trying to keep pace, you’re going to get run over and run by. So we’re looking at a lot of different things we can do to continue to raise the bar for our customers to deliver that experience.

With the increasing complexity of solutions out there in the market, how do you manage delivering these services to customers?

It’s what we focus on every day. It is the life we live, which is really being the business behind their brand. We have to continue to look at what services are needed and, as you would imagine, that changes on a daily basis. In the world of security, we’re seeing it all the time. There are a lot of bad people in the world, so it creates opportunity in the area of security. And because of our size and where we’ve been able to grow our line card and the solutions that we have, it puts us in a great position for the customers to be able to lean on us for all those services around security, cybersecurity, etc. That carries across all the technologies we make decisions on, all the technologies we make decisions on every day, looking at where we’re going to invest and get the right return on our dollars. And then in some areas that are not necessarily technology-based, like financial solutions, I would say that’s one of the biggest areas that has helped drive some of our growth over the last several years. It was really sitting down and looking at new ways to create financial programs that can support our customers’ growth.

Every solution provider I spoke with talked about how Ingram Micro enables the as-a-service model through— not just financing—but also managing the invoicing and collecting the money so they can keep running their business. That seems like an easy solution to talk about but a hard one to carry out.

We understand for the partners that cash fl ow is king. So that’s why a lot of our focus is on ‘What can we do to help support that customer?’ And we’ve done all sorts of programs. We’ve bought out managed service contracts where we can charge them lower interest in exchange for business so the overall solution gives us the ROI and it gives the partner the flexibility and more cash fl ow. We have an end-user program where we can do the credit worthiness of the end user, and base that entire deal off that end user’s credit so the partner can go out and win larger deals that would normally surpass their credit line with us by a large amount. But we base it on the credit worthiness of the end user, set up a lockbox, and now the [solution providers] are looking even bigger to their end user because they’re able to have Ingram Micro behind them. In those cases, the end user won’t even know it. So I would say we are sitting down all the time with our partners asking them questions around what sort of help they need. How creative can we get to go help our customers grow because we know it’s a huge opportunity, and then we back it up with all the technical services that we have, wherever their needs are. We call it ‘One Ingram Micro.’ So when we go in and visit a customer with our financial team, our cloud team, whatever technology focus they have, we’re tough to beat.

Can you talk about some of the disruptive technologies that Ingram Micro is helping its partners sell?

Security changes so rapidly, and you are seeing some of our partners run into issues with hackers and ransomware. So security is always going to be an opportunity for us to support our partners because of the size of our security business. I think IoT is another one. We’re in an industry where sometimes there are fancy acronyms or names, and it takes a little while for people to figure out what that really is. With IoT, we sat back for a little bit, we saw some of our competitors making moves naming people VP of IoT, but we wanted to take our time to understand how does a partner make money. Beyond the selling of a sensor—and it’s really the full solution—all the way to the interpretation of the data, the AI, the ML [machine learning], it’s how can you use the data to become more intelligent about a certain solution so it saves the end user cost or allows them to become more efficient? It’s not just, ‘Oh, we sell IoT and [the sensors] allow you to see this.’ It goes all the way through the full solution. This is what the data can do for you, and these are the dollars that you can save. And I think cloud is another one that continues to change, and we’ve invested $500 million of our own money to build out our own cloud capabilities. I think that might be more than our competitors. We saw that as a priority for our business and partners, and that’s paying off in our ability for our partners to see the cloud path that they need to take.

Are we still going to be talking security, cloud and IoT as disruptive technologies next year?

I think those are without a doubt on the forefront. I don’t see any of those stopping. I see all three of those continuing to thrive. I think digital transformation is another one that people are trying to wrap their heads around. And that, to me, is helping companies become more efficient through the use of technology. And every company goes through it, Ingram Micro included. So we’re looking at the size of Ingram. What are we doing to become more efficient with these technologies, and how can we help our partners with that also?

How do you stay competitive in the cloud distribution landscape, given the competition there not just from other traditional distributors, but from startups?

I don’t look at any competitor. I respect all of them, but we don’t spend a tremendous amount of time focusing on what our competitors do. We spend a majority of our time looking at our customers’ needs. So if somebody comes up with something new, of course I hear it. I’m out at conferences. I hear what people are saying, and I hear the marketing that these companies are doing, but I’ve been doing this 26 years with Ingram. I’ve seen a lot of competitors pop up from time to time. Some are more vocal, and then they’re gone. When I started we were a $2 billion company, now we’re a $50 billion company. So we’re very focused on continuing to be the largest distributor in the world. It’s served us well. We respect what others are doing, but we’re going to stay very focused on our partners, and we’re going to continue to invest. There are a lot of competitors out there. I’m going to go out on a limb—I don’t think they’ve invested $500 million in their cloud strategy. We’ll continue to do that as the market evolves and continue to make changes. I’m open to going against any competitor. I respect them. The more important thing to us is sitting down with our partners and really understanding how we can help them deliver a better experience.

How do you plan to keep your momentum going in 2020?

We have a tremendous amount of data on our customers. We really led the way in distribution when it came to the use of business intelligence. We continue to invest in our CRM platform and everything to better understand the customer. And like any business, where you invest you have to see a return on the investment. If you don’t, you’re not going to continue to invest in that area or in that customer. So we’re very big on going out and sitting down with our partners and showing them the full portfolio of services, and sometimes that takes time. It would take me awhile to walk through all the services and capabilities we have, and so the better we know the customers, the easier the conversation is. The better we know the customers, the easier it is to have the conversation around how to better support the business. At the end of the day, it’s about execution. If you’re investing right and you’re partnering right and you’re executing, then you keep those investments going. The more we are able to enable our partnership, the better off we are.

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