The Top 25 Executives Of 2008

Tech Titans That Rocked Your World

This year our Top 25 list looks at those executives who shook up the channel -- for better or worse -- making the calls that had the greatest impact on solution providers: those who soared high despite a precipitous downturn, those who put the heat on the big boys, those caught in the down draft and those driving forward with next-generation business models.

These are the players at the top of their game, the wild young lads on the way up and those old guard wannabes on the way out. You bought the ticket. Now click along for the wild ride for our entertaining mix of CEOs, channel chiefs and colorful characters that make the IT channel scene the wildest and craziest of any and all.

1. Mark Hurd, Chairman and CEO, Hewlett-Packard

In an industry full of hype and hot air, Hurd is the real deal. He focuses squarely day in and day out on making improvements in the business that either take costs out or drive sales. He's the ultimate operations-oriented CEO. And he gets the channel, every nook and cranny of it. Not just the view from the ivory tower, but the rough and tumble goings on in the sales trenches.

He's not about ego and image. He's all about results. What a refreshing change after the ever image-conscious Carly Fiorina. This one-time Florida native won a tennis scholarship and even tried his hand for a while on the pro tennis circuit. We like to think of him as the high-tech industry's answer to Roger Federer. Think HP is done reinventing itself? Think again. Hurd is at the helm. [read more]

2. John Edwardson, CEO, CDW

These days, Edwardson may well wish that he was back as president of United Airlines battling pilot unions and big losses. At least in the airline industry a beaten up balance sheet is considered status quo. Not so in the technology business. If Hurd is on the way up, it sure looks from here like Edwardson and CDW's valuations are on the way down.

After successfully selling CDW to private equity investment kingpin Madison Dearborn for $7.3 billion in a deal that now looks like highway robbery, Edwardson is now faced with the unenviable task of delivering results that warrant that enormous price tag in an economy where point product sales have hit the wall. [read more]

3. Luke Hosinski, president, Infra-Comm

We love David and Goliath stories. You think you can't fight City Hall or behemoth vendors? Think again. Hosinski sure did. When Cisco decided to take a big deal that Infra-Comm registered and pass it on to telecommunications giant AT&T, Hosinki decided to take his case to a California court.

And he won to the tune of a $6 million jury award. The jury ruled that Cisco had violated its own reseller agreement -- a contract that Superior Court Judge Gregory Lewis called "unconscionable." The landmark ruling shows that even solution providers have rights. Here's hoping vendors take heed. [read more]

4. Adrian Jones, vice president/general manager of the Americas, Hewlett-Packard

Channel chiefs usually don't get enough credit when things go right and shoulder too much of the blame when things turn sour. Not in our book. With HP -- the biggest and strongest heavyweight in the information technology business at a strapping $110 billion a year in sales -- continuing to fire on all channel cylinders, we tip our collective hats to Jones.

There's a reason Jones earned Everything Channel's prestigious Channel Executive of the Year award for large companies: He's kept HP at the top of its channel game with a steady and able hand, making it more profitable and easier for VARs to do business with HP. We love that Jones still plays midfield in a competitive soccer league. The fact is, he's a master of the assist -- making the passes that allow solution providers to score goals. [read more]

5. Sheila O'Neill, vice president of channel sales, Panasonic Computer Solutions

Panasonic Computer Solutions' Toughbook line regularly beats out the competition to win industry awards for the best notebooks. And O'Neill, who walked away with our Channel Executive of the Year honors for small companies, has made sure that Panasonic keeps partners front and center for everything they do. There's a reason that Panasonic's Toughbook unit is a 100 percent channel business, and that reason is Sheila O'Neill.

She has been a channel beacon at Panasonic for 11 years in a business where channel chiefs come and go like bad weather in New England. This is a channel veteran that we hope stays tough and sticks around. [read more]

6. Niel Nickolaisen, CIO and director of strategic planning, Headwaters

You know that old saying that the customer is always right? With that in mind, Nickolaisen makes our list as a representative of midmarket CIOs everywhere, the guys who buy real-world solutions to solve real-world problems. The MIT graduate has developed an IT / business alignment model that offers a pragmatic approach on where to focus IT dollars. Any vendor or solution provider that has its head in the clouds would benefit from a sit down with Nickolaisen, who spearheads the technology vision for Headwaters, an energy and building products company. [read more]

7. Greg Spierkel, CEO, Ingram Micro

When you're the world's largest distributor of computer products and software and you're facing a world economic crisis, it helps to have an unflappable CEO like Spierkel. The distribution veteran has steered Ingram Micro through more than a few treacherous times. Of course it helps to have assets like Ingram's well honed VentureTech community, its powerful services network and more products and services covering the full IT market than any and all comers. [read more]

8. Rick Chernick, CEO, Camera Corner Connecting Point

So how do you build the world's ultimate digital age solution provider business? If you're Rick Chernick, you start with a tiny camera store founded by your father and build it into a $38 million business that sells and services -- yes, services -- all things technology from Sony TVs to HP servers and SANs to software like VMWare. Chernick dominates the Green Bay, Wisc., market by the force of his personality and the quality of his company's services.

We're not kidding when we say this is the model of the future. That means getting up at 4 a.m. with your top engineer and sales guy and making the four-hour drive to the sparsely populated upper peninsula of Michigan to win new business, making sales calls without breaking for lunch. And then, even as night settles in, rallying your troops to make sales calls to businesses that still have their lights on. There's a reason Chernick's top sales guy pleaded -- "For God's sake can we just go home?" Not if you want it to be the undisputed best in your market. Old school is new school. [read more]


9. Chris Franey, vice president of commercial sales and marketing, Samsung

Speaking of old school, give it up for 20-year-plus channel veteran Chris Franey, who is still hitting the channel long ball with programs and air cover driving profitable growth for VARs. So what has Franey learned working the channel all these years?

"Listen to what channel wants," he says. "Companies that consistently do this will be successful. No matter what the bean counters say, you've got to build a robust channel for the long term. Internally, I'm always preaching that it's a journey, not a destination." It's a journey that VARs prefer to take with someone like Franey. [read more]

10. Brad Anderson, CEO, Best Buy

Will the real Brad Anderson please stand up? Is he the genius that transformed the retailer from a boutique audio dealer to the undisputed king of consumer electronics or the aging CEO who has overstayed his welcome as business hits the skids? The recent economic tailspin has even Anderson crying foul. Just after Circuit City filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, Best Buy cut its full year profit forecast in the midst of what Anderson called "the most difficult climate" the retailer has ever seen. Will Anderson save the day or will Best Buy be doomed? Tune in next week. Same Best Buy time. Same Best Buy channel. [read more]

11. Dan and Michael Schwab, co-presidents, D&H Distributing

How do you manage through a downturn? If you want a lesson on thriving in good times and bad, you'd be wise to talk to D&H Co-presidents Dan and Michael Schwab. "We decline to participate in any downturns," says Dan (left). It's not just talk. D&H has delivered consistent double-digit sales growth for the past eight years.

We refer to the 90-year-old, employee-owned company as the Timex watch of the distribution business. Even when the industry takes a lickin', D&H keeps on ticking. Look for the the Brothers Schwab, who took on the shared president duties in May, to continue the $2 billion distributor's hot streak. [read more]

12. Mitch Breen, senior vice president of global channel strategy and sales, EMC

For all those who don't believe that the darkest of the dark direct sales knights can find their way to the Channel Roundtable, take heed of what Breen has accomplished at EMC. He has taken a direct sales-oriented kingdom and turned it on its head, putting the storage giant at the top of the channel heap. Under Breen's leadership, EMC has walked away with the top scores for the 2008 VARBusiness Annual Report Card storage crown for two consecutive years. Fie on those who doubted EMC. And lolly lo lolly lo to EMC's Channel Knights of the Round Table led by King Mitch. [read more]

13. Edison Peres, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Channels Go To Market, Cisco

Speaking of kings, there is no more powerful player in the networking realm than Cisco Systems. The infrastructure leader has come up with channel programs that put much-needed profits in the pockets of partners. Peres is charged with keeping the Cisco channel treasury filled with cold hard cash.

That means pushing Cisco to boldly go where no channel giant has gone before, incenting partners to tackle new innovative recurring revenue models like managed services and Cisco's Webex online meeting software. The 15-year channel veteran says the secret to being successful in the channel is balancing "solution providers as customers and as partners. If you balance that well, there's power in it." Power indeed. [read more]


14. Steve Orenberg, president of the Americas, Kaspersky Lab

For solution providers, one of the critical ingredients to winning in a down market is hot technology. And right now there are few companies with hotter technology than Kaspersky Lab. But hot products without a hard-charging channel-savvy executive mean nothing. Enter Orenberg, who delivered 200 percent growth in the U.S. last year and is on track to post 100 percent growth numbers this year. That's one hot channel buggy. [read more]

15. Stephen Elop, president of the Business division, Microsoft

There are tough channel jobs. And then there are tough channel jobs. There is no one that is navigating more treacherous channel terrain than Elop. He is the Microsoft executive chartered with leading solution providers out of the Microsoft software licensing wasteland and into the SaaS promised land at the same time Microsoft charges ahead with everything from an online store to its own hosting business.

Elop's ability to win support for partners inside the Politiburo-like halls of Microsoft and rally them in the field will determine the long-term success or failure of Microsoft's broad and deep partner community. [read more]

16. Eric Berridge, co-founder, Bluewolf

One way to dodge the Microsoft SaaS bullet is to forge ahead with or without the software giant. That's just what Bluewolf Co-founder Eric Berridge has done: building the world's No. 1 SaaS consultant by partnering with the likes of and others. This is one young, wild wolf that is tearing apart the fat cats that refuse to change.

"Some bigger vendors and solution providers are in for a rude awakening because of the nature of the business," says Berridge. "SAP, Accenture, have been getting by over the last 10 years selling huge contracts that will be a lot tougher to close now. Companies like mine came about because we said there is a different way to do things." Make way for a different way. The Bluewolf way. [read more]

17. Frank Vitagliano, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Channels, Juniper

Taking on Cisco requires channel smarts, fortitude and an ability to forge partnerships in the face of the most daunting foe. Enter Vitagliano, a former IBM channel captain, who has taken Juniper to new channel heights. Vitagliano has redrawn the Juniper channel map with a strong services enablement program, deal registration and an all out focus on improving partner profitability. Vitagliano's channel charge is paying off. Look out Cisco. The planets are shifting. Juniper is on the rise. [read more]

18. Robert McKernan, President North America, APC

If you want to play in what is one of the fastest growing markets -- data center power and cooling management -- then you'd be wise to phone up McKernan. APC is at the vanguard of the data center power and cooling market. Forget whining about plummeting hardware sales. Take McKernan's power and cooling lead and hop into a red hot market. [read more]

19. Paul Maritz, President and CEO, VMware

If data center power management is a red-hot market then virtualization software is a rocket ship. A rocket ship that more than a few partners hope will allow them to break through the downturn. Of course a lot depends on Maritz and how he handles the virtualization challenge from his former employer Microsoft. There are signs VMWare desperately needs a lift. Will Maritz provide a much-needed cloud computing boost? Ground control to Major Paul. Come in, Paul. Come in. [read more]

20. Dave DeWalt, President and CEO, McAfee

One company that does not need a power boost, thank you, is security powerhouse McAfee. A good deal of the credit for the company's meteoric rise goes to DeWalt. Since taking the CEO reins last April, DeWalt has made key acquisitions and forged channel partnerships that are paying off handsomely. In short, he has taken what was a struggling antivirus company and turned it into a one-stop shop security power. Other CEOs are crying about the economic downturn. Not DeWalt. He's feeling good about McAfee's ability to continue to grow in a difficult IT climate. [read more]

21. Matt Medeiros, CEO, SonicWall

Medeiros is also feeling good about his company's end-to-end security reach. He's great at putting the right product set in the right market with rich margins for partners and then driving growth and more growth. Medeiros says one of the secrets to his success is "establishing a 'live and thrive by the channel' company strategy." Partners have come to expect SonicWall to deliver the right product at the right time in the right market for them to make big money. They won't be disappointed. [read more]

22. Gianfranco Lanci, president and CEO, Acer America

Acer America may not be known as the most innovative notebook computer manufacturer. But it certainly may be the leanest and meanest, pumping out attractively priced products at a decent margin for partners. Credit Lanci for the company's share gains in an intensely competitive market. Now the vendor has its eye on the emerging netbook market, and it may even shed its reputation as a value-priced player to an innovator. Sounds like the Italian-born Lanci is revving up Acer to become the Lamborghini of the laptop set. [read more]

23. Lane Bess, president and CEO, Palo Alto Networks

If you want to try out the security market's equivalent of the super-fast, well-engineered Lamborghini then take a ride with Palo Alto Networks' next-generation firewalls designed to run hard to protect Web applications like streaming video, instant messaging and voice applications like Skype. Bess is at the wheel of the high tech racecar that could well earn the checkered flag in a tough race.

"I'd like to become an exciting new solution for the channel, and through that, at a time when the economy may be bad, be the bright spot," said Bess. Go, Speed Racer, Go! [read more]

24. Jerry Lumpkin, Vice President of Channel Sales, Toshiba America

How do you take a channel dog and turn it into a channel champ? First off you hire Jerry Lumpkin. Since taking the channel reins at Toshiba three years ago, Lumpkin has reengineered Toshiba's channel terms and conditions from top to bottom. That means healthy rebate packages to entice partners and a host of new channel executives to make sure the company executes on its channel commitments. The 24-year channel veteran is winning high praise from channel partners for the remarkable Toshiba transformation. Got a channel program in distress? Who you gonna call? Jerry Lumpkin. [read more]

25. Judson Althoff, group vice president of worldwide alliances and channels, Oracle

For years, Oracle was a thorn in the side of the channel. Then it became a channel-friendly force under Rauline Ochs, who left the company suddenly at the beginning of the year. Althoff was left to pick up the pieces. The young lion has filled the void and continued the partner-friendly march with a series of initiatives under the Partner Enablement 2.0 moniker including expanded training and improvement to the Oracle PartnerNetwork Portal.

And so how does Althoff intend to make sure Oracle doesn't slide backward in the channel? It's simple, he says, it's like "many other things in life: what you can expect to get out of the channel is directly tied to what you invest into it." A golden rule that we hope all vendors take to heart. [read more]