5 Companies That Came To Win In 2013

The Year 2013

Every year there are winners and there are losers in the competitive IT industry. Which companies had the best strategies and made the right moves in 2013? Here are five we think were playing to win.

HP Gets Back On Course

Hewlett-Packard seemed to be adrift, if not floundering, in recent years with turmoil in the executive suite, declining sales and questionable business moves such as the $12 billion acquisition of Autonomy. But in 2013, there were clear signs that HP, under the direction of CEO Meg Whitman, was turning itself around. Under Whitman’s five-year plan, the company is getting its costs in line with sales, improving its cash flow and reducing its operating debt. The vendor got its technology mojo back with such products as its Moonshot converged infrastructure and Haven big data platform. And there was a sense among employees and customers that the company was back on track.

And that feeling was most evident among HP's channel partners, thanks to Whitman's partner profitability pledges and clear signals that the channel remains a critical element in the vendor's long-term strategy. (Some key nuts-and-bolts changes to the company's PartnerOne program also helped.) "HP is back," partners cheered at the company's Global Partner Conference in February.

Michael Dell Wins Long Battle For Control Of His Company

It was a straightforward enough proposal from CEO Michael Dell: take the Dell company private in a $24.4 billion buyout.

But the plan, unveiled in early February, turned into a nearly yearlong fight with activist investor Carl Icahn and other opponents over the future of the company. Michael Dell makes our "Came to Win" list by tenaciously seeing the battle through, ultimately emerging victorious after sweetening the pot a bit to $24.9 billion.

Was it worth it? So far, Dell partners think so. Michael Dell promised that the buyout would create new opportunities for partners and in early December he made good on that vow by making sweeping changes to the vendor's channel program, including putting 200,000 direct accounts into the hands of the channel.

FireEye Catches The Security Industry's Attention

Security is one of the IT industry's most dynamic segments, with ever-changing threats and emerging technologies (and vendors) for dealing with those threats. But no security company was hotter this year than FireEye.

FireEye gained a lot of attention with its antimalware detection technology that can inspect suspicious files in inbound and outbound traffic and block detected threats. The fast-growing company is widely seen as among the leaders in providing businesses with security technology for network analysis, malware inspection and endpoint behavior analysis.

FireEye was the darling of Wall Street and venture capitalists. The company scored a whopping $50 million in venture funding in January, then executed a successful IPO in September with shares gaining 80 percent in value in its first day of trading. The company is also a darling among solution providers: More than 90 percent of the company's sales come through the channel.

Lenovo Thinks Big, Thrives In PC Market

With PC industry sales expected to plunge 10.1 percent (IDC) for all of 2013, it's been a tough year for PC makers. And yet Chinese manufacturer Lenovo managed not only to survive, but thrive, this year. It captured the PC market's No. 1 spot in the second quarter, ousting longtime No. 1 Hewlett-Packard, and grew PC sales 2.8 percent in the third quarter -- nearly twice the growth rate of Hewlett-Packard and nearly three times the growth of Dell. (And if you still think of Lenovo as a humdrum PC maker, check out the ThinkPad Helix (pictured).) But it was also clear in 2013 that Lenovo has ambitions beyond the PC arena. It's become a major player in the worldwide smartphone market, reporting explosive sales growth for the server business it launched in 2012. And its "Combat" mobility kits were a hit with the channel. Lenovo made a serious bid to buy IBM's x86-based server business, an acquisition that would have made the company a top player among data center technology providers. It even took some tentative steps toward buying BlackBerry and Dell. Lenovo seemed to be firing on all cylinders in 2013. Can't wait to see what moves it makes in 2014.

Cisco Seeks To Reinvent Itself

No company wants to be the IT industry's Smith-Corona, the typewriter manufacturer that failed to see the market changing around it. We think Cisco was the most aggressive company in the industry this year in redefining and remaking itself to keep up with a fast-changing market.

Cisco CEO John Chambers (pictured) identified "the Internet of Everything" as the next major stage of evolution of the Web and networking. To stay on top of that Cisco acquired startup Insieme Networks and its application-centric infrastructure technology. Other acquisitions that signaled Cisco's outside-the-box thinking included Whiptail (solid-state memory technology), Intucell (mobile networking technology) and Collaborate.com (mobile collaboration). Adjusting to change can be painful: In August, Cisco said it would lay off 4,000 employees or about 5 percent of its workforce, in an effort to stay nimble in fast-moving areas like mobility and cloud computing. And at year-end, the company warned of slower long-term growth. As Chambers is so fond of saying: "Market transitions wait for no one."