Dell’s Jim DeFoe On Retirement, Michael Dell And Advice To Partners

‘The commitment that [CEO] Michael [Dell] has and the passion that Michael has is pretty amazing,’ says Jim DeFoe, senior vice president of Global Distribution for Dell.


Dell’s Jim DeFoe ‘Is Definitely Going To Be Missed’

Longtime channel advocate and Dell Technologies’ distribution leader Jim DeFoe is leaving the infrastructure giant after 23 years. Partners said DeFoe, senior vice president of Global Distribution for Dell, elevated the company’s partner program strategy and channel vision over the decades.

“Jim played a key role in shaping Dell’s channel and working through all the problem areas in the program’s early years while Dell was leaning how to be channel-friendly,” said Sonia St. Charles, CEO of Davenport Group, a St. Paul, Minn.-based Dell partner. “During those formative years, he definitely earned his stripes as he mediated all types of conflicts between the partner community and Dell’s field team, as well as encouraging Dell’s leadership team to consider the partner’s feedback regarding the program design. Jim is a super nice guy that knows how to navigate within the vast Dell organization and get things done. He is definitely going to be missed.”

Since 1997, DeFoe has held a variety of executive positions at Dell including vice president of North America Channel Sales, as well as vice president of global commercial channels sales and programs. Most recently, he reshaped Dell’s distribution business by cutting the number of global distributors from around 350 to 180.

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In an interview with CRN, DeFoe talks about his greatest accomplishments at Dell, working for CEO Michael Dell for more than two decades and his advice to channel partners on how to succeed in the future.

You had the same boss for 23 years in Michael Dell. What was it like working with him for that long?

The commitment that Michael has and the passion that Michael has is pretty amazing. He started the company from his dorm room and has done some wonderful things throughout his career and the legacy of the company under his leadership is almost incomparable. Having that consistency is important. Looking across the organization, you have [Dell Technologies Vice Chairman] Jeff Clarke, Billy Scannell [president of global enterprise sales and customer operations], and a lot of other senior executives that have been there for decades. Michael has that leadership and trust. It’s all about our customers. Customers can be our partners, our distributors or our end-user customers. Michael’s commitment to excellence and support of them is just second to none.

Talk about your time at Dell since 1997? What are you most proud of?

Across the 23 years, I have a lot of great memories. I spent time in our K12 and education and healthcare business. We grew those businesses quite rapidly. For the last almost 13 years, I’ve been in our channel business. I’m excited about a lot of the things that we did. One of the most rewarding aspects of my career was, as we started our channel program, being able to develop trust and relationships with channel partners. From a company who primarily was a direct manufacturer to opening up a channel business, there was a bit of skepticism from our channel partners. For us to develop that trust and relationship and build that business to where it is today means a lot to me. There are a lot of partners and distributors that I would call personal friends of mine.

That’s probably what I’m most proud about overall -- the fact that we could build a program, stay consistent with that program throughout the years, continue to grow it the way we have, and get the respect from our partners and the distribution community about our commitment to the program.

What was your role after Dell’s market-shaking acquisition of EMC?

My focus during the EMC merger was around the distribution standpoint. As we looked at the integration of distribution business and then the overall partner program, we wanted to drive some key principals that we continue to have today. The principals around making the program simple, making it predictable, making it profitable for our partners and distributors.

One unique aspect of our distribution business is when we combined the two companies, if you look at the amount of distributors that we had, we ended up with well over 350 distributors worldwide. We looked at that and wanted to make sure we had the right set of distributors – both from a local standpoint but also from a global standpoint. So we went through a rationalization strategy and really focused on getting a set of distributors that were both local and global that could really train and enable our partners, specifically Gold and Authorized status partners, to be able to sell the complete end-to-end solution from Dell Technologies. So we went through a rationalization strategy. That 350-plus distributors are down to less than 180 today. It was quite an undertaking.

Do you expect Dell to continue to consolidate distribution?

You’ll probably continue to see us do a little more of that – rationalization over the next year or so. It is really to drive more opportunity to a fewer set of regional and global distributors that we can help influence this market.

What is your advice to Dell channel partners for the future?

It’s all about understanding our program. Again, we’re driving for simplicity, profitability and predictability. I’ve always been a big believer that if the partner has strong relationships with our channel team – from our channel account managers up to our executives, but also with our segment teams -- having that relationship and strategy of working together and growing the business together is important.

From a distribution standpoint, we look to acquire new partners that come into our program under our Gold and Authorized status levels. Then from an acquisition standpoint within our segment’s teams, we’re working to acquire new end users customers. So the segment teams are very key to developing a good relationship with.

Then ultimately, being able to articulate the end-to-end solution and capabilities that we have from a Dell Technologies standpoint. It’s very critical for our partners and distributors to articulate that and deliver that message.

When is your last official day at Dell and do you plan on working again in the future?

April 4 is my final day. I plan to spend more time in Colorado, where we live part-time, and spend more time playing golf and hiking. We’ll still have a place here in Austin, it’s very dear to us and we have family here.

I have no plans to really do anything. People ask me, ‘Are you going to go back to work?’ Who knows? Maybe someday I decide to do that. But I can tell you, if I did decide to do that, it would be something that is complimentary to Dell Technologies. After 23 years, this company has been fantastic to me. I appreciate my time here and the opportunity that was provided to me. Anything I do would be complimentary to Dell Technologies.

Any parting message to all the channel partners and distributors you’ve worked with over the years?

Thank you for the commitment and investment and trust you made into us when we started the program. I believe we’ve continued working together to develop that program. They’ve provided some tremendous input over the years in how we can continue to enhance the program. But I think overall that trust and relationship they had with us to take the step with Dell and we entered the channel business and their commitment to us, I want to say thank you to them.

A personal goal of mine was to see if I could retire by 60. I just turned 60. I’m pleased and proud of my tenure at Dell and hope nothing but the best for our partners, distributors and Dell.