If there’s one thing Frank Vitagliano knows, it’s how to build successful channel partnerships. For more than 30 years, Vitagliano has worked at the front lines of vendor channel programs at companies like IBM, Juniper and, most recently, Dell. Now, he’s made the jump from OEMs to MSPs by assuming the position of president and CEO of Computex Technology Solutions, a solution provider based in Houston, Texas.
When The VAR Guy talked to Vitagliano late Monday afternoon, the channel veteran was clearly riding high from a day of media briefings with an industry that undoubtedly wishes him well. Vitagliano is a popular figure in the channel, having earned a reputation for fairness and an ability to think a step ahead of this fast-evolving industry. When he left Dell four months ago in the wake of the company’s merger with EMC, he could rightfully have retired knowing that he’d not only put in his time, but also that he’d be leaving a legacy of goodwill on both the vendor and partner sides of the channel. But the idea of dabbling on boards of directors to pass the time left him unsatisfied.
“I wasn’t ready to retire to the beach, though I thought about it,” he laughs. “At the end of the day, I felt like there was more to do.”
Vitagliano, in his words, has been lucky enough to work for three world-class vendor organizations: IBM, Juniper and Dell. When he started thinking about what might come next for him, he knew he didn’t want to retire. But he also knew he didn’t want to go to another vendor. “I’ve been there, I’ve done that. I wanted to do something different.”
About 15 years ago, while working for IBM in the heyday of Big Blue’s PC-reseller channel, Vitagliano met Sam and Jason Haffar. At the time, the Haffars ran a family-owned white-box PC business called Stratos Management Systems, and for a while, their business interests aligned with Vitagliano’s at IBM. A few years later, Vitagliano moved on to Juniper Networks. When the Haffars’ business model evolved to include networking, the three men’s paths once again crossed. But it wasn’t until Vitagliano began leading Dell’s partner initiatives in 2013 that he saw how big their potential truly was.
Computex, to which the company changed its name in 2012, has grown from a family-owned small business into a service provider juggernaut. A series of acquisitions in recent years has increased its competitive advantage in managed services, cloud services and unified communications. Its 2014 acquisition of Houston-based ENET solutions also netted the company a 24/7 data center, integration facility and NOC, greatly expanding its networking infrastructure solutions offerings.
“When I joined Dell, I spent a lot more time getting to know them and recruiting them. And with the Dell EMC acquisition, they became a much bigger partner,” explains Vitagliano. “We’ve been friends, we’ve had a relationship, and we’ve also been business associates. While I never thought at the time we’d work together like this, it’s a good fit.”
It all happened relatively quickly. Vitagliano happened to mention to Sam Haffar that he’d be leaving Dell when the company completed its transition to Dell Technologies. In the same conversation, Sam shared that he and Jason wanted to move on from active leadership in Computex. The rest, as they say, is history.
“Philisophically and culturally, we’re on the same page,” says Vitagliano. He replaces CEO Jason Haffar, who will join Sam on the executive board. The move comes as Computex prepares to invest heavily in expanding its service offerings this year. Vitagliano is a key part of that strategy.
“Frank’s industry knowledge, working relationships and leadership experience are exactly what we were looking for and more in a president and CEO,” said Jason Haffar in a statement. “Under Frank’s leadership, we will expand Computex’s footprint, break into new markets and technologies and continue to invest in our internal operational excellence, customer service experience and IT specializations including cloud, managed services, networking, security and software-defined networking.”
Vitagliano says he has a lot to learn about running an MSP, but that the experience he brings in terms of managing fairly large sales organizations and teams will help as Computex continues to ramp, grow and add sales and solution architect resources. “I have a skillset that will help drive that. I’ve been able to do that in my previous world. A lot of the management structure things, the organizational things that I’ve had the good fortune of managing for a long time will help a lot.”
Vitagliano sees distinct differences in management styles and business strategies between the vendor side of the channel and the partner side, and he’s eager to get his feet wet managing a solution provider. It’s still early days yet. But on day one, hour seven of his new role, he’s excited about what’s coming both with Computex and in the channel as a whole.
“What I feel and what I know from having worked with all these solution providers over the years, particularly with smaller ones that grow into pretty big businesses, is they’re started by smart guys that tend to be more on technical side. They start these businesses, become successful, then start putting structures and processes in place to manage it,” he says. He explains it as a bottom up versus top down approach. The solution providers build structures from bottom up, while the large OEMs or vendors create the structure and then apply it from the top down.
“Particularly with the companies I’ve worked for, they’re big corporate entities. It’s totally different [at Computex]. It’s a feeling where you can feel good about what you accomplish and really contribute a lot more versus working in a big corporate structure like that. I think this will be a great opportunity for me to go and do something different, but stay in the industry I love.”
With the switch from product-driven sales to managed services and the advent of the cloud, that industry is more wide open right now than it ever has been. And when it comes to Computex, Vitagliano says the opportunities are limitless. The things that the company is doing now in terms of migration to the cloud are “game changers,” particularly for small to midsize companies that need the third-party expertise Computex has. “The way we go about our client engagements is completely different. We’re figuring out how to solve complex customer problems. It enables you to sell your whole suite of products: design, consulting, installation, and then the managed services piece on the back end. It helps you become sticky with the customer and become an integral part of how they run their business.”
Watch this space, he says, and watch Computex. “We’re going to continue to crank this thing up and grow. I’m excited to be here to help with that.”