The co-founder of MicroAge wanted "to build the industry from the ground up, so that we could deliver the power of computing to the world at large."

Channel Futures Staff

February 23, 2024

5 Min Read
Jeff McKeever
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Channel pioneer Jeffrey McKeever, who helped establish the early computer reseller channel as co-leader of the trailblazing MicroAge organization, passed away this week at the age of 81, according to Alan Hald, one of McKeever’s close associates and longtime business partner at MicroAge. McKeever's cause of death is not being made public.

Anyone running or working for a modern-day channel partner organization owes a debt of gratitude and part of their success to McKeever.

McKeever was part of a group of young entrepreneurs who in the mid-‘70s became mesmerized by the emergence of tech and personal computing. Their enthusiasm and foresight led to the formation of the early channel. It was made up of local computer stores selling the newest in tech wares from long-forgotten companies such as NorthStar. At the same time, they also helped bring such brands as Compaq, Apple, HP and IBM to market. Their clientele was a mix of both business and consumers.

Such executives and organizations were on the ground floor of something amazing, witnesses to the birth of the PC, along with the channel.

McKeever's LinkedIn profile states that he was based in Tempe, Arizona, and listed his current employer as MicroAge where he served as founder and chief mentor for the past 48 years. He listed his email address simply as [email protected], a testament to his tenure there.

At its peak, MicroAge was said to have more than 1,400 franchisees worldwide, $6 billion in revenue and was listed at No. 284 on the Fortune 500.  Its primary competitor during the heyday of selling PCs was ComputerLand but others emerged including Inacom Corp., Valmont Industries and BusinessLand. MicroAge eventually began focusing on IT distribution. With more than 6,000 employes, it generated revenue in excess of $9 billion, according to the firm’s Wikipedia posting.

The Byte Shop

McKeever and his business partner Hald started out in June of 1976 with a small, Tempe, Arizona-based computer store called The Byte Shop, which sold kit computers back in the days when non-mainframe computers were primarily the domain of hobbyists and extremely forward-looking businesspeople.  They licensed The Byte Shop name from its founder on a contract written on the back of a napkin, a common practice in the early PC days. A few years later, those humble beginnings blossomed into an expanded company called MicroAge, and a new world of computer store franchising. The company grew to $18 million in revenue in just five years, Hald recalls.

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An entire industry of vendors, distributors, software developers and hardware manufacturers grew up around them. They worked with some of the most notable industry pioneers, including Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, including several visits to Jobs’ iconic garage in Palo Alto.

“He wanted to change how the world works,” Hald told Channel Futures. “His goal was to build the industry from the ground up, so that we could deliver the power of computing to the world at large. He was a great partner.”

McKeever served as a vice president and board member at First Interstate Bank from January 1970 to December 1976. He also served in the United States Air Force from January 1965 to December 1970, where he attained the rank of Major and served as the CIO for the Pacific Command in Tokyo. He was a graduate of the University of Arizona, with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He earned his MBA from the U of A as well, along with a post-graduate degree in banking from the University of Washington.

McKeever is survived by his wife Tahnia, son Mark, daughter Tarah and two granddaughters.

His son Mark worked at MicroAge from August 1993 to June 2020 keeping the MicroAge name alive and providing IT services through another generation. The MicroAge business, now located in Phoenix and run by CEO Rob Zack, is still among the nation’s top channel partner organizations today. Whether McKeever was still involved with the Phoenix-based MicroAge could not be determined by press time.

It was McKeever who bought back the name MicroAge after the company exited Chapter 11 after bankruptcy. He then helped build the Phoenix location into a national IT provider. He is reported to have sold the business to its current owners within the last few years.

A Visionary and a Pioneer

As word of his passing began to circulate in the industry, admirers, competitors and friends weighed in on McKeever’s impact. “He was a visionary, well ahead of his time in the business of technology,” said Bob O’Malley, principal of Achieve Unite and CEO of O’Malley & Associates who worked with McKeever between 1995 and 1999. “Yet he was a humble person, and a great friend to many.”

 “Jeff was a pioneer in this space, and a very respected guy,” said Marty Wolf, managing partner at Martin Wolf & Associates. who was both a friend and former competitor of McKeever. “He knew how to attract top talent. He built a huge enterprise and was a true gentleman."

Robert DeMarzo, vice president of content for Channel Futures, an Informa company, spent many years covering McKeever, MicroAge and the early channel as a business technology editor. “I had such great admiration for McKeever throughout my career for what he accomplished as an entrepreneur. When I was a reporter, he always provided me with such great insight into the business of selling technology. I credit him and his entire generation for instilling in me the passion for this business. Jeff was level-headed, soft-spoken and a truly nice individual. I was sad to hear of his passing,” DeMarzo said.

McKeever and his son attended an industry conference a few years ago at which DeMarzo introduced him to a new generation of channel partners, outlining McKeever’s accomplishments for them. Everyone at the table, many half his age and just starting their businesses, leaned in to hear McKeever share his story, DeMarzo remembers.

 “Jeff was a link to the industry’s very beginning. What echoed in his ears were the words and ideas of some of the greatest tech minds to walk the earth. Those same echoes are now silent,” DeMarzo added.

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