Upstack's Chris Palermo, 'Superhero' Among Agents, Battles Back from Stroke

Palermo has been making improvements since suffering a stroke earlier this year.

James Anderson, Senior News Editor

September 15, 2023

7 Min Read
Chris Palermo, superhero businessman
Romolo Tavani/Shutterstock

Chris Palermo, a pioneering figure in the technology advisor channel and a leading executive at Upstack, is healing from a stroke he suffered earlier this year.

Palermo on Feb. 22 suffered a stroke that put him on a long road to recovery. As a result, he stepped back from day-to-day operations at Upstack, where he was serving as president. Palermo tells Channel Futures that he is beginning to re-engage more fully with the company.

“In terms of progress, I am spending more time in the day-to-day business of Upstack, participating in more meetings and even beginning to travel again,” Palermo told Channel Futures.


Upstack’s Chris Palermo

Palermo founded Global Communication Networks in 1997 and built one of the more decorated agencies in the channel. He sold his business to Upstack in 2021 and took up the role of president. He has played an important role in validating the company to agent leaders as one of their peers.

At present, he holds the title of partner and strategic advisor at Upstack.

A Shocking Disruption

Palermo went into the hospital on Feb. 22 and stayed for six days. He credited a coworker for recognizing what was going on and calling for medical help.

“It is because of their actions that I received care within the critical four-hour window post-stroke, which improved my prognosis. If help had arrived after four hours, the outcome could have been much worse and the road to recovery much longer,” Palermo said.

Palermo recollects now in hindsight that he had experienced prolonged hand stiffness approximately one month before the stroke. But for Palermo, a fitness aficionado who has competed in Ironman triathlons, the symptoms seemed to mirror those of an injury.

He said if he could have done things differently, he would have visited more than a hand specialist. Checking with a cardiologist, for example, could have helped him spot a warning sign.

Palermo in a message to the channel community encouraged them to stay vigilant. Being in good physical shape doesn’t preclude you from suffering a stroke, he said.

“I always considered myself to be a healthy person since I exercised regularly and watched what I ate — and I still had a stroke. My doctors are still working through what might have caused it, and we may never know for sure. My situation is a reminder to take care of yourself and listen to your body,” he said. “If you see any of the following signs in yourself or someone else, act immediately: facial droop, difficulty talking [and] weakness of arm or leg.”

A Long Road to Recovery for Chris Palermo

Palermo has undergone an often tedious climb back to health, which often involved basic motor functions.

“It is a gradual process. I have had to relearn how to speak (without it, you are nowhere) as well as how to move my entire body (from moving my wrists to walking),” he said. “In many ways, I also needed to relearn how to think. For example, I had to relearn math — from simple equations like two plus two, up to 26,789 plus 45,765 and beyond.”

And in the meantime, Palermo had to accept a change of pace in his job. He would need to focus on his speech and physical therapy, and he said Upstack understood that imperative. Palermo said he told Upstack CEO Chris Trapp and got Trapp’s support.

Still, Palermo said he struggled to take that back seat.

“I have always taken great pride in my work. More than a job, it is a passion, which has made stepping back to focus on my recovery challenging to say the least,” he said. “… I am an active, ambitious person, which can make the slow process of speech and physical therapy frustrating. But I am making progress and keep reminding myself to celebrate the daily wins and continue to believe that I will get back to where I was before.”

Amplix chief strategy officer Daniel Passacantilli, an industry peer and a friend, said he and other partners have looked up to Palermo for decades. For them, Palermo’s stroke was a tough pill to swallow.

“It was like seeing your superhero lose to the villain,” Passacantilli said. “But I feel bad for the stroke, because …

,,, he’s going to beat the stroke.”


Amplix’s Daniel Passacantilli

Palermo gave a shoutout to Passacantilli for his support. Among his Upstack colleagues, he thanked Trapp, partner Joe Monaco and board member Rick Dellar.

And a larger community has stood beside him, Palermo said.

“I am grateful for the prayers and support I have received from my family, friends and colleagues. I am also grateful for the Upstack team who have not only stood by me, but have also kept the business running full-steam, allowing me to focus on my recovery and not worry about the day-to-day,” he said.

Channel Impact

What exactly has Palermo’s impact on the channel been, Channel Futures asked Passacantilli?

Passacantilli, who founded Blue Front Technology Group in 2002, said Palermo has functioned as a role model. For Passacantilli, that’s due in part to their shared Italian roots. But it more so came from Palermo’s ability to land big clients.

“Back when people wouldn’t talk to agents, it was hard to get into an enterprise account,” Passacantilli told Channel Futures. “And he did it back then. Now there were other agents doing it – I’m not taking [anything] away from anyone else – but no one did it as well as Chris.”

Many technology advisors, historically known as telecom agents or brokers, came from carriers, where they previously worked in sales. Palermo’s pre-agent stints included AT&T and Cable & Wireless. Passacantilli worked at XO Communications.

Starting an independent agency opened up the chance to give customers multiple options for carriers and potentially negotiate better prices for them. But agents to this day tell Channel Futures that they still have to justify – or at least explain – their own business model to customers before they can make the sale. And that challenge was even more difficult for the fledgling industry in 1997.

“You had to explain to everybody what you did and what the heck was the difference between you and the guy with the AT&T card. And Chris did that, and he did it did that very, very well. And I think he’s been rewarded for it,” Passacantilli said.

Palermo’s deal and subsequent appointment at Upstack was one such reward, Passacantilli said.

“He paved the way for the rest of us to have the level of success we’ve had, including the exits, and the seriousness with which other industries are taking us. He truly led the way at early stages, and then led the way to the M&A side of the world,” he said.

As of July 13, Upstack had announced 29 acquisitions of agent businesses.

Moreover, Palermo has represented a certain shift in thinking for technology advisors, Passacantilli said. That is the idea of agents evolving from one- or two-person shops relying on their own sales expertise, to building actual teams and processes.

“We looked up to him because he ran such a good business; he took it beyond just being a salesman. He took it to the business level where he ran a tight, profitable business,” Passacantilli said.

There was a certain “golden touch” Palermo exhibited in what he did, Passacantilli said.

“Remember Chris did well with absolutely everything he did, from the agency business, his real estate and his car collection. But the thing he did best was by far and away his family. Anyone who knows Chris know he hit a home run with his wife and three children,” he said.

Palermo’s daughter, Caterina, launched a GoFundMe page earlier this year to raise funds for the American Stroke Association. In Palermo-fashion, she connected the fundraiser to a half-marathon she ran for stroke research. That GoFundMe remains open, and Palermo said his family will match all donations up to $25,000.

Palermo offered words of gratitude to the channel in closing.

“To my friends, colleagues and peers in the channel, thank you for your well wishes and kind words. Your gestures of love and support are both heartwarming and motivating,” he said. “Knowing you are thinking of me provides the energy I need to tackle my therapy and power through my recovery.”

Want to contact the author directly about this story? Have ideas for a follow-up article? Email James Anderson or connect with him on LinkedIn.


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About the Author(s)

James Anderson

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

James Anderson is a news editor for Channel Futures. He interned with Informa while working toward his degree in journalism from Arizona State University, then joined the company after graduating. He writes about SD-WAN, telecom and cablecos, technology services distributors and carriers. He has served as a moderator for multiple panels at Channel Partners events.

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