As the largest company headquartered in Florida, Tech Data stands head and shoulders above others, connecting the world with the power of technology. The global IT distribution and solutions company, however, did not achieve such status fortuitously. Without question, much of its success is a direct reflection of Bob Dutkowsky’s bold leadership, the Tech Data CEO from 2006 to 2018 and current executive chairman. Under Dutkowsky’s influence, Tech Data has grown to $37.24 billion in revenue. Today, the company boasts more than 14,000 employees today globally. Anyone affiliated with the firm appreciates the impact the Tech Data CEO had during his tenure. And, the same goes with employees at IBM, J.D. Edwards, GenRad and Egenera.
Notably, Dutkowsky epitomizes bold leadership in so many ways. As the Tech Data CEO, he created a culture that embraced team values and common visions. He led with humility, transparency, and authenticity. And he values diversity, diligence, and rising to the challenge. In addition to continuing his bold leadership as Tech Data’s executive chairman, Dutkowsky also serves on the boards of Raymond James Financial Inc., Pitney Bowes, Inc., U.S. Foods Holding Corp., and United Way Suncoast. Recently, Bold Business enjoyed an exclusive and valuable opportunity to understand what bold leadership means to Dutkowsky.
Bold Leadership Interview with Bob Dutkowsky, Executive Chairman and Former Tech Data CEO
John R. Miles: What do consider are the traits that make a leader bold? I saw in a previous article about you, that having a “drive to win” is an important aspect of your leadership style, Why?
Bob Dutkowsky: I was an athlete in college, and I always believed business is a win-or-lose proposition, especially in sales. Every day you either win the deal or get beat by the competition. You have to be responsible, compliant, and fair, but you have to fight for business, people, and shareholders. The concept of always being focused on winning has been with me since the beginning of my career.
JM: You made a fairly large transition coming to Tech Data following a long-term leader, Steve Raymond. Was this difficult?
Dutkowsky: Steve is a great leader and a hard person to follow, but we had a great relationship from the start. Bottom line, we both wanted Tech Data to win. On the entry wall at Tech Data, there is a quote by former NFL coach Marv Levy that sums up my transition. “When it’s too tough for them, it’s just right for us.” I knew nothing was going to be given to us. Therefore, when it is competitively tough out there, we needed to get better.
This philosophy permeates into our customers’ offices as well, because they know if they bring a problem to us, then they can trust Tech Data to do whatever it takes to satisfy their needs. If you honor this simple principle every day, a company is going to do great. And look at what we have accomplished.
JM: How were you able to influence the board and your customers and win hearts and minds? It is a difficult thing to do. What is your secret?
Dutkowsky: Transparency is the most important thing you can have in a business that was transitioning like ours. You have to be transparent with the board, and they have to understand what changes need to happen. You have to be transparent with your leadership team, and they need to buy into where the company is going. Lastly, you have to win the hearts and minds of your people. I never wavered from my message about what it is going to take to win. I bet the employees got sick of me saying it, but I felt it was crucial to re-enforce the vision every chance I got.
JM: I have heard you talk about putting people first. Do you see a correlation to being a humble leader? Can you discuss with me the importance of humility in Bold Leadership?
Dutkowsky: Everyone plays a role in Tech Data’s success. I will give you an example. When we implemented SAP into 25 countries, every employee’s job changed. That means these employees had to re-learn their jobs, and we had to manage that change. Being humble for me was forefront in the concept of innovating the company no matter where the industry takes us. If people bought into it, they will fight to be the best for a leading-edge company. This meant I had to buy into it and lead through humility and authenticity.
JM: I recently saw you speak at a 2020 Women on Boards conference in Tampa. You were passionate about giving women and people of color more opportunities on Boards and in executive positions. Why is this important to companies?
Dutkowsky: I am a believer that diversity creates strength. In the case of Tech Data, we had one female on the board when I arrived. I knew we needed to change and we decided that we would focus on making the board more reflective of our global workforce. We wanted to bring more diversity to the board room. We added two more women to the board who have brought completely different perspectives to the way that the company articulates its strategy. [And] we also have a board member from Asia, who is valuable in helping ensure our actions will be properly received in new regions.
In each case, these board members have helped us to understand how a strategic action we were taking would be received through different lenses. Having these diverse leaders on the board makes us a much better company. I have seen what diversity of thought creates. I believe in it because I have experienced it first-hand. Anything I can do to push diversity is the right thing for me to do. Companies that have diverse boards perform better. It is simply a fact.
JM: How difficult was it to diversify products? What was the game-changing bold moment of truth?
Dutkowsky: The moment was when we decided to build an organic datacenter practice. Ours was in excess of $2B a year but in order to be great in this area, we had to get bigger. We looked around to speed up our growth and we did it organically. But it wasn’t fast enough. We saw that Avnet had a data center business that was bigger than us.
We targeted that acquisition and at the time they were not for sale. But we went after them because it allowed us to get a presence in the Asia Pacific. So, by acquiring Avnet Technology Solutions, we not only could grow in the data center but more importantly grow into the Asia Pacific. The issue was the price for that unit was more than the market cap of Tech Data.
To make this acquisition, the board bet the market cap of the company in a deal that diversified us both technologically and geographically. It added 5,000 skilled employees, we became more valuable to our customers and partners, and it really differentiated us in the market as the true end-to-end distributor. We put the workloads wherever the customer needed them in an end-to-end view. It was a bold initiative that was risky, but our board believed we could accomplish the goals, and it has worked out in huge ways.
JM: When you think of examples of bold leadership, what leaders and examples come to mind?
Dutkowsky: The first one that comes to mind is Lou Gerstner, the former IBM CEO. He resurrected the company from the brink of it being irrelevant. Everywhere he looked in the company he had to take bold actions to turn the company around. He did a spectacular job-saving IBM. When I describe some of our major changes at Tech Data, they are small in comparison to what he accomplished. Lou did much bigger and bolder actions to turn around a huge company.
JM: If you could have lunch with any leader, who would it be and why?
Dutkowsky: One of the beautiful aspects of my role is that I get to have lunch with the who’s who of the tech world. Satya Nadella and Michael Dell are fairly recent examples, and I thoroughly enjoyed meeting with each. I would also pick John W. Thompson. John was a long-term IBM employee and then CEO of Symantec. He is now Chairman of Microsoft. He is one of the most fascinating business people I have ever met and one of the least appreciated for his accomplishments.
From Tech Data CEO to Broader Leadership Opportunities
Dutkowsky transitioned from Tech Data CEO in June of last year into his current executive chairman’s role. This transition is inherently important not only for the company but for the Tampa Bay area as well. As Tech Data CEO, Dutkowsky oversaw generous community support worth millions of dollars. And he continues to serve on numerous boards in the area. This not only includes Raymond James, but also Moffitt Research Committee and United Way Suncoast.
As evident from the conversation with Dutkowsky, his bold leadership style can clearly be considered bold. This pertains to the success he materialized for the company as Tech Data CEO. And it relates to how he chose to lead through integrity, commitment, and a true appreciation of others. It should, therefore, come as little surprise that Dutkowsky will continue to be of service to others. This will certainly be the case regardless of the leadership roles he chooses to take.
To learn more about Tech Data, read our article on the company that was taken from the rest of the interview with Bob Dutkowsky.