The punch in the face that changed Ingram Micro Canada

Bill Brandel, country chief executive for Ingram Micro Canada

AURORA, COLORADO — When Bill Brandel went into one of his first big meetings with a strategic partner as country chief executive for Ingram Micro Canada, he was expecting an opportunity to talk about how the vendor could grow with the distributor.

Instead, he told attendees at ONE Ingram Micro this week he got “a punch in the face” in the form of a reaction that must sound to a distributor an awful lot like “I’m just not that into you.”

“Little did I know that they intended to let me know that they didn’t think we were relevant to their business going forward,” he said. “They looked at me from across the table and said they didn’t see us making the necessary investments, and quite honestly, you really don’t listen to us when we tell you what we need.”

Flanked by a slide featuring the famous quote of noted warrior-philosopher Mike Tyson, “Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the face,” Brandel said that in his experience, such punches in the face “could be a wakeup call, or could be a knock out blow.

“It really depends on what you do next,” he said.

Not exactly relishing the idea of being TKOed, Brandel said the distributor chose to take the former view, and use the meeting gone awry as an opportunity to make some changes “to prevent more punches.”

“We identified some areas that needed some focus. That was our culture, our execution against our plans, and driving a sense of urgency.”

Those cultural changes included tearing down silos within the organization, and making sure all members of the senior leadership team were aligned on the same overall goals for the business. Those goals, the underlying vision and strategy were summarized into a one-page document that became the guiding document for the subsidiary.

“We started flashing this document to the entire organization, all one thousand-plus individuals in Canada, so they know what we said we were going to do, and how we were going to do it,” he said. “We’re all connected to the overall number.”

So with the vision in place, now it was just down to the slight issue of executing. That meant much listening, Brandel said, identifying key pain points with vendors and customers alike. 

“We had to here what they were looking to do, and how they wanted to accomplish it and figure out how we could play a bigger role,” he said. 

Next came tackling “those legacy problems that have been creating challenges for our company for years.” For example, he said an EDI connection with one vendor was producing information that was accurate less than 20 percent of the time, opening the door to slower results and human error from interventions to fix incorrect data.

But by bringing in technical leads from both his team and the vendor, they were able to turn that around. Quickly, that number jumped to 85 percent, and after a bit of additional refinement, to 99 percent.

“Today, we don’t even talk about that issue anymore,” he said. “That’s the power of executing.”

However, the hardest part was yet to come. Brandel said he came to a point where he determined that some established members of the team, leaders and good people were just too comfortable with the way things were and too resistant to change.

“So if they’re comfortable, maybe it’s time to make a change. Because comfort, change, and success don’t always go together,” he said.

To make sure it was executing against goals, and doing so with a sense of urgency, the distributor identified vital initiatives, and the right people within the organization — leadership and otherwise — to address those issues. Each action item was on a scoreboard, and the leadership met monthly to track progress on those issues.

“Once [the team] was committed, and they had that sense of urgency, it’s amazing how fast those red items turned to yellow, and yellow turned to green,” he said. “We were becoming a better organization every day, and more importantly, we were building friendships and relationships that I believe will stand the test of time.”

Fast forward to the present, and instead of punches in the face, Brandel says the company was getting pats on the back from the same formerly-disgruntled partner.

“In our last quarterly review, they let me know that they were incredibly impressed with the change they’ve seen in our organization,” he said. “They talked about investments we’d made, and how much we are advancing their initiatives along with ours.”

All of this is, of course, a compelling look into the transformation one of the nation’s biggest distributors has seen in recent years.  But Brandel presented it as more a lesson to any organization looking to change. 

The lesson boils down to a few simple things, he said. Stop thinking in silos within the organization, and most importantly, move quickly.

“We used to have six to nine months to roll out a technology and adapt it and get folks trained up. Today, we’re lucky to have six to nine weeks.”

That advice – be willing to be uncomfortable, make changes and do so quickly – was on stage in one form or another from a variety of Ingram executives over the course of ONE this week, from Brandel to his U.S. counterpart Kirk Robinson to Americas president Paul Bay.

“It’s all about executing on the things that you say are important to you and your business, and it’s about doing so with a sense of urgency,” Brandel said.

Robert Dutt

Robert Dutt is the founder and head blogger at He has been covering the Canadian solution provider channel community for a variety of publications and Web sites since 1997.