Event review – ACG October 2008 – Rich Fennessy, President & CEO, Insight Enterprises (NASDAQ: NSIT)

I attended the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG) October event this morning at the Arizona Biltmore.

I arrived late and missed the networking. The tone was quiet and subdued, though this is the first ACG event I have attended since ACG reconstituted their Phoenix chapter some time ago, so I’m not sure how it compared to the ‘usual’. I counted about 15 tables or so, with rounds of 8, where the 2 seats with their back to the podium were unused, resulting in actual rounds of 6, or about 100 attendees.

‘Old timers’ may recall that ACG, a global M&A-focused business association, had a very very successful Phoenix chapter in the 80s, which ended up defecting from the national body, spinning itself out as an independent local group called Arizona Business Leadership Association (ABLA).

Rich couched his talk as a review of how M&A has played, and will play going forward, into Insight’s business strategy. He was relatively relaxed, and had an informal, light, yet serious, tone. I thought he engendered confidence in his leadership based on a very measured approach to the telling of the story. I had not heard Rich speak prior to today, and came away seeing him as an excellent fit for the Crowns (founders) as a successor, due to an engaging youthfulness, the fact that he grew up in Michigan (making him very approachable and comfortable to entrepreneurs in Phoenix, the West’s most ‘mid-western town’), and a compelling ability to speak and think strategically based on his 17 years with IBM prior.

Today Insight is a Fortune 500 company (having just been added as number 477) with 5300 employees worldwide (3900 in N America), and revenues which have grown from $2.8B in 2004 to $4.8B in 2007, with worldwide HQ in Tempe, Arizona.

Rich discussed the fact that Insight has been focused on changing its business model away from their PC-centric roots, shifting from being a ‘best source’, to being a ‘trusted adviser’. This has necessitated developing a new ‘conversation’ with clients – one centered around the application of technology to their business problems, and has been driven by three strategic imperatives:

  • Drive expansion globally
  • Expand the product portfolio
  • Expand the range of value that can be offered to clients

This entails shifting attitudes, orientation, and focus within the company from/to:

  • Transactional orientation – to – relationships
  • Sales lead – to – sales and marketing lead
  • Entrepreneurial – to – process discipline
  • Silo management – to – horizontal management
  • Customer service – to – client satisfaction
  • Employees – to – teammates

My primary take-aways from Rich’s talk stemmed from his comment near the end that Insight is ‘at its heart a supply chain company’. That got me to thinking – aren’t many of us, big or small, simply supply chain companies more and more?

I have been in a business for over 25 years which historically has been the antithesis of being ‘supply chain driven’, in the sense that traditional retained executive search is a bespoke art/science combination that is driven by a value proposition that states ‘your need is so unique that we can’t and won’t think in terms of developing inventory in advance for it’. Each search is a one-off, that has to emanate entirely from the spec development process that we take clients through.

In reality, executive search has become entirely supply chain driven, with the average client asking me at the time they contact me – ‘Do you have a (CFO/CMO/CTO/etc.) for me?’, even though we are actually talking about engaging us to conduct a search based on the assumption that the best person has yet to be identified.

Welcome to the future of business, and thank you to Rich Fennessy for sharing the Insight story as it unfolds.

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