It was a sad day for the industry when in 1999 former Compaq supremo Eckhard Pfeiffer was forced to fall on his sword and leave a company he helped nurture from a baby to a behemoth.
Pfeiffer, of course, didn't do it all by himself; he had the help of some very gifted individuals, such as Joe McNally in the UK. Nevertheless, he was a very astute and intelligent man.
McNally and Pfeiffer shared a belief in the channel and an understanding of the nuances of European buying patterns. McNally, who enjoyed local autonomy, grew the UK business from zero to a £1bn operation.
In Germany, Compaq staved off Dell for a good while. This was partly due to Pfeiffer's channel loyalty, but even more important was his awareness that his countrymen's preferred way of doing business suited a channel relationship rather than a direct one.
McNally understood the importance of good service in the early days. He used to deliver kit to customers himself, by hailing a cab.
Unfortunately, local autonomy seems to have disappeared since Hewlett-Packard (HP) acquired Compaq.
HP resellers feel the UK management team is doing a great job, but many believe that the centralised strategy HP US has imposed on Europe is holding things back, and that HP's strategy of reducing stocking from local distribution in favour of centralised fulfilment plays into the hands of its nemesis, Dell.
In a downturn the bean counters often run the show. They see cost savings in centralisation and direct models but rarely talk to customers or VARs, and often introduce things without thinking about the long-term consequences.
It is in the channel's interests to stop the monster from Round Rock before it becomes a Godzilla to HP's or IBM's Japan, but it may be a good idea to reload some of the strategies, such as local autonomy, to check the four-letter word.
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