I always enjoy having the opportunity to engage in a one-to-one conversation with members of our community--VARs, MSPs and vendors alike. This week, my discussion was with Chris Frey, Lenovo’s VP North American Channels. During our 30-minute chat, Frey and I talked about everything from the top verticals Lenovo is targeting, the predictions related to the PC market, the company’s K-12 initiative and also the swirling rumors regarding the company’s takeover of BlackBerry, (which Frey said he could not discuss).
For the last few years, I always got the impression that Lenovo was a heavy hitter in the K-12 space, and during my discussion with Frey, my theory was proven right, as the company is continuing its big investments within this space. But it doesn’t stop with just the education vertical. According to Frey, Lenovo has high hopes of earning the top spot worldwide within the near future. “In North America, last quarter we were number two in Canada, and number four in the U.S., and our aspiration is to make it to number one in both categories,” he said.
This goal is not an unlikely reach as Lenovo is already on a steady growth high. According to Frey, the company, from a global standpoint, saw significant growth last year in every geographic region worldwide. “We experienced record number of shipments, and 12 percent increase year over year as it relates to sales, yet we continue to be both excited and nervous about this growth,” Frey said. “We are ‘nervous’ about growth, because we also have to keep in mind to take time to ensure that we don’t take our eye off the ball to achieve the ultimate goal of becoming number one in the PC business.”
While Frey noted these are exciting times; Lenovo also as a company currently has the highest market share of all time at 9 percent in North America, this is largely due in part to its successes in the SMB channel. “We are currently growing at very large percentages,” he said. “Our commercial business in North America is very strong across all segments, and our SMB business is growing at a premium, which is very exciting news. Our channel is driving that business, having more coverage than we ever had, and this includes the channel trusts we are building and also by providing great products and innovation to our customers…we have more partners than ever before who are joining us as VARs, and the penetration rate is the greatest it has ever been…we are hitting all cylinders with our channel business.”
As I mentioned earlier in this blog, Frey noted how education is one of Lenovo’s top three market focuses for 2013. He said part of this focus is because so many school systems in the K-12 group are looking at further technology as students become more adaptable to it, and frankly it has become a way of life for this age group. “Education is a market that we are not just dabbling in,” Frey said. “We know this market and have developed many products specific to education, and we are very focused on getting our brand in education to get students to learn how technology works so that they can utilize these same technologies when as they move ahead in their education, and eventually get out into the workforce.”
Aside from education, Frey noted that the other components of Lenovo’s focus for 2013 will be on: devices, the channel and retail. Of course devices aren’t traditionally a vertical market, however, Frey states otherwise. “I have a belief that we should include devices as a vertical,” he said. “One of the things I have learned when talking to partners about tablets, convertibles and touch, is that I feel that’s a vertical in itself because it fits into many segments, and can be sold into every vertical.”
Frey also noted that Lenovo also intends to focus on this area in the channel specifically so partners can help SMB customers on which device to buy (and why) for their specific needs; he also mentioned that Lenovo will continue to bring great technology into the retail technology channel.
Aside from goals and markets, Frey also discussed Lenovo’s upcoming Accelerate event set to occur April 29-May 1 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. The event, which is labeled more of an intimate gathering, rather than a full-on partner conference, is open to anyone who wants to be part of the Lenovo partner family, according to Frey. “This event is more intimate than most other vendor events in the industry,” he said. “It’s not the type of conference where we fill a convention center and spend four days conducting keynote sessions and jamming people into crowded rooms. We want to make sure they are listening, and the way to do that is through strategic and tactical sessions, networking and meetings with executives.”
Frey added that the event is open to current and prospective Lenovo partners, but it is will be capped this year at 700 attendees so to accomplish the goal of keeping things strategic and clear. Last year’s event drew about 500 to Mandalay Bay. “This one will fill up quickly,” he said. “Last year, within the first 45 days of opening registration, we were booked, so if people want to get involved and reserve their spot, then they need to do it now.”
Before ending our conversation, I had two more parting questions on my mind that I wanted answered from Frey. The first was of course about the current rumors in both channel and mainstream media that Lenovo is shopping an acquisition of BlackBerry. When I asked him to either confirm or dispel this rumor, and if he could elaborate or comment or further, he simply stated, “No.” It was a firm, but not terse response, which is what I would expect from Frey, since he is a straight shooter. However, with this situation, he said he simply can’t comment on something that is a “rumor.”
I also wanted to know his opinion on the mad rush of everyone lamenting how the desktop PC is a dying breed. It seems quite inevitable, especially with the rise of tablets, ultrabooks, etc., and how Intel said it will phase out its PC business in the next few years (not to mention what HP and Dell have up their sleeves). Frey, however, has a different take, and it’s his belief that the desktop is alive and well, and not going anywhere, at least from where he sits. “I believe that people are forgetting something in today’s market,” he said. “The commercial desktop is not dead, the growth in desktops are there. Yes, everyone talks about mobility, touch, etc. but the core business of people sitting at a PC is still in existence, and we believe there is still an opportunity for partners and SMB customers to refresh their desktops in a smaller form factor that allows them to use touch so they can become more productive.”
Lest we forget, according to Frey, that there are still industries that depend on a workforce that is stationed at a desktop PC. “People tend to forget that not everyone is mobile,” he said. “Not everyone is mobile; there are places like call centers, front desks of businesses and medical facilities that provide opportunities for business partners, and end users shouldn’t forget that productivity also happens in the chair in front of a desktop PC…I’m a realist, and I know that people are still using keyboards and desktops, and we are here to sell it to them.”