Former Tech Data CEO Bob Dutkowsky Dies At 69; Remembered As ‘Fierce Defender Of The Channel,’ Family Man

Former Tech Data CEO Bob Dutkowsky Dies At 69; Remembered As ‘Fierce Defender Of The Channel,' Family Man

Robert “Bob” Dutkowsky, who successfully served as CEO at multiple tech companies before taking over IT distributor Tech Data where he was responsible for that company’s rise to the top, was remembered not only as a successful IT businessman but as someone who was just as likely to talk about the importance of building a strong family life as he would about building a strong business.

Robert “Bob” Dutkowsky, a longtime icon of the tech industry and a serial CEO who eventually helped power IT distributor Tech Data to the top, died Wednesday at the age of 69 at his home in Florida.

Dutkowsky, who not only was a sharp businessman who led several companies as CEO and set them up for future mergers and acquisitions but was also known as a mentor who truly cared for his customers and channel partners, was born in early 1955 in Endicott, N.Y., which was known as an IBM company town. His father was a longtime IBM employee. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in industrial labor relations from Cornell University, where he starred on the school’s baseball team, he then spent most of his career in the tech industry.

That career started at IBM in 1977 where Dutkowsky started as a salesperson and eventually rose in the ranks. As Florida Trend wrote in a profile of Dutkowsky, in 1993 he received a phone call while golfing that changed his life.

[Related: Intel Co-Founder Gordon Moore, Tech Pioneer Behind Moore’s Law, Dies At 94]

“’The guy on the other end says, “This is Lou Gerstner”’— IBM’s CEO at the time. ‘I tell him, “Yeah, and I’m Mickey Mouse,”’ Dutkowsky recalls. ‘Probably not a good thing to say. I called him back, and it was actually Lou Gerstner,’ Florida Trend wrote.

Gerstner asked Dutkowsky to be his executive assistant, giving him the opportunity to hone his leadership and management skills.

Dutkowsky left IBM in 1997 to join EMC where he stayed three years as executive vice president of markets and channels, responsible for the storage giant’s worldwide sales, marketing and services operations. His tenure at EMC included a stint as president of Data General, the unit responsible for EMC’s AViiON storage products sold through the channel.

Dutkowsky then served as CEO at GenRad, where in August 2001 he orchestrated a $260 million sale to Teradyne. He then served as J.D. Edwards’ CEO, president, and chairman, and led the ERP software maker’s 2003 sale to PeopleSoft for $1.7 billion.

In 2004, Dutkowsky became president and CEO of Boston-based enterprise blade server developer Egenera. At about the same time, Dutkowsky also joined the board of security company McAfee.

Steve Raymond, who as CEO and chairman of Tech Data handed leadership of the distributor to Dutkowsky in 2006, told CRN he was part of a search committee looking for his eventual successor. Raymond said he heard of Dutkowsky from a couple of sources including the CEO of McAfee who called and said, “You should go after this guy.”

Raymond said he thought Dutkowsky was the ideal candidate to take over for him.

“He was a very likable guy, first and foremost, pleasant to spend time with,” he said. “Beyond that, I could see pretty clearly that he had leadership ability, that he had a record of extraordinary success, that he had worked for a number of different IT-related firms and at very high levels. He was EVP at EMC, he was CEO at J.D. Edwards, and so on, and he had been very successful. He started his management career as the business assistant to Lou Gerstner at IBM. So, he had a plethora of extraordinary business experience as well as understanding of the channel and IT in general.”

Raymond said he felt better passing his leadership role to Dutkowsky than he would have to just about anybody else.

“I was very comfortable that the company would be in good hands and would be well looked after, and that he would respect the culture that we built there and take us to the next level to get all those things,” he said.

Dutkowsky leaves a legacy of being a long-term builder, Raymond said.

“He was not afraid to take risks,” he said. “One thing you have to understand is, Bob, as nice and cordial and congenial a fellow as he was, he was also a ferocious competitor. He wanted to win. When he played baseball in college, I think he may have been captain of the team. He was something close to if not a scratch golfer. He was the guy who played to win, but he played by the rules and in a way that I think all his competitors would feel he was a terrific guy. I think his legacy was as a guy who was a fierce defender of the channel and who played a long-term game to build value. And I think there were a good number of very high-level people who looked at Bob as kind of as a mentor or a confidant.”

Dutkowsky certainly rewarded Raymond’s faith in him as a leader. He led Tech Data to make its largest acquisition, that of Avnet Technology Solutions, in 2017, and was a driving force behind the 2019 acquisition of Tech Data by Apollo Global Management. That acquisition eventually led to the merger of Tech Data and Synnex to become TD Synnex, now the world’s largest IT distributor.

Marty Bauerlein, chief consumer and commercial officer at D&H Distributing, told CRN that he first met Dutkowsky in June of 2008 when he had just joined Tech Data as vice president of U.S. VAR sales.

“I first met him in an elevator,” Bauerlein said. “I had just come from one of the competitors, and he already knew that when I said my name. And he said, ‘I want to see you in my office first thing tomorrow morning.’ And that’s when we started developing our relationship. He was my first mentor. When I was a director at Tech Data, he took me under his wing. And he taught me a lot about running a business, putting the system in place to go out and win. And he was the most, I would say, the most customer-centric CEO I have ever seen in the history of me working for seven or eight CEOs in my career.”

Bauerlein said he eventually learned an even more important lesson from Dutkowsky.

“I think Bob taught me mostly that family comes first,” he said. “When I was with Bob, I saw how close he was with his wife Lorraine, his son Kevin, and his daughter Jennifer, and how they all supported each other. It just was amazing to watch. Bob taught me that family matters most, and that you definitely have to make time for family if you want to be successful in business. That was the number one thing he always said to me. And he said, ‘You only get one shot at being a father. And you know what? You better make it meaningful.’”

Dutkowsky had a velvet touch in the way he treated employees, and even strangers, Bauerlein said.

“And he never used his title to his benefit,” he said. “You could put Bob in any situation, whether it was on the golf course, or in a board meeting, and he knew how to fit in. And he was by far the most loved executive by customers, vendors, and employees that I ever worked with.”

Golf was an important part of how Dutkowsky connected with channel partner customers, Bauerlein said.

“Bob would say he always wanted to meet with at least one customer a quarter,” he said. “And we would take customers to the golf course. When we finished the 18th hole, every time he would look at the customer and say, ‘Do you want to play four more holes?’ What it showed the customers was he wasn’t in a rush to get out of there and that he wasn’t just checking the box to play golf and leave. He and every single customer talked about four more holes with Bob. And at his retirement party, I talked about Bob and said that is all those about four more holes. That was his life. He lived it to the fullest. He went above and beyond. And that was a great testament to him and how he treated people.”

On at least one occasion, Dutkowsky was playing golf with intense shoulder pain, Bauerlein said.

“But he played the full 18 holes, and he still said, ‘You want to play four more?’” he said. “Even when he was injured, he wanted to make somebody feel good.”

Ken Lamneck, former CEO and president of Chandler, Ariz.-based global solution provider Insight Enterprises, told CRN he was president of Tech Data’s Americas divisions when Dutkowsky joined as Raymond’s successor. Lamneck eventually worked with Dutkowsky for five years.

“He came in, and right away we saw he just exudes integrity and character,” he said. “It was his calling card. Everything was about just being authentic. And he was great to work for because he created so much clarity, and that everything he did was in the best interests of the company, the team, all the employees. So he was loved by all the employees globally.”

On the personal side, Dutkowsky was an incredible family person with his wife Lorraine and their two kids, Lamneck said.

“That really was the most important part of his life,” he said. That was obvious to all of us. And we could see him live that way. He preached to all of us that families are really important and to prioritize that in our lives. Work was very important. But ultimately, family life was the most important part of your life. He wanted to make sure we all took time and paid attention to that. He was a great leader.”

Chris Pickett, president and CEO at cb20, an Albany, New York-based solution provider, told CRN he knew Dutkowsky for about 15 years, and that Dutkowsky as a mentor was instrumental in helping cb20 grow its business.

“He was a customer-first and team-first distribution executive,” Pickett said. “He treated his customers with real care, and he was vested in their success. And with his vast experience, he wasn’t he wasn’t afraid to share his knowledge and thoughts”

Dutkowsky was a relationship guy, Pickett said.

“And in our business, you need people to help you,” he said. “He used the golf course to build a lot of those relationships. He was a competitive guy and a fantastic golfer and businessman. He built a tremendous team. He knew what he wanted to do, and he knew he needed the right people to do it. He brought in fantastic people, some of whom I still work with today.”

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Robert “Bob” Dutkowsky, who successfully served as CEO at multiple tech companies before taking over IT distributor Tech Data where he was responsible for that company’s rise to the top, was remembered not only as a successful IT businessman but as someone who was just as likely to talk about the importance of building a…

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