It's been eight business days since Avnet Executive Chairman Roy Vallee passed the president and CEO reins on to his successor, and he is running a few minutes late for his next appointment. He has spent more than an hour talking with EBN about his 30-plus-year career with Avnet Inc. (NYSE: AVT), and an hour is not nearly enough. But Vallee is happy to repeat an anecdote that is nearly a legend in the distribution industry: the day his path to CEO of a $20 billion company was set.
It was 1988 and Vallee was making a pitch to Motorola Inc. His company, then known as Hamilton/Avnet, was wrapping up its second year of a successful sales program called Motorola Advocacy. The company was in flux: Longtime CEO Tony Hamilton had just passed away, and new CEO Leon Machiz was on his way from the East Coast to a meeting in Avnet's former headquarters in Culver City, Calif. Motorola executive Chuck Thompson had convinced Machiz to stop in Phoenix for the presentation. The rest, as they say, is history.
Vallee was in the midst of presenting the advocacy program when Machiz leaned over to Thompson and said, "I wish we had people like this working for us." Thompson replied, "You're in luck -- he works for you."
Vallee's career had already taken a meteoric rise within the Hamilton/Avnet organization. The electronics industry was booming, and components companies were finally beginning to realize they couldn't be all things to all customers and were increasing their business with distributors. During his first few years with Hamilton/Avnet, Vallee says, he never finished a whole box of business cards because his title changed so frequently.
When Machiz asked to meet with Vallee a week after the Motorola presentation, Vallee thought he might get promoted to regional director. Instead, Machiz offered Vallee stewardship of what amounted to the centerpiece of the Hamilton/Avnet organization -- its computer business. "That was the first time," Vallee said, "that I had an inkling that someday I could run this company."
Vallee then did something that would set the stage for his management style going forward: He suggested Machiz hire someone from the IT industry. In those days, that was the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot -- there was no shortage of young, eager salesmen ready to run a company.
"As it turned out," Vallee says, "it was the right answer. Leon saw I was willing to pass up an opportunity because I thought it was better for the company." Machiz also decided he'd rather go with someone that had a proven track record in business, rather than someone from the IT industry. "Leon said, 'You can hire someone from IT to run marketing, but I'd rather stick with you.' "
This is one of the first things you learn about Vallee and his tenure at Avnet: He focuses on the long term. As he explains the decision he made in 1988: "I figured the worst that could happen is I'd lose that particular battle but win the war. In other words, if you do the right thing consistently over time, good things will result."
In 1992, when Vallee was appointed president and COO of Avnet, sales were $1.7 billion. For its fiscal year ended July 3, 2010, Avnet generated revenue of $19.16 billion.
In the coming months, EBN will continue writing about Avnet, Vallee and his legacy, and how the company is planning for its future.