Steve Jobs perhaps is one of the best examples of a personality that helped shape an industry. Whether you liked or disliked Jobs, agreed with him or not, the impact he and Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) had on consumer electronics is undeniable.
There's a segment of the industry that is not as visible or dynamic as consumer electronics but services every link in the supply chain. Electronics distribution -- referred to by Mad Money's Jim Cramer as the superstore of electronics -- has its own collection of people who changed the industry. One of them is Roy Vallee, who is leaving Avnet Inc. after more than three decades. (See: Avnet's Vallee Passes the Torch.)
It's a testament to Vallee's leadership that Cramer has even heard of Avnet. Vallee -- and now Avnet CEO Rick Hamada -- was a frequent guest of Cramer's. I was covering electronics distribution before Vallee became president and CEO of what is now the largest electronics distributor in the world. It's fair to say that distribution had to fight for its position in the industry: For a long time it was viewed as a less desirable alternative to direct channels, and investors couldn't quite figure out what distribution did.
The term "professionalism" didn't come up a lot, and, quite frankly, there wasn't a lot of trust to be found among suppliers, distributors, and customers. Distributors were suspected of playing fast and loose with pricing, contracts, and ethics.
Vallee was one of the people who changed that. He insisted on transparency throughout the corporation. He adopted and implemented practices such as operational excellence and value-based management. Along with Arrow's former chairman and CEO, Steve Kaufman, Vallee began to raise the awareness of the channel on Wall Street and took pains to identify the value proposition of distribution to the investment community.
He also insisted on respect across the organization: for suppliers, for customers, for peers and competitors. Although Arrow and Avnet competed fiercely for the No. 1 spot on industry lists, the companies began to collaborate and cooperate to improve the reputation of the channel as a whole. (I wouldn't exactly call the companies "chummy," but they certainly respect one another.)
There have been a lot of industry-wide accolades for Vallee's accomplishments -- the biggest, perhaps, is shepherding Avnet from a roughly $2 billion organization to more than $25 billion today. Even though Vallee never sought the spotlight, he quietly and deliberately shaped the new Avnet. As an executive, he helped add "professionalism" back into the channel's lexicon. As a person -- my colleague Bolaji Ojo uses the term "gentleman." Anyone who has met Vallee knows how well the term fits.
When Vallee first began to step away from the daily rigors of running a $25 billion company, I asked him how he'd like his legacy to be viewed. "I'd like to think I elevated Avnet's game in my tenure as CEO," he said. In short, he did.