Denali Advanced Integration CEO Majdi Daher On Giving Back, Global Expansion and His Vision To Be The 'FedEx of IT'

Originally published on CRN, a division of The Channel Company. Written by Steve Burke, Senior Editor at CRN.

Denali CEO Majdi Daher spoke with CRN about the Redmond, Washington solution provider's 25th year anniversary, the company's commitment to give back, global expansion and his vision to make his company the 'FedEx of IT.'

Denali CEO Majdi Daher On Global Expansion

Denali Advanced Integration CEO Majdi Daher says he is on a mission to expand the global footprint of the Redmond Washington solution provider, No. 83 on the CRN SP500, to help customers drive global supply chain efficiencies.

"I want Denali to be the FedEx of IT where we are managing the supply chain to drive standardization and orchestrating that movement for customers across the globe," he told CRN in an exclusive interview marking the 25th anniversary of the company. "You cannot do that by only having a location in North America. You must have feet on the ground in the theaters that you are serving – where your customers reside. Proximity to our customers is important. I cannot say customer-first if I am 5,000 miles away from my customer. That just doesn’t work."

Denali which already obtains about 20 percent of its annual sales from Western Europe where it has had offices for six year, recently expanded to India and is eyeing expansion to China, Japan, Australia and Latin America over the next two years.

Talk about the company celebrating its 25th year anniversary and what it means to the company and its customers?

We exist to serve the customer. That was the goal when we started this company and that remains our mission today. Hitting the 25 year milestone is a great thing but to me the work is never done. There are still customers that need our expertise to deploy technology globally. There are technologies that we need to represent. It is a check mark. We have a constant hunger to fight on behalf of the customer and present them with solutions that really help them advance their business. Obviously along the way we had tremendous talent. We have had thousands of people help us along the way. I am thankful to everybody that has been with us on the journey. The journey is not over and we continue to invite great talent to come and join us.

What are you most proud of?

I am very proud that we were able to bring people into our ecosystem, train them, learn with them, and advance our expertise and knowledge together. Every person who has been with our company has left us better than when they came to us. My biggest accomplishment is when people come to Denali and work with us, they always leave better off than when they came to us.

Talk about how the company's approach to delivering business solutions and outcomes has changed over the last 25 years?

We started this company on the premise of customer first. That is something we never abandoned. That is something we are very, very committed to. Everything we do is about the customer first. It is all about what is best for the customer. We will not bring on a technology, offer a service or add a solution to the portfolio unless there is a benefit to a customer or customers. That is a commitment that we have had and that will remain core to our values for the rest of our existence.

It's been amazing to see the customer's needs changing from just needing computers 25 years ago to not being able to drive their business without technology today.

I have seen technology move from being something cool to something that is essential to the success of the business. That is the most fascinating thing to see, which is the transformation of technology, its importance, and what technology can do for businesses.

Talk about the Denali customer first philosophy.

We have never been seduced into doing something that is not good for the customer. Profitability is important but the most important thing for us is sustainability. It is not profitability. That is something we live and breathe. I tell my executive team all the time: it doesn't matter for us to make the most amount of money on the first or second deal. It is how we are partnering with the customer and how we are creating a sustainable financial model that is profitable for Denali but most importantly beneficial to our customers.

Talk about the company's client to cloud strategy?

We are not excited only about the client. We are not excited about just the cloud. We are excited about both the client and the cloud and how they enable a customer experience that allows our customers to be successful.

That has been our motto for a very long time the idea of client to cloud - how do we deliver solutions and services that enable the client to work anytime, anywhere and anyplace? How do we better enable people to connect to their enterprise to access information, applications, and workforce improvements? It is about how we connect the client to the cloud and how do we make that process mobile, secure and connected. That is something that I don't think will ever go away.

The technology and what we sell might change but the concept will always remain the same- customer-first, enable the customer to be successful, make sure our customers are serving their customers and then leverage technology to do all of this.

What is the vision going forward for the next 25 years?

The vision never changes. It just expands. Right now, our vision is expanding to match what our customers are doing. That is why our global focus was put in place. Our customer-first strategy has now expanded to serving our customers outside the borders of North America. The majority of the customers and clients that we work with are global. There is a tremendous void in the level of service that organizations receive once they leave the borders of North America.

If you go to Europe, Asia/Pacific and Latin America, the level of customer service deteriorates very rapidly. If you talk to the manufacturers they are struggling with this as well. 

What we have done is adopted technology to build a globally-connected infrastructure and global supply chain that allows our customers to expand their business globally without having to suffer a lack of customer service or lack of customer focus.

How has the globalization trend affected Denali and its vendor partners?

Globalization is real and it is a requirement for any big company. HP Inc. is actually launching a global certification which we are going to be piloting. Cisco just announced their global partner initiative. Dell EMC is trying to figure out how to do this. We are way ahead of a lot of other partners and technology manufacturers. We are part of the Zebra global partner program and we are one of a handful of partners doing this today.

For the first time in modern history the opportunities outside North America are larger than they are in North America. That is why we are trying to leap ahead and figure out how we partner with and enable those companies expanding globally.

How is the geographic footprint of Denali changing with the globalization effort?

We have been in Western Europe for six years now and 20 percent of our total revenue comes from Western Europe. In June of this year, we decided to expand to India and partner with a group of enterprise customers who are helping us build that infrastructure so we can support them better.

The next steps for us are China, Japan, Australia and Latin America. We expect to be in those locations over the next 24 months. There is a lot of heavy lifting and we are not doing it on our own. We are working closely with our customers, understanding what the gaps are, what they really need in those locations, what is missing from their support and global supply chains and then we are taking those requirements and working with our biggest technology partners – Zebra, Dell EMC, HP Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise and APC by Schneider Electric and trying to figure out how we fill the gaps.

What is the biggest challenge you face as you build out this global services support infrastructure?

What we need are purpose-built programs that enable us to deliver that service across the globe. Our biggest obstacle is to get the manufacturers to adopt that strategy.

Cradlepoint – a nimble LTE wireless router company – has empowered us to deploy and support their product around the globe and they are winning business away from the big guys. The smaller guys have the flexibility and nimbleness to create programs that enable us to support customers around the globe better. Those big global customers are starting to make decisions based on the availability of that global supply chain. That is a very interesting dynamic that I have never seen before.


How important is the fact that customers are making buying decisions based on global supply chains?

It is significant. Very small companies are making inroads with big enterprise customers because they are enabling the global supply chain for partners like us to procure, deploy, deliver, manage and support their technology outside the borders of North America. They are not letting the rigidness of their program get in the way of us supporting customers. It is in the millions of dollars. We are seeing displacement of big vendors based on this. A global customer wants to drive standardization in their supply chain.

Standardization drives efficiency and lowers the cost of ownership. This is a no brainer. They need to be able to manage the mobility of their global assets and decide where is the best place to put a server, router or end user client device. They need to dictate how that is procured, supported and serviced and where they buy it from. Manufacturers are getting in the way.

That is not going to last.

This is a significant challenge for any Fortune 500 customer. Exporting from the US does not work. A lot of the partners that claim to be global are not global. Just shipping across the pond from here to Europe is not globalization.

What is Denali doing to break the global supply chain logjam?

The service that we provide is standardized supply chain and orchestration. What we drive is standardization which is important to create efficiency and lower the cost of ownership and then we provide orchestration on product movement or what shows up where and when. Orchestration drives manufacturing costs lower because we create predictability in their supply chain. Our technology partners and customers win because we are driving efficiencies across both sides of the equation. That is our value add. That is where we are focused and engaged. We are investing in our systems like nobody's business.

How many locations does Denali have now?

We currently operate three major locations in North America, two locations in Europe and one in India. We also have a partnership that enables us to have a bigger presence globally, an additional three more sites in North America, four more locations in Europe and two more in India. Distribution is extremely important in this. We are working with companies like Tech Data, Ingram Micro, BlueStar and Scansource. We have a distribution network that is giving us the scale needed in certain markets and geographies. As those markets develop, we will take over and own our own destiny. It is a pretty complex network of partnerships. The reason I am doing this is the same reason I started this business 25 years ago: focus on the customer, solve customer problems and in the process hopefully you can make some money.

Talk about the new enterprise application development division and what you are doing there.

Software is extremely important. Automation and orchestration with DevOps and purpose built appliances is becoming very important. The dependency on humans to do manual work is going away with things like autonomous cars. We will have self-driving cars on the road by 2020- only three years away. Having a team focused on building purpose built software to serve an enterprise customer is something we have to have inside our portfolio. This is based on customer demand, a customer need, a gap that was being unfilled that we figured out.

Hardware and software have lived together for a long time. Today they have to be integrated. Internet of Things is a great example. Sensors have been around for a long time collecting data. The question is how do you build the software to get that data and collect actionable intelligence from that data.

Application development and purpose built appliances is not something new for us, but the importance and relevance of that business to customer needs are at an all-time high. That is why we invested in that business.

Talk about your expansion into India where you recently hired a new managing director.

India is a fascinating place. We chose India over China because of the level of maturity and the development of business there. American companies have really invested heavily there. Cisco recently doubled down on India. It is also becoming a major consumer of technology. As American companies expand their footprint there they need a North American partner like Denali who understands how they deliver service in North America and then take that level of service to India. We have partnered with a few customers to bring that level of service to them in India. I recently spent some time there, it is a tremendous country with 1.4 billion people and 400 million middle class consumers.

Talk about 25 years of giving back and the Denali Dash?

We are a family that knows how to overcome challenges and because we were fortunate to be in a great country like ours today, we were afforded the opportunity to build our business from the ground up. We didn’t do it alone. There are other people who helped us get to where we are today. So giving back is not something I take for granted. It is an obligation. It is our duty to give back. It is our duty to help others because we live in a place where we are so fortunate for the things we have.

Giving back is a constant reminder of our family background, heritage and where we have come from. There is always somebody in need. There is always somebody who needs help. It is our obligation to provide a hand up.

We do not give hand outs. We give hand ups. 

How did you start the philanthropy that has become a big part of Denali?

We are a system integrator- a value added reseller. One of the values we add is to be part of our community and encourage people in our community to participate and give back. We are fortunate for what we have so we need to provide to those who are less fortunate. I don't think people don't give because they don't want to give. I think people don't give because they have never been given the opportunity to give or the right vehicle to give. I hope our philanthropic efforts are empowering the next generation of community-minded, generous leaders.  

Talk about how you started the company with your brothers in the aftermath of the Gulf war and what that was like?

The one word I use to describe my family and our business is resilient. We are extremely resilient. We believe and we charge ahead no matter what the circumstance is. We were faced with a very dire situation during the first Gulf war when my father lost his business and in turn also his fortune. My brothers and I came together with no business plan other than the drive to build something to help our family survive and stay together. That was it. We were fortunate enough to know a couple of people in the IT business. That is why we chose this. It could have been a convenience store, or bottling company. We really did not choose to be a system integrator or a value added reseller. It is almost like that business chose us. We took with that and ran with it and 25 years later we are proud of everyone we’ve been able to help along the way.

How do you feel about achieving the 25th anniversary milestone?

Everybody says congratulations, but I feel extremely under-accomplished. There continues to be a fire inside of me. If you ask me what is it going to take for that fire to be put out I would tell you death.

Nothing is given. Everything is earned. That is something we really live by. I tell that to everyone in the company – not just my employees and executives. I tell this to my kids, nephews and brothers. There is no nepotism in this company. I will not allow it. I don't care what your last name is or who your parents are. You earn everything you get in this company.

What do you think Denali will look like 25 years from now?

In my 25 years of business I learned one thing that is pivotal to everything we do: no matter where you are things will change. You could be on top of the world and things will change. You could be at the bottom of a pit and things will change. That level of understanding we carry forward. That is going to be what drives us for the next 25 years and beyond. If you cannot truly embrace change you will not last long in this business.