A Look Back At Intermedia's John Rice's Legacy of IT Industry Leadership

John Rice 080215-1After a tour of duty in Vietnam and a storied career in the IT industry, one would think John Rice would be ready to take it a little easier these days. The truth is, he seems to be gaining momentum as a mentor and a highly active member of the executive council for the CompTIA Cloud Community — not to mention fulfilling his current channel role as Partner Development Manager at Intermedia.  

What’s his secret? For one, Rice does not dwell on history. But he does use past experiences to help bridge the education gap for newcomers to the channel, readily sharing best practices and pointing out potential pitfalls to his peers, partners and other IT industry professionals. After more than 30 years as a CompTIA member, he continues to give his all to the association and to others in the channel.

What drives him to do that? At the CompTIA Annual Member meeting, Rice agreed to share some of his channel history and insight, which makes it a little easier to understand his passion and aspirations for the IT community. His first step down the technology path was in the Army. “My first exposure was as a military officer, we ran all the logistics for the parts business in Europe on a big IBM 360 with rooms full of punch card machines.”

After six years in the Army, he landed a business position that eventually got him even more involved in technology, as general manager of a Toyota dealership. “The automobile industry was already heavily into automation, including accounting and parts management systems. Our computerized ordering systems were quite primitive, with all the information put on paper tape and uploaded through the telephone.”

Toyota’s philosophy was to make each dealership self-sufficient so it could be profitable even if they never sold another car. When Rice and a business partner decided to open the 13th franchise of Entre Computer Centers with $7500 of their own and few additional resources, they followed the same approach.  “We basically modeled our business around the automobile industry. In those days, you only received a certain allocation of computers each month, and that was it.” IBM limited their shipments, and the key to getting more was to sell more.

“Our goal, from day one was to build a large enough service component that we didn’t need to sell a single computer to make a profit. Every computer that went out the door had a service contract with it, a training component and delivery and installation.” In the 1980s, it was a necessity for those who wanted to work with the top computer brands to be associated with a Franchisor. “Entre was one of the largest at that time, we couldn’t sell IBM, HP or Compaq without authorization and you had to buy those brands through your franchisor, distribution couldn’t sell them. Their businesses were built around selling components, software and second tier computer brands.”  

Rice’s biggest advantage was that he truly understood the business relevance of IT from day one. His experience using word processing, spreadsheets and database management and accounting and financial management software at Toyota and in his military career gave him a unique perspective, allowing him to convey the value of computers to a growing list of prospects. “I quickly became convinced that getting these systems in the hands of small business customers would be the purest sale you could possibly make. They offered an incredible ROI and gave them the ability to quickly separate their businesses from the competition, and I was also convinced that we had an opportunity to make a real difference with training, support and consulting services.” 

Moving Ahead
Over the next 12 years, their business flourished in an organization with more than 25 employees operating out of a substantial-sized facility. When they decided to sell out to a large national reseller (The Future Now), Rice set off on a new adventure with Intelligent Electronics (IE). “IE consisted of three groups of franchised computer resellers: TCBC, Entre, and Connecting Point. IBM, Compaq, HP and Apple had all decided to broaden their distribution and not require resellers to purchase through franchisors, and Ingram Micro and Tech Data quickly became alternative sources. IE hired me to help develop a new value proposition for their customers and to encourage them to continue making their purchases through the organization, and I created a proposal loosely based on the NADA 20 group model.”

As Director of Business Technology Centers (BTC) he worked with a small group of employees and resellers to pioneer a new type of IT reseller membership community. Their value proposition included incentives that allowed members to earn back their membership fees based on sales increases.

“Our goal was to solve problems for our reseller community and to deliver economies of scale to help them to grow their business. We held regional meetings each quarter with about 20 members each, including vendor-sponsored content as well as education sessions for new technologies and business management — HR and financial management training, and much more. We provided added value by giving their service and financial management access to ISMA and FAMA, service and financial management associations developed in concert with Aaron Woods and Ken Wasmer.” 

The era of channel peer groups had begun, “Over the next two years, we built a network of over 250 members driving over 750 million dollars in revenue for IE and, in 1996 Ingram Micro acquired the organization and BTC became The Venture Tech Network (now Ingram Micro Trust-X Alliance). I always believed BTC was one of the value propositions that most attracted Ingram to purchase IE.” Rice’s work developing that model (which has been replicated many times since by distributors, vendors and others outside the tech community) is well-recognized. He and Steve Harper, the initial Chairman of the BTC Advisory Council, were the first two inductees into the Ingram Micro Venture Tech Hall of Fame.