Dealerscope 2020 Hall of Fame: Craig Birmingham, Ingram Micro
Who says you can’t go home again? Well, that’s exactly what our Dealerscope 2020 Hall of Fame honoree Craig Birmingham did after beginning his career at Ingram Micro in 1990. While he left the company in 2006, Birmingham returned in 2012 and currently holds the title of Vice President & General Manager, Business & Consumer Solutions at Ingram Micro.
His humble beginnings at Ingram included an entry-level inside sales rep position where Birmingham would begin his education on the very special Ingram Micro way of doing business. Promotions to various inside sales roles would soon follow, along with a field sales position, and finally a leap up to Director of Sales for the company’s West region.
“The majority of my sales responsibilities were dedicated to large retail accounts like Computer City and CompUSA in the ’90s,” he recalled.
The interval in between his Ingram stints included his time as Vice President of Sales for Punch! Software, a home design and CAD software company that sold through retail stores and eCommerce, and a Vice President of Sales position at Encore Software. In heading back to Ingram in 2012, Birmingham was excited to not only be returning to a great company, but also to a special culture he missed as well.
“The culture at Ingram Micro is unique. To work with associates that have proven to be successful in the channel by a commitment to continued learning, inspired innovation, and developing strong relationships with reseller and vendor partners, is what I came back to,” he explained. “I have been lucky to have great leaders to work with over my career and built trust to drive success together.”
Upon his return as VP Sales for Ingram Micro’s Retail and eCommerce division, Birmingham has spent the last seven years growing the business to include Business and Consumer Solutions that service a multi-billion dollar business that enables eCommerce and retail resellers, desktop and notebook vendor and reseller partners, consumer technology vendor and reseller partners, along with imaging solution vendors and resellers partners.
Southern California-born and -raised, Birmingham grew up as a sports-crazed kid, and had initially set his sights on a career as a sports journalist. But an equally strong love of tech ultimately pushed him to the path he has stayed on for over 25 years.
“I love being in the business of technology solutions,” he said. “Technology really is shaping the way we work, play, and live.”
It’s easy to see why Birmingham has flourished at Ingram, as his passion for tech is matched only by his passion for the people he works with, as well as those he helps to serve.
“I have so much respect for all the talented people I have been lucky to work with and I cherish the life-long relationships that have been developed over the years, not only with fellow team members, but with resellers and vendor partners alike,” he said.
Birmingham has based his management style on a foundation of respect and again, credits the overall working atmosphere at Ingram for fostering that culture.
“I think it is critical to have an environment that is open to opinion, free-flowing ideas, and inspired innovation. I believe one of the best qualities in a leader is the ability to listen, treat everyone with the utmost respect, and make sure you have an environment that fosters innovation, where team members aren’t afraid to fail, but understand how to learn from mistakes,” he explained. “I feel it’s very important to build a team that puts relationships first, and feels empowered to make decisions.”
Among the people he admires most sits British business magnate, investor, author and philanthropist, Sir Richard Branson. “I was always impressed with his willingness to think big, but most importantly, he understood that his most important customer was his associate. He was a real relationship-first leader, and I admire his style and innovative approach to business,” he said of Branson’s influence.
No surprise to hear that Birmingham places a premium on developing and cultivating great relationships. The founder of one of his previous career stops, Pete Pierce of Punch! Software, imparted the importance of relationship-building to him years ago.
“He told me earlier on if you work on the relationships, business will follow. That stuck with me to this day. Let’s face it, we buy from people we like and respect, and the overall experience is what brings people back, not a low price,” he recalled. “It’s also important to me to remember where you came from, and give back to the community in some way.”
When Birmingham contemplates the future of both CE and retail, he’s excited and confident that Ingram Micro is well positioned for whatever business direction the trends dictate.
“I remember someone telling me retail was dead about 20 years ago, and I responded the same way I respond today. It’s not dead, it’s just evolving. Ecommerce and the ability to shop anywhere and anytime has really raised the bar for retail. Consumer expectations on service are high, and understanding your customer is more important than ever,” he explained. “Connected devices along with smart home and office solutions continue to be a sweet spot for growth. As 5G really starts to become more mainstream, there will be a big opportunity as consumers and businesses will need to refresh in order to take advantage of the 5G benefits.”
Birmingham added, “We have already invested in technology and solutions that will help our reseller partners make that transition, and we are here to enable our vendor partners as well. Most important, staying close to technology trends and executing on the overall customer experience will dictate success, and Ingram Micro will be there to enable our vendor and reseller partners success, being the business behind their brand.”
Despite his complete immersion in the tech sector at Ingram Micro, Birmingham’s greatest source of inspiration remains his family - wife Kelley and two children, Ally and Blake.
“My number one priority is my family. I have a wonderful wife named Kelley, and two incredible children, Ally and Blake. I truly feel blessed every day to have them in my life,” he proudly admitted.
And sports still plays an important role for Birmingham as well, saying “I play a lot of sports growing up, loved to surf, and play a competitive round of golf with my friends.”
As for his leisure time, living near San Diego, the ocean always beckons, and simply spending time with the people he enjoys being around keeps a smile on his face. “My wife and I like to spend our free time on the beach, and my career has afforded me the privilege to see many great places around the country and the world, meeting many amazing people and cultures,” he concluded.