It is hard to think of a senior executive who has broader and deeper work experience than Rola Dagher, Dell Technologies’ Global Channel Chief. Dagher and her infant daughter emigrated to Canada from Lebanon in 1989, joining other family members in Toronto. Seeking work and a better life, she first worked as a telemarketer for Bell Canada, which led to jobs in sales and management. Dagher then went on to executive and senior leadership positions at Dell and Cisco System Canada before returning to Dell in September 2020.
In this Executive Q&A/Pund-IT Spotlight interview, Rola Dagher discusses the details of her life and career, her vision and plans for Dell’s Global Channel organization and her dedication to issues and organizations–both inside and outside the workplace.
Pund-IT: Hello, Rola. It’s good to meet you. Thanks for participating in this discussion.
Rola Dagher: Hi, Charles. It’s good to meet you, too.
Pund-IT: First off, can you provide readers some details about your early life and background?
Dagher: I grew up in a small village in Lebanon, and my parents and five sisters emigrated to Canada to escape the Lebanese civil war. When I was 16, I followed suit. I’ve since made my home and built my career in Toronto, which is why I describe myself as a “proud Lebanese and a grateful Canadian.” The opportunities that have come my way have been incredible, and I feel fortunate to share them with my family who all live close by. We’re a tight-knit bunch.
Pund-IT: How did you become interested in technology? What intrigued you about the industry?
Dagher: I’m the first to admit that I fell into the technology industry! After arriving in Canada, I was looking to build a career, so I accepted a job at Bell Canada as a telemarketer for technology sales, and I just fell in love with it. It was very satisfying being able to solve people’s problems and help them do great things with technology. I was hooked from then on.
Pund-IT: How did your career evolve at Bell Canada? Are there any special events or memories of your time there that you can share?
Dagher: After some time in telemarketing, I moved into sales and never looked back. One of the best memories of my time at Bell Canada was winning the President’s Club award five years in a row. At one of the awards ceremonies, I had been up to the podium a few times accepting prizes before the president said, “I’m not calling you to the stage anymore!” It was a great moment of laughter for everyone, but I was so proud of everything I had accomplished and how I had been recognized for it. I knew I was in the right field.
Pund-IT: After 15 years at Bell Canada, you initially joined Dell in 2011. What led you to make that move? What factors made you believe that Dell would be a good and interesting place to work?
Dagher: I think a lot of leaders would agree that some of the opportunities we take are ones we never thought we’d consider. I was happy at Bell Canada and wasn’t looking to leave, but you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. So, when I was offered the position, I decided to take a risk and try something new, and it paid off!
Pund-IT: Your initial role(s) at Dell were in sales. What were your market/industry focus areas?
Dagher: My first role at Dell was in infrastructure and solution sales. I loved the position because I could make a real impact on our customers and their communities.
Pund-IT: In 2015, you moved into managerial and then leadership positions overseeing Dell’s enterprise and infrastructure solutions. How did that come about? Did the transition in roles require any special preparation or training?
Dagher: This was my first leadership position, and I absolutely loved it. I didn’t have any idea at the time that I could be the leader I am today, but I knew that if I could help shape people’s paths in a positive way, I wanted to do that.
Pund-IT: How do you achieve a goal like that?
Dagher: I have always aspired to the idea of servant leadership–to be someone who listens to understand, not just to talk. And to be someone who challenges my colleagues to both learn and unlearn. People should continue to unlearn certain things–just because it worked in the past doesn’t mean it will in the future, and that’s where innovation comes from.
Pund-IT: In June 2017, you became president of Cisco Systems Canada. How did that opportunity arise? What factors led you to accept the position? In retrospect, was it a good move?
Dagher: I would have never imagined leaving Dell. I loved what I did, and I wasn’t looking for new opportunities. When Cisco called, I actually thought they had the wrong number. I had tried for a sales role at the company years earlier when I was still at Bell! When Cisco offered me the position, it was something I had to really consider. Comfort and growth don’t co-exist, and in the end, it was such an amazing opportunity that I couldn’t pass it up.
Pund-IT: In August 2020, you were named Dell’s Global Channel Chief, replacing Joyce Mullen. How did that come about? Why did you decide to return to Dell?
Dagher: When I left Dell in 2017, Michael Dell said to me, “Consider it a training assignment.” Cisco Canada turned out to be an outstanding experience and role, and I learned an incredible amount. When the opportunity arose to take on the position of Global Channel Chief, I felt ready to take that experience back to Dell.
Pund-IT: You must have felt a strong sense of déjà vu.
Dagher: When I started in September, Michael said, “Welcome back! You’ve completed your training assignment!” It felt like an important full-circle moment in my career.
Pund-IT: How did you first begin working with channel partners? What do you like best about it?
Dagher: I grew up in the channel; at both Bell Canada and Cisco, most of my work was partner-related. The channel is foundational to a vendor’s success, and I love the challenge of helping our partners expand and grow.
Pund-IT: What points/issues about partners and the channel do you wish were better understood?
Dagher: From the beginning, I could see their value in terms of growing a market. Partners are a critical extension of a vendor’s sales force, providing the reach and speed to market that a vendor needs to meet demand, fuel growth and help customers.
Pund-IT: True, but the dynamic works both ways.
Dagher: We are stronger when we work together. I always tell our partners, your success is my success. There isn’t room for competition! For partners to be successful, they need a vendor investing in them.
Pund-IT: Can you offer an example?
Dagher: One of the critical investments a vendor should make is in the end-to-end experience. We have to create an environment where we empower our partners with the resources they need. Dell does a good job with that, but we can always be improving.
Pund-IT: Have you experienced any unexpected challenges in working with the channel and partners? How have you addressed or overcome those issues?
Dagher: The biggest, unexpected challenge for me was the complexity of transacting business. When you work for a large organization, there can be a lot of red tape, and things may not move as quickly as we might like. So, success requires streamlining workstreams and tasks while at the same time giving partners what they need in terms of enablement, resources and tools.
Pund-IT: Are there any emerging technologies or market opportunities that you believe will be especially important for the channel?
Dagher: One of the most important opportunities is around digital transformation. Businesses had to pivot so quickly last year, and the amount of transformation we saw was just incredible. We’ll continue to support our partners and customers on their digital transformation journeys, which include so many important technologies like cloud, AI, the edge, cybersecurity and data management–all offered with modern consumption models. Partners continue to move toward more managed offerings, and those who do find themselves more buoyant. The partner experience and personalization are also huge opportunities for the partner community. Partners have such different needs, which is why we continue to focus on providing more streamlined and personalized experiences for them.
Pund-IT: Will any new Dell offerings enable partners to take full advantage of those areas?
Dagher: As-a-service is incredibly important, and we’re working closely with our partners to prepare them for the launch of Dell Technologies Project APEX later this year. APEX is the future of how we’ll deliver our technology and services. Our vision is to enable partners for all Dell Technologies Cloud and aaS offers. We’re excited to invest in partners that are ready for the as-a-service market.
Pund-IT: Early February marks the start of Dell’s financial year, as well as its new partner program year. What do you think your partners should focus on in 2021?
Dagher: This last year has been a time of great change, and we know that it’s best for our partners to focus on consistency. It’s clear that our strategy is working, and we’re staying the course to best support our partners while investing in key focus areas to enable their success.
Since starting the Global Channel Chief role in September, I’ve made it my commitment to empower our partners by accelerating their opportunities for growth, their profit potential, and creating a more streamlined end-to-end experience for them.
Pund-IT: What should partners be most excited about?
Dagher: In this year’s program, we’ve announced great opportunities around cross-selling, storage and consumption as stepping stones for APEX later this year. And of course, our partners can expect continued improvements on the end-to-end experience they have with us.
Beyond the details of this year’s program launch, we want our partners to take away the fact that we’re in this together. We can make a huge impact on our customers and communities when we join forces.
Pund-IT: Immigration and the value and insights provided by emigres are clearly important in the tech industry. Can you share any thoughts on that, including how your own experiences have impacted your work and professional contributions?
Dagher: When I started my career, the system wasn’t set up for diverse candidates – women and immigrants like me. I spent a lot of time working within the system, and fighting against it in some cases, to get where I am today.
The technology industry has made a lot of progress over the last decade, but I look to the companies with diverse organizations as the ones who will lead the way. Those companies realize that for true innovation and progress, they need to embrace the diversity of thought and ideas, which comes from a workforce with different backgrounds. I’ve always focused on building diverse teams and cultivating an inclusive culture, which enables talent to change the status quo when necessary.
Pund-IT: Workplace diversity is a vital issue for Dell. Can you tell me how that plays into the company’s partner/channel ecosystem and how you’re planning to address the subject?
Dagher: Dell Technologies has a longstanding commitment to workplace diversity, and it’s a passion of mine as well. It’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s also a business imperative. Diverse teams are more innovative, more profitable, and customers want to work with companies whose values align to theirs.
Pund-IT: Michael Dell has noted that it’s vital for a company to reflect its customers and partners.
Dagher: As I’m sure you’ve seen, Dell announced its Progress Made Real plan in 2019, which includes the company’s 2030 vision for our diverse and inclusive workforce. As part of our moonshot goals, by 2030, 50% of our global workforce and 40% of our global people leaders will identify as women, and 25% of our U.S. workforce and 15% of our U.S. people leaders will identify as Black/African American and Hispanic/Latino minorities.
We’re working with customers and partners to get there and build a more inclusive environment. And I love that partners are finding ways to make their own organizations more diverse. We’re making progress, but we need to work together as a partner ecosystem to lead the movements across inclusion, diversity, racial justice and environmental impact.
Pund-IT: The past year has been hard for companies of every sort worldwide, but it has been especially difficult for smaller businesses and the enterprises that engage with and support them. Have you seen evidence of that? How do you believe that you and Dell can assist partners facing those issues?
Dagher: One of the key things I want our partners to know is this: we have their backs and will fight for their success. Early in 2020, we offered a relief package that helped support partners in a variety of ways. We’re optimistic about 2021 and are investing in the tools, resources and program consistency our partners need to grow and help customers succeed.
Pund-IT: You are a strong advocate for mental health. I was moved by the “Blue Monday” commentary that you contributed to The Globe and Mail in January 2019. For many people, 2020 has been a long series of “Blue Mondays.” How have you approached these challenges?
Dagher: I strongly believe that mental health IS health. In my own life, I’ve dealt with the challenges of the last year by staying connected with friends and family and expressing gratitude for everything I have.
Pund-IT: How do you take that approach into the workplace?
Dagher: At work, it can be difficult for people to open up or to let others know when they may be struggling. It’s my job as a leader to support them and ensure they know that they can come to me and their managers when they need to. Leadership is not a position, it’s an action you take, and helping others in this area is one of the most important things I can do.
Pund-IT: I understand that you’re highly engaged in a number of charitable and professional organizations. Can you discuss some of your efforts in those groups? Are there any in which you’re currently focusing a great deal of time, attention or energy?
Dagher: There are so many causes that I am passionate about. I am a strong advocate for the idea of “learn it, earn it, return it”–not just in the workplace, but from a social impact perspective as well.
This last year has seen many events that have brought racial justice to the forefront, and I am working closely with the Coalition of Innovation Leaders Against Racism (CILAR) and the BlackNorth Initiative, which I helped co-found.
From a diversity and inclusion standpoint, I’m involved with the 30% Club, which looks to increase the representation of women on boards of directors. And, circling back to mental health, I have also worked closely with the Centre for Addiction & Mental Health (CAMH) on helping to connect mental-health patients with physicians more quickly using technology.
Pund-IT: Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share on your upcoming plans and expectations?
Dagher: My number one message for our partners is reflected in our new promise to our partners: Together, We Stop at Nothing. My commitment is to empower our partners, accelerate their opportunities for growth and profitability, and create a more streamlined end-to-end experience for them. As we continue to go through incredible transformations in the industry, we will stand side by side with our partners while they transform as well. Together, we can drive incredible impact for our customers and communities!
Pund-IT: Thank you, Rola. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and insights.
Rola Dagher: You’re welcome, Charles. I enjoyed our discussion.