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Life and Leadership Lessons I Learned in The Military: “The best thing a leader can do is listen rather than talk, creating space for messy meetings and asking the tough questions when they’re needed.” with Ken Lamneck and Marco Dehry

Hiring the right people is the most important decision a leader can make. I personally interview everyone in key leadership positions at Insight, and we look for smart people who are hungry yet humble. When you hire the right people, you can entrust them to make the right decisions, encourage them to bring new ideas […]


Hiring the right people is the most important decision a leader can make. I personally interview everyone in key leadership positions at Insight, and we look for smart people who are hungry yet humble. When you hire the right people, you can entrust them to make the right decisions, encourage them to bring new ideas to the table, then hold them accountable to fully commit to and deliver on those ideas. The best thing a leader can do is listen rather than talk, creating space for messy meetings and asking the tough questions when they’re needed.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ken Lamneck, President and Chief Executive Officer, Insight. Ken Lamneck doesn’t believe in settling for the present. He is fascinated with the future and technology, and the way each inspires the other. This interest and vision have driven Ken from the West Point Military Academy to Insight, where he leads the company as chief executive officer. After five years in the U.S. Army, Ken began his civilian career as an IBM engineer. But he found that sales and marketing better suited his competitive spirit and the servant leadership principles he learned while in uniform. Ken honed his technical knowledge and people skills while rising through the ranks at Arrow Electronics. As president of Arrow’s Industrial Computer Products business, he was drawn to the rapid pace of innovation in the emerging IT industry. He moved to Tech Data Corp., where he directed its growth and operations across the United States, Canada and Latin America. In 2010, Ken joined Insight. His approachable, hands-on leadership style can be seen in Insight’s corridors every day, as he motivates teammates and aligns their efforts with Insight’s strategy to help clients manage their business today and transform for the future.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

My upbringing was somewhat unique. I grew up in a household of eight kids in New York, and I was the only boy. I had four older sisters and three younger ones. Being in a big family naturally gave me my first taste of the importance of teamwork, with an all-hands on deck approach to things like household chores and taking care of each other. Being the only boy also came with an additional sense of duty in looking after my sisters.

My father was in advertising in the era popularized by “Mad Men,” and we were very much a middle-class family, which instilled a strong work ethic in me from a young age. By the time I was a teenager, I was able to pay for tuition to a private high school with the money I earned shoveling driveways, cutting lawns and caddying. While my parents had the money, I didn’t feel it was their responsibility to pay for it if I could contribute.

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

At Insight, we have evolved our business from a traditional hardware/software reseller to systems integrator oriented around our Insight Intelligent Technology Solutions™. So many businesses need help managing the rapidly changing advancements of technology, and we’ve positioned ourselves very well to help organizations of all sizes run smarter and transform the way they do business through innovative approaches to technology.

We continually examine the needs of our clients and adapt to meet those needs, which in the last five years has led to us launch a new go-to-market strategy around four distinct solution areas: Supply Chain Optimization, Connected Workforce, Cloud + Data Center Transformation and Digital Innovation.

These were specifically designed to solve IT challenges that nearly every business faces today because of a digitally native workforce, the proliferation of cloud-based data and workload applications, and the need to innovate through technologies like artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things to improve business operations or launch new consumer-facing products or services.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

With no prior military history in my family, I attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point Academy and was commissioned as an Army officer in air defense artillery, where I focused on missile systems. At 24, while stationed in Germany, I commanded a missile battery of 300 people and oversaw $50 million worth of equipment, so responsibilities came to me at a relatively young age. It was the Cold War era and the Iron Curtain still stood between East and West Germany, so there was quite a bit of air traffic that we monitored and border crossings to oversee during our peace-time mission. That experience had a huge influence on me and thrust me onto the frontlines of figuring out how to lead effectively in a no-fail environment.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

Within two months of my arrival in Germany as a new second lieutenant, my battery commander was relieved of his duties and the executive officer — a young first lieutenant — was promoted to take over the unit. I learned very quickly about accountability of your actions, where you didn’t have the luxury of several tries to figure things out. The stakes were real, you understood what you and your team’s responsibilities were, and you found a way to perform beyond the standard. I took over as a battery commander a year and a half later under similar circumstances and understood that preparation, personal drive and teamwork were essential elements of success.

I’m interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism, during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.

  • Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
  • Does a person need to be facing a life and death situation to do something heroic or to be called a hero?

I tend to shy away from front-page heroism as they are more the exception than the rule. There are certainly heroes — people performing life-savings acts — who deserve the notoriety they receive. But I tend to liken heroism to something more relatable to everyone: diligently doing your job every day. People do extraordinary things all the time and don’t receive enough accolades.

In the military, for example, our young privates and specialists operating our radar systems were the Soldiers who would get up at 3 a.m. in the cold to correct a missile system maintenance fault, working around the clock to fix a problem. These acts often go unnoticed, and the people performing them sometimes don’t get the recognition for their dedication and teamwork.

These are daily heroes to me, people who simply by fully committing to their jobs and understanding the importance of the role they play, create all-around excellence for a greater team. We’ve adapted these everyday qualities into what we seek in our own teammates at Insight, though we’ve defined these through our core values of hunger, heart and harmony.

Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers 5 Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience”? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Accountability, first and foremost. Do what you say you are going to do.

2. The primary goal of a leader should be to identify and develop future leaders.

3. I believe deeply in servant leadership. Two core military tenets that resonated with me were: Don’t ask anybody to do anything that you wouldn’t do, and no one is better than anybody else. Whether in the military or in business, this means every single person is valuable because everyone influences our mutual success in some way.

4. Building the right teams of people is imperative to success. I tend to look for people who are hungry, humble and smart.

5. Our core values are meant to be lived every day, they aren’t just words on a piece of paper.

Do you think your time in the military helped prepare you for business? Can you explain?

Going to West Point and being in the military created a stalwart foundation for my career and leadership style. Leadership is ingrained in every aspect of military schooling and training, from classes dedicated to the topic, to studying the history of famous leaders and their battlefield actions, to the mental and physical demands of the Corps of Cadets, which is specifically designed to teach critical leadership skills.

I mentioned before the servant-leadership principles. Because of the word servant, people may misinterpret what it represents. The key elements of servant leadership focus on the needs of people, not their wants. In the military, when we were out in the field training, the officers never ate before the troops. As a leader, you made sure your Soldiers were taken care of before you considered your own needs. Subtle things like that are incredibly important, no matter the setting.

With experience, I determined for myself what worked and what didn’t for my own management style, and I took that belief in servant leadership with me to the private sector. When I arrived at Insight in 2010, I noticed that the covered parking was reserved for executives. In Phoenix, that parking is coveted seven months out of the year because of the heat. So what kind of message did that send? I philosophically disagreed with this practice since it went against the idea that people come first. So I never parked there, and we changed it to a lottery system, creating a fair system that gave everyone an opportunity to have access to the best parking. That may seem minor, but in principle it signaled to everyone from the start of my tenure at Insight that we are in this together. We call each other teammates, we treat people well because they’re our greatest source of strength, and we create collaborative environments in which everyone has a voice.

  • As you know, some people are scarred for life by their experience in the military. How did you struggle after your deployment was over? What have you done to adjust and thrive in civilian life that others may want to emulate?

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

As the world goes digital, we believe that every business is a technology business, and that technology lies at the heart of connecting people in more powerful ways than ever. Insight’s purpose of building meaningful connections centers on this, especially in a number of new “smart spaces” applications we’re developing that turn edge technologies into transformative solutions for industrywide or societal challenges. We’re creating turn-key solutions in areas like smart energy, smart cities, and smart agriculture, among others. With the emergence of virtualization and the cloud, data storage technologies and GPU processing, it’s exciting to see how the ability to process large amounts of information is translating into innovations in AI, machine learning, augmented reality, etc. The next 10 years will be the most exciting we’ve seen in technology as we become more and more connected to one another through the information we share with one another and our communities.

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?

Hiring the right people is the most important decision a leader can make. I personally interview everyone in key leadership positions at Insight, and we look for smart people who are hungry yet humble. When you hire the right people, you can entrust them to make the right decisions, encourage them to bring new ideas to the table, then hold them accountable to fully commit to and deliver on those ideas. The best thing a leader can do is listen rather than talk, creating space for messy meetings and asking the tough questions when they’re needed.

What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

You have to constantly ask yourself: How do I help empower people? How do I ensure our people are getting the right training? Is the right leadership in place above and below so that individuals can perform at their best to support the larger team? Truly connecting with people and helping them realize their potential leads to far better outcomes than if you only focus on the bottom line.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Stephen Kaufman, who retired as CEO of Arrow and is now a senior lecturer at Harvard, was a great mentor to me when I served as a division president in the company. He helped me hone my abilities to relate to others during a time when Arrow was executing an aggressive acquisition strategy. Connecting the values and cultures of the merging organizations was crucial to our immediate and sustained success, and he considered the impact of change on people first. Steve has an incredible mind for business but is incredibly down to earth and self-aware. He would be the first to tell you what his areas of weakness are and wouldn’t try to give advice in them.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I believe having access to technology can truly change a child’s life. Insight’s Reach program allows our teammates and partners to support programs that use technology to empower children to create a better future. We work with organizations like the Arizona Diamondbacks, Ronald McDonald House Charities, Make-A-Wish and others to encourage and mentor children. One example from our annual Noble Cause campaign is we reward underprivileged children from the Arizona Boys & Girls Club who are academically excelling with new laptops to set them up for success as they prepare for college.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

As a technology company, we are in a unique position to be a leader in developing applications that have the potential to impact entire communities. Today we’re working with an emergency-response partner on a “safe spaces” solution; it’s an IoT-enabled communications platform that feeds first responders real-time information during crisis situations where public safety is threatened. Working with Microsoft, we initially dubbed this “Project Edison” given Thomas Edison brought us the lightbulb and this IoT-based solution uses color-coded smart lights that automatically illuminate hallways or streetlights in different colors to warn people of nearby danger and guide them to safe zones. Now, it has grown into a comprehensive public safety solution that was built as part of Microsoft’s Azure-powered solution accelerators, which kick-start IoT projects to the point of 80 percent completion, with the remaining 20 percent being customizable for each unique use case.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care. — Theodore Roosevelt

Thank you for joining us!

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