Russell Cantwell – SHI International
Like most people born in the 1980s and 1990s, Russell Cantwell was immersed in technology from a young age. He watched the innovations in personal computing, networking and storage, knowing that he wanted to make technology a big part of his career.
But he also knew a lot about business.
“My dad and stepdad were both entrepreneurs, and my mom wanted to send me to an entrepreneurial college in New York City,” Cantwell says. “I saw what they did for their business, and I started recommending different technologies to family and friends while I was growing up.”
When he was in college at Texas Tech, Cantwell’s plan was to work in an IT department and learn as much as he could. Then, after developing a strong foundation, he would start his own consulting firm.
“It turns out it looks a lot like what I’m doing now,” says Cantwell, one of three field chief technology officers for SHI International, a global technology consulting firm and value-added reseller.
Filling a need in the field
Cantwell’s role for SHI International is straightforward: he interfaces with senior level executives and customers and advises them on technology decisions. He’s a member of SHI’s senior leadership team and he’s also a customer-facing executive.
That’s because SHI’s customers want to be able to talk to someone who is fluent in technology and their business, Cantwell points out. Rather than an entry-level employee providing guidance, he gives advice beyond the basic approach of only considering product specifications and cost.
There are three field CTOs in similar roles to his: one each in the East and the West and Cantwell, who’s based in Texas and covers the central U.S.
“We’re a technology company, through and through, and we’re an extension of our leadership team, working with customers in the field and guiding them as they make important business technology decisions,” he explains.
As a consultant, meeting with customers and working through any potential problems is Cantwell’s favorite part of the job. While he’s been on the operations side, and he’s been a developer and IT administrator, interfacing directly with people is what makes him excited about working each day.
“It’s more fun, more dynamic,” he says. “I’m in a different environment every day and I always get to learn about the newest technology.”
To do that, Cantwell is streamlining the marketing and product materials SHI provides to its customers, ranging from product segment overviews such as hyperconverged infrastructure or security to cloud consulting and professional services.
In the new materials, the goal is “to provide information and analysis of the top solutions in an industry segment and not just a feature matrix.” As Cantwell explains, “SHI aims to align products and solutions with business outcomes, and that requires more than just pinning spec sheets next to each other.”
He continues: “One thing I’m trying to do is create a standard version of storage, networking, servers and security overviews to use with customers across various solutions practices,” he says. “We would normally do this type of thing in person.”
Consulting during a pandemic
Jumping on a plane and flying across the country just isn’t feasible while COVID-19 continues to plague the U.S. Now, Cantwell and his team are taking customers through a workshop-like environment, but instead of doing it on the ground, it’s happening over Zoom.
Cantwell has found that salespeople accustomed to meeting in person are having a more difficult time connecting with customers remotely. To help them, he’s creating visuals for customers to focus on during conversations with SHI salespeople. He also reviews customer business plans and IT roadmaps to provide an outside perspective and helps executive team members understand how to best leverage SHI programs and resources to achieve their desired outcome.
“It’s much better when you can communicate in person—on both sides of the table. Everybody wants to be able to read body language, and obviously we can’t do that now,” he says. “Losing the nonverbal lines of communication is definitely the biggest loss.”
Cantwell is also part of a group ensuring SHI employees are staying healthy and practicing work-life balance while continuing to work from home. Most are probably working more now than they were pre-pandemic, he notes, and helping them strike the proper balance has been crucial for the company’s health and well-being.
“One of our core values is attracting and retaining top talent,” Cantwell says. “And you do that by ensuring they feel valued and their mental and physical health is taken care of.”
Getting to SHI
Cantwell, a native of Dallas-Fort Worth, graduated from Texas Tech’s Rawls College of Business in 2009 with a degree in management information systems. His first job post-university was as an implementation specialist for Tyler Technologies. There, he led face-to-face group training for customers and employees and got his first taste of the type of work he’d ultimately do with SHI.
He took a job with HP Enterprise Services in Plano, Texas, in 2010, first as a business analyst and then a solutions architect, where he designed solutions for business continuity, disaster recovery, storage and ECS cloud offerings.
“My time at HPE was an incredible learning experience. I had exposure to IT procurement, business continuity and disaster recovery, global enterprise architecture and cloud computing,” he says.
After almost four years, Cantwell went to Unique Digital as a systems engineer and solutions architect before leaving in August 2016 for SHI.
He started as a field solutions executive in the Dallas area doing pre-sales solution design and became a principal architect in mid-2018, a job he held for about two years.
Cantwell became the chief technology officer for the central field in July and says reaching the career goal he had at a young age is fulfilling—but there’s plenty of work yet to come.
“Achieving my goal of getting into this CTO role is a great milestone, but realistically is only the beginning of what I plan to do,” he notes. “Long term, as the industry changes, the needs of the business will change, and I will be there to help guide and define that change both internally at SHI and externally with our customers.”
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