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New CEO Looking To Transform Comdisco

There's a new sheriff in town at Comdisco Inc., and he's determined to transform the equipment leasing and service provider and make it walk tall in the new economy. The first priority for Norman Blake, who was appointed Wednesday as Comdisco's chairman, president, and CEO, is to create a clear vision of what the company wants to be.

Blake's goal is to narrow the company's focus, concentrating on Web and storage-hosting services that command higher margins and avoid the economic wasteland of commodity services. The company has already taken steps in that direction. In January, Comdisco scaled back its managed services, saying it would no longer offer network services so it could concentrate on continuity, Web hosting, and data-storage services. Although Comdisco has provided managed network services since 1995, the company says only 37 of its 5,300 customers are using those services.

Another of Blake's goals is to infuse more of a customer-centric view into Comdisco's core leasing and business-continuity services by promoting expertise in customers' individual vertical markets. "As I go through the various segments of the markets we're in, I'll take a look at what it takes to be a premium provider of those services," he says. "It's a tremendous challenge that will probably require a transformation of the company."

Blake, 59, becomes the first CEO to be hired from outside the company. Blake, who resigned as CEO and secretary general of the U.S. Olympic Committee to join Comdisco, also served as chairman, president, and CEO of Promus Hotel Corp., until its merger with Hilton Hotel Corp., and held the same positions at USF&G Corp., until it merged with St. Paul Cos. in 1997. He replaces Philip Hewes, who has served as interim president and CEO since December. Hewes, a 23-year veteran of Comdisco, will continue as both a member of senior management and of the board.

Blake's history as a "change agent" with executive-level experience and a history of architecting mergers bodes well for Comdisco, which has struggled to define its relevance in today's services market, Meta Group analyst Fred Joy says, adding, "It would have been better for Comdisco to have done this a year ago, but the company has a lot of name recognition and a customer base filled with established companies."

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