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Channel Mourns Loss Of Gregarious Red River CEO Jeff Sessions

Sessions, a solution provider visionary revered by friends and colleagues for his candor and sense of humor, passed away this week.

Jeff Sessions, a solution provider visionary revered by friends and colleagues for his candor and sense of humor, died Wednesday. He was 53.

Sessions joined Claremont, N.H.-based Red River, No. 64 on the 2019 CRN Solution Provider 500, 12 years ago as vice president of sales, and worked his way up the ranks before being tapped in February 2017 to replace company founder Rick Bolduc as CEO.

But Sessions will be equally well-remembered for providing non-stop input and feedback on advisory boards and challenging waiters at restaurants to decide what he should get for dinner. Sessions' courage to place big bets on specific technologies and vendors and ability to build meaningful relationships with people throughout the IT industry allowed him to dramatically elevate Red River's profile.

[Related: Red River Exec: Investment Keeps Us On Growth Track]

"Everyone knows who Red River is now," said Brian Strosser, president at Herndon, Va.-based DLT Solutions, No. 42 on the CRN SP 500. "I'm not sure you could have said that 12 years ago."

Sessions and his wife Elizabeth Howle, 48, were killed overnight Wednesday in a jet ski crash on the South River in Anne Arundel County, Md. Officials told local media outlets that the pair had hit a lighted daymarker. The couple lived in Reston, Va. outside Washington, D.C.

Sessions convinced Red River's board shortly after joining the company in 2007 that the best way to grow was to invest heavily in vendors such as Cisco, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems, according to Marc Fertik, VP of technology solutions for Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based Ace Computers, No. 261 on the 2019 CRN SP 500.

"I think people learned courage and passion from watching what Jeff could do," Fertik said. "People who knew Jeff saw what was possible."

These bets were very successful, with Sessions telling CRN in early 2016 that the company enjoyed an industry-leading 95-percent growth rate between 2012 and 2014 by transitioning from a VAR to a technology integrator business model through the building out of a full-time, 24/7 network operations center (NOC).

"Jeff led our company with intelligence, humor, integrity and passion," Red River said in a statement. "Jeff’s impact on Red River, our people and the communities we serve will forever be felt." Red River executives weren't available Friday for additional comment.

But what really set Sessions apart, Strosser said, was his ability to realize his vision and execute it effectively by being personally driven and putting the right talent in place around him.

"He's done a phenomenal job transforming every business he's been a part of," Strosser said. "He's just accelerated Red River's brand and their business."

Strosser sat alongside Sessions on several technology advisory boards, where he said Sessions contributed tons of ideas and was vocal and candid in pushing companies and people to be their very best.

"He was always fighting for the time," Strosser said. "It was sometimes hard to get a word in edgewise."

Sessions consistently challenged his sales and business development leaders to execute to the best of their ability, according to Fertik.

"He had a ruthless streak in a good way," Fertik said. "He didn't tolerate people who didn't perform."

At the same time, Strosser said Sessions was very quick-witted, and excelled at deploying humor to lighten up an otherwise serious conversation. Sessions had a "magnetic" personality, Strosser said, and was very good at making time for people.

"I think he's going to be remembered by the number of relationships he's impacted," Strosser said. "A lot of people are just drawn to him."

Back when Fertik lived in the Virginia area, he and Sessions used to get together regularly to enjoy dinners, cigars and drinks. Fertik remembers Sessions most for his "sartorial splendor" – capped off by always wearing a pair of pink socks, being a great conversationalist, and consistently challenging waiters and waitresses to decide what he should eat.

"He was a lot of fun to share a meal with," Fertik said. "He was a super bubbly guy."

All told, Strosser said Sessions' humor, candor and intelligence allowed him to develop talent and build stronger relationships with people in a way that few others in the industry could match.

"I do consider him the best of the best," Strosser said. "He meant a lot to me, and I'm sure he'll be missed by all of us."

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