An inside look at the 'in-crowd'
Bumped into a VAR friend recently at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Calif. That's the property that clings to the edge of the Western Hemisphere, 50 feet above the Pacific. There, cypress trees lean toward the wind-swept coast to listen to the blue-granite waves crashing into the surf below. Think I'm kidding? Stand along the water's edge in your own loafers and tell me what you observe.
What's nice about the hotel, in addition to the marble baths and terry bathrobes, are the outdoor fire pit, the exercise room that features Cybex-resistance machines and the two 18-hole, championship golf courses.
"This is my second time here in a month," my VAR friend told me. "Ain't life great?"
I suppose, I thought.
On occasion, I am invited to attend, if not participate, in vendor partner retreats that take place in posh places where I found my VAR friend grinning from ear to ear. Don't get me wrong--he's about more than a round of golf on an Arnold Palmer course, Godiva chocolates on his pillow and exclusive wine tastings. What he really likes is the feeling that he is one of the "in-crowd," the one that includes many of the companies featured in this special issue of VARBusiness, our annual VARBusiness 500 edition. At this event, for example, my friend was one of 60 select executives invited to Cisco's Partner Executive Exchange (CPEE).
Often, I am asked what goes on at these events by those who never get invited. In the interest of full disclosure, let me peel back the covers--or, rather, duvets ensconced in 300-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets--on what takes place. Generally, these outings are hosted at posh locales, many of them Ritz-Carltons, come to think of it. Symantec's executive partner forum in 2004, for example, was held last summer at The Ritz in Chicago. Other popular places include the Four Seasons Las Vegas, The Ritz in Amelia Island, Fla., and The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colo. All nice spots, though the bathrooms at the Four Seasons in Carlsbad, Calif., alone are worth $289 a night.
Golf is big at these events. Wine, not beer, is always plentiful. CEOs stop by, but never stay. They care, of course, but not enough to stay for dinner, which can be surprisingly good.
At CPEE, Cisco CEO John Chambers gave a presentation on the second day of the event, avoiding the dinner at the local winery altogether. Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina could always be counted on to make an appearance at similar events, but then never made quite the right impression. At one outing in Orlando, Fla., she served coffee after dinner at an outside poolside reception in 103-degree heat. Boiling drinks in tropical heat: Envious?
Who hosts these get-togethers? Typically, it's the executives in charge of partner relations with leading vendors. That's usually a senior-level executive, although not always a vice president. That means someone with a discretionary budget. Running up a respectable bar tab is OK, but destroying the Portuguese vase in the lobby stairwell isn't. (Why anyone would put a $600 urn in such a place is beyond me.)
The goal of these gatherings is basically simple: to give allies a chance to air their grievances and share frustrations. Cisco's event included presentations from senior vice president Paul Mountford and members of his partner management team, plus voices from the strategic technology and marketing teams. Members of the audience included executives from many VARBusiness 500 companies, including GTSI, Meridian IT Solutions and Forsythe. They discussed the needs surrounding emerging markets, among other things. No matter the problem, the immediate solution seemed to be a white paper of some sort.
One interesting aspect: the in-crowd within the in-crowd. Often the largest of attendees, these individuals are typically persecuted by others for the discounts they receive, the special benefits they enjoy and the proximity to the host they are given when seating arrangements for dinner are made known.
At its event, Cisco devoted two hours to tackle burning issues du jour. Partners were given stickers and asked to place them on placards on easels around the room. They featured topics pertaining to programs, sales-channel behaviors, services and products. Those topics with the most stickers were given the most attention. If an issue wasn't listed on the boards, partners were encouraged to write in their own. Some partners grumbled that Cisco's MDF policies would not cover golf outings for customers, which was ironic given that Cisco had planned to entertain partners with a round of golf on one of California's more renowned courses.
So it goes with the in-crowd.
T.C. Doyle is senior executive editor at VARBusiness. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.