Tom Mitchell, Cisco's senior vice president, worldwide channels, said that he plans to leave his position. Mitchell discussed his reasons for leaving and his future plans in an interview with CRN Infrastructure Editor Larry Hooper.
CRN: You've decided to leave your position as Cisco's senior channel executive and may leave Cisco altogether. What's going on?
MITCHELL: It's been in the works for a while. A lot of people were shocked because I worked so hard right up to the announcement date. We just had our sales meetings, so this is a pretty good time for me to step aside right now. We're on a real solid footing in the channel. We have a real solid management team.
As I look at things, I look a long way out. It will take me a couple of months to work on the transition. In a couple of months, we'll be in November, which means you're right in the middle of the planning for the partner summit. After the partner summit, you have a month of follow-up. And then we're into the financial planning and analysis for fiscal year '03 because our year starts the first of August. And then I'm back into the sales meetings.
So, it was a great time to do it, because we just cleared the sales meetings. If I don't do it right now, because I am responsible to the company--I love Cisco--then I'm in for another year. That's why I'm doing it now.
CRN: Your exit comes shortly after Cisco announced a major reorganization. Is there any connection?
MITCHELL: No. I've been here seven-plus years. Our channel is 88 percent of our business. We have a very strong management team. The restructuring, which is absolutely the right thing to do, is strictly on the business unit and marketing side, so it's not sales-related. This is an independent event.
CRN: So, it's a personal decision? Let's get personal, Tom. What's going on in your life that you feel the need to move on?
MITCHELL: I've been here a long time, and I've really enjoyed watching it grow, but it really is a high-impact environment. I think my style is such that I play the game pretty hard. I've been pretty fortunate. I want to take three to six months to enjoy my family and figure out what I want to do next. If you're me, it's pretty hard to figure out what you want to do next if you're in this job. The reality is that it's pretty hard to look at what else you want to do and determine that landscape if you're working as hard as I do. I feel I have an obligation to the people and to Cisco and to our partners to give it 100 percent. So when the time comes to do something personal, I think you should approach it with equal enthusiasm.
CRN: So it's not another case of executive burnout?
MITCHELL: I would say I am as fresh or fresher than I've ever been. I feel very good about what we're doing. I feel very good about IP telephony. That is going to be a huge market for our partners. Looking at it strategically, I decided that if I'm going to be responsible to Cisco and to the partners, now is the time to affect the change.
CRN: You've said you will stay until a successor is found and that you'll aid in the transition to the new executive. How long do you think it will take?
MITCHELL: Rick Justice is my boss and reports to [Cisco CEO] John [Chambers]. Rick and I have been talking about this for some period of time. We have a pretty solid list of internal and external candidates. To give you an exact time on the process ... I don't know, but it's probably going to take a couple of months.
I have a very senior crew that I have handpicked. So, we are certainly of the mind to do the right thing as opposed to doing something right now.
CRN: If you're looking at external candidates, does that mean there are no internal people suitable for the job?
MITCHELL: No, I think you're jumping to a conclusion there. I think you go through and look at candidates internally and externally and make a decision based on who is best. It's no more complicated than that.
CRN: On the timing issue, Cisco's channel programs and partners are undergoing significant changes right now. Are you comfortable leaving at this stage?
MITCHELL: [The changes] are under way. There were a series of steps along the way, such as the specializations and the content underneath. By the way, the number of partners who have become specialized since we announced the new program has quadrupled, since April. That is well under way. It is very solid right now.
CRN: Cisco partners have said that you are the man with the vision behind Cisco's channel programs. Where will that vision come from when you leave?
MITCHELL: I think I have a very strong management team and they're giving me more credit than I deserve. Maybe I was the guy that articulated it, but there are lots of smart people at Cisco. I do appreciate their compliments, though.
The reality is that it's a fairly complicated market with a complicated product suite, and those decisions are arrived at through a lot of careful thought by a lot of careful people. I've been in the enviable position of being the guy that got to articulate the message.
CRN: Can we assume your replacement will continue on Cisco's current channel course, or can we expect more changes?
MITCHELL: I think we're on a good foundation. Clearly we want our partners to see a return on all the investments they've made in our program, so I would not anticipate any dramatic changes. But if I carried on in the job, I would continue to evolve things in response to changes in the market.
CRN: What's the message you'd like to leave Cisco partners with?
MITCHELL: It has been fantastic to watch partners become 88 percent of Cisco's business. Yes, we face challenges now, but if you look back at where we were to where we are now, I don't think the challenges are very daunting.
I have a very stable handpicked management team in place. I think the partners can look forward to fairly strong direction going forward due to a very stable management team.