'Godfather Of ProCurve' Departure Stuns Channel


The departure of John McHugh, ProCurve Networking by HP's top executive, has taken the channel by surprise, but solution providers said it shouldn't have too big of an impact on their business.

ProCurve late on Thursday confirmed that McHugh, who had been an HP stalwart for roughly 16 years and essentially built the ProCurve brand from a start-up to a $1 billion plus business, had left his post as vice president and worldwide general manager. McHugh was responsible for ProCurve's global operations, strategic and tactical planning, business development and the creation and introduction of many networking solutions and services. In that role, he grew ProCurve to be a solid contender in the networking marketplace where San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco Systems dominates, making ProCurve the No. 2 switching vendor.

McHugh's departure is shrouded in secrecy, with ProCurve representatives offering no insight into why he left, when he left and where he'll go next.

Solution providers, however, thought little of the silence surrounding McHugh's recent exit.

Pete Busam, vice president and COO of ProCurve partner Decisive Business Systems, a Pennsauken, N.J.-based solution provider, said he's heard of no recent missteps by McHugh or HP that would result in his firing or being asked to resign. Busam added that McHugh's departure caught him off guard as he saw no warning signs that McHugh was ready to retire or resign.

"We've seen a lot of management changes over the years with HP," Busam said. "I think some of it is the normal evolution of HP continuing to change and do what they need to do."

Busam said McHugh's departure shouldn't have any direct impact on his HP business, which Busam said continues to thrive with ProCurve remaining his lead brand.

"HP's committed to its channel and committed to its products," he said. "ProCurve continues to be a consistent seller for us. From a sales perspective and a services perspective, we should not feel any impact."

Busam added that he's confident HP will find innovative and energetic talent to take the ProCurve reins in McHugh's absence, despite McHugh architecting ProCurve from the ground up and being instrumental in its channel program launch.

John Barker, president of Versatile Communications, a Marlborough, Mass.-based solution provider, said he was "as surprised as everybody was" about McHugh's leaving ProCurve.

"I have no idea what the heck prompted his departure," Barker said. "It happened pretty quickly."

Barker said Versatile sells quite a bit of ProCurve gear and added that replacing McHugh -- who he called the "Godfather of ProCurve" -- could be difficult.

"Losing a guy like that can be a setback," he said. "But my sense is, I think the timing would have been a lot worse if this had happened a few years ago."

Barker said he's been selling ProCurve before anyone knew what ProCurve was, but the brand has taken on a life of its own over the past few years and McHugh's leadership during that period has been integral. He's known McHugh for at least a decade.

"They've got to find a good replacement to keep strong relationships," he said.

Barker said McHugh was in touch with the channel and easily accessible. The quick access and communication will be missed, he said, adding he had nothing but respect for McHugh's integrity and down to earth attitude.

"They just need to make sure they don't forget how they got to where they are and who their customers are," he said, calling ProCurve one of the industry's best success stories.

While ProCurve has remained tight-lipped about the circumstances surrounding McHugh's exit, a statement issued by the Palo Alto, Calif.-based networking vendor announced that Bret Cromwell has been named acting general manager in McHugh's absence. Cromwell was worldwide controller for HP ProCurve and for the past six years has been a key member of the executive staff, responsible for finance, accounting and IT activities.

Despite the silence around McHugh's departure, it does not appear his leaving was brought on by HP, said industry analyst Zeus Kerravala, Yankee Group senior vice president.

"McHugh did a great job of taking ProCurve from nothing to the No. 2 switching vendor," he said. "Growing the company as basically a startup is a different skill set than taking the company and growing it into one company with a broader portfolio and more of a solution sell. Growing ProCurve now requires competing much more with Cisco and growing the channel."

Kerravala speculated that McHugh may have felt he completed his tasks with ProCurve, once the vendor hit a solid No. 2 position to Cisco's dominant No. 1.

"Perhaps he felt he's done pretty much all he could do there, or at least done all the fun stuff," he said. "He'd been there a long time. ProCurve is a different place now, so he may have felt he did what he was brought in to do and that was to make ProCurve a respectable name in networking. He did that. They're the No. 2 to Cisco."

ProCurve's success, he said, all lies with McHugh, adding that a replacement must be willing to take the ball and run with it, continuing in the tradition of growth that McHugh created.

"It's actually a phenomenal story when you think about it," he said. "They came out of nowhere. They need someone that's willing to go toe-to-toe with Cisco more now though. There's very little share to steal from the other Cisco chasers. The best way to put it is that the next 10 percent of market share will be much more difficult to get than the past 10 percent."