Big channel acquisitions mean big disruptions, but if Jeff Howe has one message for the Windstream and former Paetec channels, it's that Windstream does M&A disruptions as well as anyone and understands how to finish integrations without marginalizing the channel in the process.
In fact, Windstream will be investing more in the channel and in organizational improvements than ever before, said Howe, president of Windstream's central region.
"You take a look at Windstream over a six-year period, when we grew from $1 billion to a $6 billion organization. That really involved strategic acquisitions," Howe told CRN in an interview at Intelisys Channel Connect in San Francisco in October. "It's clear we're a nationwide organization focused on the medium to large enterprise space, and that our product suite is well beyond Point A to Point B bandwidth."
Howe became Windstream's national channel chief following a summer reorganization that ousted former dealer sales vice president Dan Sterling. Windstream sought to remove layers of management from its sales and channel organizations, Howe said, and that benefits both solution providers and telecom agents in how it streamlines decision-making.
"What I tell the field all the time is we are absolutely committed to the channel," he said. "There have been some organizations that have wavered in that regard, but we continue to highlight the fact that we understand the value, we know what they can bring and what the importance of their relationships is."
Howe said Windstream understands that partners -- particularly those affected by Windstream's mammoth $2.3 billion acquisition of Paetec last year -- are exhausted from all the changes. Paetec itself was highly acquisitive, having bought several Avaya VARs over a three-year period and creating concerns about services conflict with its channel partners, before it was swallowed up.
Since the acquisition, there have been several rounds of Windstream layoffs, including the roughly 400 management jobs Windstream said it would remove from its overall employee base of about 14,500. But partners will see the operational savings invested back into programs and support, Howe said.
"We're going to continue to support the channel in terms of field resources and behind-the-scenes operational customer delivery resources," Howe said. "What happened was, we sat back and looked at all these acquisitions and we simply saw too many layers of management. And not only that, but the span of control in that management was not wide enough. So we knew we had to bring power and decision-making closer to the field level, and I will tell you that we have seen incredible progress in that area."
When the integration and restructuring are complete, Windstream plans to spend about $1 billion in deploying more fiber into its network, expanding its overall bandwidth capacity and building out data centers. It isn't actively looking to recruit new VARs and agents, Howe said, so much as looking for ways to deepen its existing relationships.
Howe said Windstream is actively seeking partner feedback as it adjusts its compensation and becomes a more prominent player in the convergence of the IT and telecom channels. Where many large service providers stumble is by failing to set expectations with each type of channel partner, he said, and that's precisely why so many VARs don't trust telecom providers as channel vendors.
"We spend a lot of time trying to develop ourselves as trusted advisers," Howe said. "Historically these were partners that dealt in hardware solutions and, suddenly, they're exposing their customers to new partners. The relationship has to be very solid to minimize their risk. There has to be a high level of confidence or it just doesn't work."
Howe said he expects managed solutions to be the biggest growth opportunities for Windstream partners over the next five years, which is why Windstream is investing so much in support infrastructure. Partners also should take note of the increased importance of both master agents and IT distributors that are investing in telecom and cloud services support.
"Both Windstream and its national partners will be putting a bigger emphasis on helping them resolve issues and overcome challenges," Howe said. "We'll be supporting them more than ever."
PUBLISHED NOV. 5, 2012