Just Who Motivates You?

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Let's be honest--we're all in this for the money. And even if we love what we do, we're not curing cancer or defending the oppressed from the tyranny of injustice. Truth be told, some of the solutions solution providers sell to big business empowers them to screw somebody else.

So what motivates us to do what we do? Well, we have mouths to feed, to be sure. Obligations like payroll and customers and co-workers. The sheer weight of duty can inspire people to move mountains. Sometimes the technology itself can be a wonder and, by way of extension, a joy to work with and share with others. Apple followers speak often of their favorite technology in that tone. Same for Linux enthusiasts.

Then again, we could use a boost now and then. That's where a visionary who can show us the way to a better future can help. Often, the job to motivate allies comes down to a CEO. But the men and women who run technology companies are different when it comes to their abilities to inspire partners. Some, like Sun CEO Scott McNealy, have been able to inspire confidence, get partners to believe things they, perhaps, shouldn't and ultimately get them to achieve things they otherwise wouldn't. Sun's most recent woes have led McNealy to tone down his rhetoric, which I, myself, have criticized on occasion. But that confidence is otherwise needed more than ever to inspire the troops. Scott, you're at your best when you're on offense.

Then there's IBM's Sam Palmisano. Capable. Confident. Top of his game. Not exactly awe-inspiring, but very, very apt at convincing. Earlier this year in Las Vegas, Palmisano told partners that IBM had its most competitive product lineup in years. Furthermore, he also has something that his predecessor, Lou Gerstner, never had during his reign at IBM: a technology vision in the form of on-demand computing.

"Simply put, if you're a partner, you have a strategic advantage over rivals by aligning with IBM," Palmisano told IBM PartnerWorld members this year at its business conference. Our 2004 VARBusiness 500 CEO of the Year, Rick Kearney, agrees. His company, Mainline Information Systems, has grown by $100 million or more in each of the past three years. And it's all because of his relationship with IBM, he says. Like many, Kearney likes where Palmisano is leading IBM and remains convinced that his fidelity to IBM will pay off in the end.

What about other CEOs? Do they have the ability to inspire such loyalty? Having spent most of this year on the road attending various partner conferences, I have gleaned some perspective from watching executives address their business partners and engaging in one-on-one interviews. That includes many of the industry's top CEOs, such as Cisco's John Chambers, Veritas' Gary Bloom and Microsoft's Steve Ballmer. Each has spoken to partners who gathered earlier this year at a partner event on an island, in a desert and in a foreign country, respectively.

Like Palmisano, Chambers can inspire confidence, though not necessarily blind faith the way Apple's Steve Jobs can. More than most, Chambers invites partners to consider the broad economic world around them. Look at long-term macroeconomic trends and socioeconomic developments, he implores partners. If you do, you'll conclude that you need to be aligned with Cisco, he says.

Bloom takes a similar, albeit less grandiose, approach. His message this year at his Las Vegas conference: We're growing, and you'll benefit from getting on board with the industry's only vendor-neutral storage-management and high-availability software company. Although his company has since stumbled--its second quarter results, though strong, did not meet original expectations--partners aren't planning to walk away from Veritas. They may not always like certain channel or sales policies, but they recognize a growth company when they see one.

Which brings us to Microsoft. No executive, bar none, in the industry can fire up people quite the way Ballmer can. One reason is the numbers the company has been putting up; no other company is growing as fast. And given that 96 percent of its business goes through partners, partners are clearly inspired. At a recent partner event in Toronto, Ballmer extolled the value of partnership. In addition to his over-the-top enthusiasm, he even remembered to say thanks--something many forget. Microsoft had "one of the most fantastically successful years in the company's history," he shouted at the onset of his presentation to some 5,000 Microsoft allies. "Great job!"

Not a cure for cancer, but enough to fight on for another day.

Who motivates you? Drop me a line at tcdoyle@cmp.com.

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