Crossing the Channel: Cisco's Paul Mountford

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Cisco Systems recently tapped Paul Mountford, a five-year Cisco veteran who has been working in Cisco's London office, to lead the company's worldwide channel operations. As vice president of worldwide channels, Mountford, 43, is based at Cisco's headquarters in San Jose, Calif. He is replacing Tom Mitchell, who resigned in late August.

VARBusiness spoke with Mountford on his first day on the job in San Jose. That was in December, when he spent a hectic week at Cisco's headquarters meeting with the company's channel staff and making arrangements to relocate his family from London to the San Francisco Bay area. He then planned to return to London to tie up loose ends and hoped to be back in San Jose soon after the first of the year. Although Mountford told VARBusiness senior editor Meg Walker that he was just getting familiar with his new duties, he, nevertheless, offered some cogent insight into his role as channel chief for the global networking powerhouse.

For the immediate future, Mountford's plans are to meet and greet: He will be on the road, meeting with channel members in the United States and Asia. Mountford says he is open to reviewing matters that channel members may have concerns about, such as competition between channel members located in one area, and the role of service providers in the channel.

Mountford recently was Cisco's vice president of carriers for Europe, Africa and the Middle East. He has more than 20 years of industry IT experience. Before joining Cisco, he owned a channel-development consultancy that advised U.S. companies on setting up channel strategies in international markets.

VB: Your career has been based in Europe. What made you want to work for Cisco in this country?

Mountford: This is really an exciting job. It's the first global job I have had. I've been on the European management team for the last three years. It's great to come out here and do this. The North American market is obviously a big learning curve for me, but I'm looking forward to that.

VB: What attracted you to this job?

Mountford: Global strategy. We conduct a lot of our business through the channel. It's a very important part of what Cisco does. It's the ability to drive the strategy and to actually enhance what we've already rolled out. We have some extremely good foundations to build on, and it's really a case of listening and getting it right and representing all the theaters that we operate in effectively.

VB: What do you bring from your past experience that

will help you guide the Cisco channel?

Mountford: I've run worldwide channels before. My first job [with Cisco was in the U.K. and Ireland. That's the biggest channel outside the U.S. I was in a vice president role there and that included working with channels, service providers, enterprise, marketing, HR, finance and government affairs. I've also worked with high-touch teams and service providers.

The cross-management of all those things is a big advantage in this job. If you want just a channel person and only a channel person, and you don't know anything outside that, then it's more difficult to run the big supply chain.

VB: What did you learn working with international channels that will help you in this job?

Mountford: I think it's probably what has been going on in North America, too, and that is we recognize profitability. The market has changed. We've gone through a vast amount of turbulence. There are two big focus points in the market: making profits, and don't invest unless you will see a return from it. Most important for the channel is cash flow. I think cash flow and return on investment. The financial metrics have changed, along with the market. We have to be able to look at short-term gains as well as midterm to long-term, as the market starts to bottom out and come out the other side. We need to help our channel as much as possible to move into the areas of specialization that is the growth area of the future. The industry went through a lot of turbulence, but it will come back. It's not all gloom and doom.

VB: What are your immediate objectives?

Mountford: We have a partner conference coming up in Orlando in April, and that's my high priority,to get all the information and ideas for [partners and customers and be able to eloquently present that.

I didn't come here with any preset ideas. That would be a stupid thing to do. What I really want to do is go out there, especially in North America. It's so important to the company and we want to be doing the best of all things.

I want to raise customer satisfaction and create a value chain where all the elements of our business can thrive and be profitable.

VB: Do you think you'll be making changes?

Mountford: Of course, we will make changes if there are problems or where there are opportunities. I haven't walked into a channel business that has any major problems. I'm just taking a look at it and seeing how we can migrate our channel strategy based on the fundamentals we already put in the market. Tearing down things and starting with something else would be a disaster for the channel. We have the right strategy; we just want to enhance it relative to the changes in the market.

VB: Cisco has been encouraging its partners to earn specializations in certain technologies. What do you think of that program?

Mountford: I think it's good. I need to review it with the [channel team and see how it's going and whether it's effective and whether our customers have taken it up. We need to see what our customer satisfaction is this year compared with last year. That's a good indicator of whether our customers are happy or not.

VB: Solution providers I talk with are relatively happy with Cisco's program and its emphasis on specializations. But they do have some concerns. For instance, some say there are so many Cisco channel members that the bidding process becomes very competitive. And they say that despite their expertise and specialization, the customer is likely to choose the lowest price in this kind of situation.

Mountford: Wherever you go, there will always be competition. It goes back to competing on value-add and on specialization. If the technology is complex and the customer needs to have the thing deployed properly, they'd want to buy from a valued partner. If what you're saying is that the market is specialized so much and we've got lots and lots of specialized capable people, I would find that hard to believe [in the case of emerging technologies.

Generally, there shouldn't be a lot of price competition in new technology areas. But if there's something we need to look at that needs to be changed to make it more effective, I will look at it.

VB: In a competitive situation, how does Cisco decide who to give sales support to?

Mountford: I come from a market in Europe where Cisco sales guys don't decide who they hand their business to in terms of the channel. The customers make that decision. The high-touch team in Europe, which is a global phenomenon, as far as I'm aware, is supposed to be neutral. Where they get technology specification is the customer, and then the channel competes on value to win their business. That's classically how the model works.

VB: Solution providers also say that service providers and telecommunications companies that are part of the channel are able to buy product at a discount from Cisco, and then they can sell it to anyone, including other resellers. They worry about this competition and whether service providers are really qualified to act as distributors.

Mountford: We wouldn't expect our service-provider partners to act as distributors, and if that is taking place, we need to look at it. It might be that service providers are wrapping their technology around a service and then getting resellers to sell these services, which is a high-margin supply-chain issue. It's actually a way that integrators can make an awful

lot more money by teaming up and partnering with service providers. If that's the case, that's good news.

VB: You will be based in San Jose. California is somewhat different from England,how do you feel about relocating your family here from London?

Mountford: Let me think about that for a nanosecond: It is just great. There's this thing called the weather, which is also very nice. The sunsets are great, too, but will I see those or will it be too dark? I always have worked long hours for the company. I like what I do, so they don't seem like long hours. It's good fun.

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