Channel Exec of 2009: Cisco's Keith Goodwin

Within two months of breaking two ribs and one of his wrists in a cycling accident, Goodwin was back on his bike, enjoying the hobby he loves.

It's a key trait for a global channel chief tasked with shepherding partners through the tough economic times that have many solution providers wondering how they'll make it out of the turmoil in one piece.

Goodwin, senior vice president of worldwide channels at Cisco Systems, was named the 2009 Channel Executive of the Year by Everything Channel, the parent company of CRN, earning praise for developing strategies that, despite the economy, are helping partners maintain profitability and position themselves for future growth.

"The world dramatically changed about this time last year as the economic environment deteriorated and we faced probably the worst business climate that we've ever faced, any of us," Goodwin said in a recent interview with CRN. "Our priorities dramatically shifted last fall as we put all of our focus on helping partners navigate through the storm."

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Part of that focus included the development of its Navigate to Accelerate incentive program, followed by what Goodwin dubbed "our stimulus package for you, the partners," when he unveiled new programs at the Cisco Partner Summit.

"The first thing we heard from partners was the importance of finance and credit, so that was one we wanted to take care of, both to help them survive the challenging environment but also because you need credit capacity to be able to get ready for the upturn," Goodwin said.

To that end, Cisco this year extended its channel financing terms through Cisco Capital from 60 days to 90 days for the second half of 2009. The company also launched a managed services program and rolled out a bevy of financial incentives and rebates on networking gear.

It's not just about short-term financial fixes, though. Part of Goodwin's partner stimulus package revamps the company's popular Value Incentive Program rebate initiative to get partners focused on technologies Cisco has identified as growth areas.

"The upturn is all about focusing on areas for growth: data center and virtualization, collaboration and borderless networks," Goodwin said.

As part of its push into the data center came Cisco's biggest product launch of the year, its Unified Computing System, which represents the vendor's entrance into (and potential upheaval of) the blade server space. It also marks a considerable expansion of the rivalry between Cisco and Hewlett-Packard.

"Competition makes you better and we're going to go head to head with HP. We'll let the customers decide," Goodwin said.

All the while, Cisco continues to maintain high levels of partner satisfaction, winning 2009 Annual Report Card awards for Enterprise Networking, Unified Communications/VoIP and Wireless Infrastructure.

Many of the programs developed by Goodwin and his team are born out of partner feedback.

"They've always had one of the strongest partner programs of any vendor, regardless of voice or data, and it's stayed that way," said Robert Keblusek, senior vice president of business development at Sentinel Technologies, Downers Grove, Ill. "Keith listens, and they do keep channel partners a priority."

Don Seiler, business development manager at World Wide Technology, a solution provider based in St. Louis, Mo., said Cisco remains true to its channel focus, no matter how many technologies it adds.

"If they continue to be as channel-focused as they've been vs. the moves-in-and-out-of-channel focus like many of their competition, they'll continue to grow."

Chad Berndtson contributed to this story.