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HP Set To Name Lenovo VP As Channel Chief

HP's new channel chief is set to join the company as the IT giant heats up its battle with Cisco Systems for the loyalties of SMB and enterprise solution providers.

DiFranco, Lenovo's vice president and general manager of consumer and commercial channels, reportedly met Monday with HP executives and HP could make an announcement next week, according to several sources close to HP.

HP declined to comment on the hiring of a new channel chief.

DiFranco has 21 years of channel experience and joined Lenovo in 2008 as the U.S. consumer channel boss after two years working on chip maker AMD's consumer channel efforts. Before that, DiFranco was a top channel executive at storage player Maxtor.

Lenovo confirmed that DiFranco has resigned to pursue other opportunities and it has named Chris Frey as acting vice president of commercial and consumer channel sales, according to a Lenovo spokesman.

Lenovo plans to commence a search for a permanent replacement and Frey will be considered for the position, the spokesman said. Frey has more than 20 years experience with Lenovo and IBM.

DiFranco will join HP just as the IT giant heats up its battle with Cisco Systems for the loyalties of SMB and enterprise solution providers in the data center space.

Rick Chernick, CEO of Camera Corner Connecting Point, a Green Bay, Wis.-based HP reseller, said he is looking forward to meeting DiFranco.

"My biggest concern is always that the person they name has to embrace and love and cherish the resellers and understand the value we bring as partners," said Chernick. "As long as the partner is important in his eyes, we will be okay."

Chernick said he is confident that HP CEO Mark Hurd and HP Executive Vice President Personal Systems Group Todd Bradley are bringing on board a passionate advocate for partners. "I have to trust Mr. Hurd and Mr. Bradley," he said.

DiFranco's new role will differ from that of Adrian Jones, who held the top HP channel job until last November when he left to run the vendor's Enterprise Storage, Servers and Networking business in Asia-Pacific and Japan.

Jones, who received Everything Channel's VAR Business Channel Executive of the Year in 2008, was head of HP's Solution Partners Organization (SPO) responsible for HP's end to end channel from PCs to enterprise products.

But a dramatic sales restructuring last year put HP's enterprise server, storage and networking channel, operations, product team and sales reps all under a single organization led by HP ESSN Senior Vice President Randy Seidl.

DiFranco is set to oversee the Personal Systems Group (PSG) and Imaging & Printing (IPG) retail and commercial channels.

The sales and marketing teams for PSG and IPG Groups currently report into HP's Solution Partners Organization (SPO), which is currently overseen by acting Channel Chief Tom LaRocca.

HP enterprise partners said they were glad that HP is retaining its current Enterprise Server Storage Networking (ESSN) channel structure even with DiFranco's appointment.

"I think that HP is moving in the right direction," said one top HP enterprise partner, who did not want to be identified. "There are different channel partners that go to different parts of the market. ESSN is a big enough business that it needs its own concentrated focus. Now we have to go out and make it happen. There is a difference between a strategy and executing on it. What pays is execution "

One critical question is how will DiFranco work with the ESSN organization to drive sales of PSG and IPG products into the enterprise sales channel.

Steven Burke and Joseph F. Kovar contributed to this article.

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