Exclusive: HP's New Channel Chief, Stephen DiFranco, Outlines His Vision

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Stephen DiFranco, the newly named vice president and general manager of Hewlett-Packard's Solution Partners Organization (SPO) - Americas, sat down Friday for a telephone interview with Channelweb.com to discuss this latest chapter in a career that has included stints in the channel organizations of Lenovo, Advanced Micro Devices, Sony and Maxtor.

HP late last week named DiFranco to lead the SPO and guide its flagship PartnerONE program, making the 23-year channel veteran the permanent successor to Adrian Jones, who departed his channel chief post for a job in HP's Asia-Pacific operation last November.

DiFranco's new duties include the overseeing of "all aspects of channel sales, marketing and account management for the HP Client Computing and Printing businesses, focusing on driving continued growth for HP partners throughout Canada, the United States and Latin America," according to a statement from the Palo Alto, Calif.-based computing giant.

Also on the call was Stephen DeWitt, senior vice president and general manager of HP's Personal Systems Group (PSG) - Americas, who served as interim channel chief following Jones' departure, alongside Tom LaRocca, vice president of marketing in the SPO " Americas.

There was much to discuss with DiFranco and DeWitt, from the continued challenges for HP partners in a tough economic climate to new SMB and managed services initiatives. One topic the pair weren't as ready to address was the brewing data center war between HP and networking giant Cisco -- but as that conflict escalates in real terms for partners of both vendors, we hope to hear from HP's new channel boss on the subject.

So we've got both Stephen DiFranco and Stephen DeWitt on the line and the first question that springs to mind, I think, is let me ask you both -- when Mark Hurd shouts out, "Hey, Stevie D" across the room, how are you guys going to deal with the confusion there?

DIFRANCO: That's actually ... heh.

DEWITT: We've got to figure out which one of us is going to be called "Larry," and which one is going to be

DIFRANCO: We're going to have to figure this one out. The other thing is that the energy level between the two of us just becomes extraordinary because we both run 100 miles an hour.

Okay, in all seriousness. Stephen DiFranco, we know you bring a great deal of channel experience to the table from your time at Lenovo and AMD. Now, as you settle into your new role at arguably the strongest channel organization in the IT industry, what's the learning curve going to be like for you going forward?

DIFRANCO: It's going to be extraordinary. I started in the channel at 22 years old ago working for a reseller right out of college. And in 20 years of working at Sony and Maxtor and AMD, a variety of companies that use the channel in a variety of different roles, and now to get the responsibility of running the biggest channel organization in the Americas -- I am honored. I am honored to have been selected and humbled by the size of the responsibility.

Part of this job includes the stewardship of PartnerONE, which is fundamentally the most important channel program that exists today. It's critical for the success of a lot of channel partners. You have to be very serious about that, that's a tremendous responsibility that goes along with this job.

The other thing that goes along with this job, which I think is important -- two things that are very important, one is that HP is an incredibly broad company, we offer a lot of products to the channel. We offer them in a lot of different ways. And it is important that we keep offering that through the different business units that we have, and in the best way for each others' business units to touch the channel.

The challenge for us is, what channel partners are asking for, is, you know, "Help make that better coordinated. Help streamline communications. And help make this all fit together a little bit easier because we want to make it easier to do business with HP, because HP's critical for us."

And I think that's one of the big challenges, that's kind of something I'm going to work on. I think my predecessor did a phenomenal job in building the relationship between the HP executive team and the executives in the channel. I don't think HP has ever had as strong a set of relationships with the channel as they have today, and I think [former Americas channel chief] Adrian [Jones] deserves the credit for that.

We have a CEO who wants to be out with channel partners and we have business unit executives who spend a lot of time out on the road. That's a great thing, there's nothing better in the world than having this job and having CEOs and executives who want to meet the channel.

We have some back office things we've got to make better. Channel partners will tell you, you know, "It's a little confusing. It's a little bit difficult. It's a little bit complex." And I think this is the time now for us to go work on that backend and make sure that we are operating internally like a channel company, where decisions are being made for the channel to make it easier for channel partners to work with HP.


Next: Streamlining The Back Office

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