Dell's New US Management Team: Who Are These Guys?

Dell partners Monday said new Dell North America President Bill Rodrigues and Vice President of Worldwide Channels Cheryl Cook have yet to show their channel stripes.

"You are what your record is," said one top vendor management executive for a large Dell partner, who did not want to be identified. "Right now, I don't know what the channel record is of Cook and Rodrigues. We need to find out. Cook and Rodrigues have to absolutely build relationships with the channel. Either they respect the channel or they don't. If they respect the channel, this will go well. If they don't, it won't."

Rodrigues and Cook were named to the top U.S. jobs as part of a major shakeup that Dell is calling the next step in its growth strategy moving the "channel sales organization deeper into Dell's regional organizational structure." The shakeup is the first since Dell completed its $24.9 billion private equity buyout last month.

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At this point, partners said, it is difficult to tell whether the duo will pivot toward a direct or an indirect sales model as Dell moves to push its channel sales needle from just 33 percent of its global commercial business to a number that could almost double to as much as 60 percent as it moves to grow its enterprise sales footprint.

Dell partners said they have had little experience in the sales trenches with either Rodrigues, a 14-year Dell veteran who was formerly vice president and general manager of global business, or Cook, who joined Dell two and half years ago as vice president of enterprise solutions.

That said, partners stressed that their strong relationship with both highly respected 30-year channel veteran Frank Vitagliano, who joined Dell last year as vice president of North America global commercial channels, and Jim DeFoe, a 17-year Dell veteran who is vice president of Dell North America nationally managed partners, gives them some comfort. Both Vitagliano and DeFoe will report to Rodrigues, who will be heading up the single North America sales organization.

Another key, partners said, is the leadership of Dell Chief Commercial Officer and President of Enterprise Solutions Marius Haas, also regarded as a long-time channel proponent. "Marius [Haas], Frank [Vitagliano] and Jim [DeFoe] are all big channel supporters," said one source who was briefed on Dell's changes. "I think this is going to drive much stronger collaboration between the channel and Dell direct with more account mapping and planning."

The moves come as Dell's worldwide server shipments, which in the second quarter fell just shy of Hewlett-Packard's, plummeted by more than 14 percent in the third quarter, according to preliminary market data from Gartner. At the same time, rival HP grew worldwide server shipments by more than 5 percent in the third quarter, halting a slump of eight consecutive quarters

NEXT: Channel Partners Cautiously Optimistic

Michael Goldstein, president and CEO of LAN Infotech, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Dell partner, said he see the management as a positive step forward. "I think this shakeup is good. It gives us a clear path to who's running what at Dell," he said. "I didn't see it coming."

As Dell redefines itself as a private company and with Dell World in a few weeks, Goldstein said, now is the time for Dell to make some big changes to show the channel it's serious about taking a fresh approach to doing business with partners.

"Dell now has some new blood to get the job done," he said. "It's unclear what their track records are, but I'm happy the new Dell will have a relatively clean slate."

Dell's Cook came to the company after a one-year stint as senior vice president of Americas Sales for Dragon speech-recognition maker Nuance Communications and four years at Sun Microsystems including as head of senior vice president of global accounts.

Cook's Sun experience is especially troubling to a number of partners who viewed the company as a channel antagonist that favored a direct sales go-to-market motion versus a channel-focused model.

"The Sun experience leaves a bad taste," said the CEO for a top Dell partner, who did not want to be identified. "I just don't know anything about her. She has had three different VP jobs over the last three years. We'll just have to see what happens. The first thing she should be doing is go and meet partners to see how the channel and Dell can drive more business together. She has to get out, get known and get moving with the channel."

NEXT: Partners Hope For The Best

Dell's Cook replaces Global Channel Chief Greg Davis, who started the official Dell channel program nearly seven years ago and helped build it into a $15 billion business and is moving to a new role as vice president of software and peripherals at Dell.

Michael Gavaghen, vice president of sales at SL Powers, a Boca Raton, Fla., said he was unfamiliar with either Dell's Rodrigues or Cook. "There is always uncertainty in a change of leadership," he said. "Both are unknown quantities in my book. If they're both new blood with fresh ideas for the channel -- all the better."

Gavaghen praised Dell's former channel chief Davis for building strong relationships with channel partners. "Under Greg's watch, our Dell partnership has flourished," said Gavaghen. "He's been good for our business, and I'm sorry to hear he is no longer running the channel. Management shakeup is the next logical step in Dell's commitment to the channel. If this is truly a move to bring direct and indirect closer together, than this is a win-win for SL Powers and the channel."

Bruce Freshwater, CEO of Sierra w/o Wires, a Pittsburgh-based Dell partner, said he is encouraged by the management shakeup.

"Up until today, there hasn't been any indication that a private Dell would do business any differently than a public Dell," Freshwater said. "Now I'm encouraged that there has been a changing of the guard. My fingers are crossed that it also means a change in culture and I won't have to battle against Dell's direct sales team for business."

Freshwater said there had been indications leading up to Monday that changes were in the works. Less than two weeks ago, Freshwater said, Dell streamlined his channel points of contact bringing it from a "Gold Pod Team" of multiple contacts to a single Dell point person.

"I think it's good," he said. "I don't know the specifics, but anything has to be better than what exists now."