Microsoft Partners Cheer Turner's Exit, See Better Days Ahead With 'Channel Fan' Althoff

Microsoft partners are cheering the departure of partner channel and worldwide sales head Kevin Turner and the executive shakeup Thursday that puts North America President Judson Althoff into a new role overseeing the worldwide commercial business.

Reed Wiedower, chief technology officer at New Signature, a Microsoft partner based in Washington, D.C., applauded the change, saying that New Signature has always had a much stronger relationship with Althoff than with Turner.

’This is perfect for us. For most partners in North America … this will be a pure win,’ said Wiedower. ’It says a lot about [Althoff] that he can build a fond relationship with Microsoft’s partner channel before even coming on board in this position. Everyone is excited to bring him on board.’

[Related: Microsoft COO Kevin Turner: The Man Who Would Not Be King]

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COO Turner will leave Microsoft to become CEO of Citadel Securities, a division of Citadel LLC. He will stay on through the end of July, and there won’t be a single replacement for his COO position. Microsoft, Redmond, Wash., will instead divide his responsibilities among five executives, a move that partners said would make Microsoft more ’laser-focused’ on various segments across the channel.

While Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in an email to employees praised Turner for ’[building] the sales force into the strategic asset it is today with incredible talent,’ partners have a different view. Many partners told CRN they feel Turner’s cost-cutting ways have made it difficult to work with the vendor.

’There’s some sense of joy [from partners] around this change,’ said one Microsoft partner, who wished to remain anonymous. ’Under his tenure, we saw the mark of the cloud era, which continues to be disruptive -- but it was also painful for many as we saw him cutting some funding programs that impacted partners.’

’As Microsoft continues to evolve into a cloud-first organization, this transformation of the leadership team is exciting further evidence of how quickly that process is moving,’ said Alex Brown, CEO of 10th Magnitude, a Microsoft Azure Gold partner based in Chicago. ’From a channel and partner perspective, it is especially nice to see Judson Althoff take on a new, larger role as he has consistently espoused a partner-friendly approach. In the past, his organization has been extremely good to partner with. I expect he will continue to take an innovative approach to thinking about how partners thrive in a cloud world.’

Althoff, a former Oracle channel chief who joined Microsoft three years ago, will lead the worldwide commercial business and focus on commercial segments including the enterprise partner group, small and midmarket solutions and partners, and public sector.

Chris Pyle, CEO of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Champion Solutions Group, No. 224 on the 2016 CRN Solution Provider 500 list, said he sees Althoff as a channel advocate who will have a positive impact on the channel.

’Judson is a straight shooter,’ said Champion Solutions Group’s Pyle. ’What he says and his actions are one in the same. Since he has come over from Oracle, he has been a big fan of the channel. He listens to what we have to say as partners and then acts on it. It may not always be what we want to hear, but he is honest and lets us know what Microsoft is doing.’

Althoff and the channel team need to focus on consistency with regard to partner compensation, said Pyle.

’We know the world is changing quickly but we need to have a channel program that is consistent, not just for 12 to 18 months but for a few years -- especially with regard to channel incentives,’ said Pyle. ’Judson and the team need to keep investing in the channel and be consistent.’

Robert Keblusek, chief technology officer of Downers Grove, Ill.-based Sentinel Technologies, No. 131 on the 2016 CRN Solution Provider 500, said it has been difficult under Turner's 11-year tenure to go to market with Microsoft compared with other vendors.

"From a channel program and engagement perspective, they're difficult to figure out how to partner with," he said.

"When we're usually in the field with Cisco or EMC, we're in there with Cisco or EMC account managers and engineers. We're really going together at the customer on site," said Keblusek. "At Microsoft, we have to quote it and do the heavy lifting and don’t know who to go to. I would love to see somebody get in place who really builds that teaming model more aggressively."

’I think this will be a healthy change for everyone,’ said another executive from a Microsoft partner, who wished to remain anonymous. ’Kevin will go to a different role, and leadership will spearhead different segments of what he was doing. … It will be better for the channel.’

Microsoft needs to improve its channel enablement and better align its go-to-market strategy to give partners more resources in the field, according to Keblusek.

Ric Opal, vice president of Peters & Associates, a Microsoft partner based in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., said that splitting up Turner’s roles among various executives may help partners tap into new areas of growth.

’I think Microsoft has been trying to reimagine what their sales force looks like, and has opportunities to alter the business so they can go faster in functional areas,’ said Opal. ’This may be an opportunity for many inside Microsoft and its partners to plug into what is the new speed.’

In addition to Althoff, Microsoft said Microsoft International President Jean-Philippe Courtois will lead global sales, marketing and operations, spanning Microsoft’s North America and international businesses.

The transition takes place less than a week before Microsoft's Worldwide Partner Conference, which begins July 11. Turner is especially well known for delivering the closing keynote speech at that conference, firing up partners and often engaging in competitive trash-talking against Microsoft's market rivals.

Turner was considered as a candidate to replace former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer – who was instead succeeded by Nadella. But despite being passed up for the head position, Turner was the company’s highest-paid executive for a number of consecutive years, making just more than $12.6 million during the company’s fiscal 2014.

STEVEN BURKE and MARK HARANAS contributed to this story.