HPE's Terry Richardson, 'Constant Friend To The Channel,' Wins CRN Channel Madness Crown

In a fierce final matchup that ended with just a 2 percent margin separating two seasoned channel veterans, Hewlett Packard Enterprise's Terry Richardson emerged as the victor and champion of the 2017 CRN Channel Madness Tournament of Chiefs.

Richardson established an early lead that ultimately proved to be a key factor in his victory. His opponent, Janet Schijns of Verizon, threatened to overtake him with a late-game surge, but Richardson kept pace and hung on to win 51 percent to 49 percent.

Richardson's triumph marks the culmination of the third-annual CRN Channel Madness Tournament, which kicked of March 16 and ended April 5, pitting 32 of the industry's most influential channel chiefs in head-to-head battles where CRN readers vote to determine the victors.

[Related: 2017 CRN Channel Madness Tournament Coverage]

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Richardson called his Channel Madness victory a testament to HPE's more than 30 years of channel leadership and commitment.

"It feels great," said Richardson, vice president of U.S. channel sales for HPE, who oversees all of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company's enterprise partner business across the country. "It is such a great validation of the terrific partners that HPE is blessed to have, backed up by an entire company fully committed to the channel from the senior management team to the field enablement organization and all our employees."

Richardson, a 30-year channel veteran, said he has worked with a number of companies over his career but none with the breadth, depth and unmatched channel commitment of HPE.

"HPE has a history of 30-plus years of being fully committed to partners and growing together with those partners," he said. "We have been through a lot of transitions in this industry, but we have always stayed true to the channel. And the company has never been more committed than we are today to channel partners. They know and appreciate that."

Al Chien, chief sales officer of Dasher Technologies, a Campbell, Calif.-based HPE Platinum partner, No. 170 on the 2016 CRN Solution Provider 500, said he and his team were "proud" to vote for Richardson because of the veteran channel leader's channel-first mentality.

"Terry has been a constant friend to the channel," said Chien. "He has a good understanding of our business. He knows what it means to partner. He takes the time to understand what is important collectively to our businesses and the direction we both want to head. Every decision that Terry makes is first and foremost with partners in mind."

One of Richardson's great strengths is developing strong personal relationships with the channel, said Chien. "There are a lot of channel chiefs that don't take the time to get to know partners," he said. "That is not Terry. He wants to get to know partners on a personal level. He understands the true meaning of the word 'partnership:' It is ride or die together."

At the same time, Dasher Technologies' Chien said, Richardson is always willing to have the "difficult" conversations around complex deals. "Terry never shies away from picking up the phone and having that difficult conversation," he said. "He doesn't hide behind bureaucracy."

Chien said he sees the HPE channel programs under Richardson's leadership improving. "The programs are improving day by day, and the product portfolio is as strong as it has ever been," he said. "And I expect [HPE CEO] Meg [Whitman] to continue to make investments in technology to round out the product and solutions portfolio. Now is a really good time to be partnering with HPE."

John Kolimago, chief sales officer for Anexinet, Blue Bell, Pa., No. 200 on the 2016 CRN Solution Provider 500 and an HPE Platinum partner, said his company was "excited" to step up and vote for Richardson in the Channel Madness contest.

"It was a great opportunity for people inside our organization to vote and show him how we feel about what he does for us and the confidence we have in him as a channel leader that we can work with day in and day out," said Kolimago. "It is pretty exciting for us, and we are all excited for Terry."

Kolimago said Richardson is always willing to step up and collaborate with Anexinet to drive sales growth with creative programs. "Terry is always willing to have a business-level conversation with the channel around joint investment that will yield a benefit for both HPE and Anexinet," said Kolimago. "Those are conversations that he not only wants to have, but is willing to initiate."

Kolimago praised Richardson for setting a high bar for the HPE "channel-first" culture. "The channel is not the secondary component to the HPE sales strategy -- it is the primary component," said Kolimago. "Terry lives and embraces that strategy. He knows it is a complex world that we sell into. The main thing he is thinking about every day is how he can make it simpler for partners to engage with HPE. You can't underestimate that. Every day he is trying to find ways to make it easier for us to engage with HPE."

Richardson credited his channel team for listening carefully to partners and then responding with channel programs and offerings that are focused squarely on what solution providers need to be successful." We try hard to listen and deliver what partners want. One of the things we have done well as a company is listening to partners and making sure we shape our programs and offerings to help them be successful. They give us feedback on program elements and processes that are not well-suited to their business, and our job is to react quickly and make the necessary modifications. It validates their investment in HPE when they provide critical feedback, and we take action. That encourages the two-way dialogue."

HPE CEO Whitman's channel commitment and the support from the senior leadership team has also been critical to HPE's channel success, said Richardson.

"We are blessed to have Meg Whitman leading the company," he said. "The commitment from Meg and the senior leadership team to partners has never been stronger. Meg has modified her calendar to spend as much time as possible in the field to help strengthen and develop channel relationships. She is on the road this week doing a roundtable with partners in Jacksonville, Fla., and others are planned. That really speaks volumes. It is one thing for companies to say they are committed to the channel, but when members of the leadership are demonstrating that day in and day out, and partners see that in their offices and their cities, that is rewarding. It makes my job one of making sure we execute on a well-formed channel-go-to-market strategy."

Richardson thanked the thousands of partner business managers (PBMs), channel reps, solution architects and sales reps that work with partners to close deals. That investment in sheer manpower 100 percent focused on channel enablement is a big differentiator for HPE, he said.

"Our field sales reps know our team of PBMs and solution architects has spent countless hours to make sure our partners are equipped to compete," he said. "They know when they engage partners, the partners we bring to the table are well equipped to give HPE the highest chance of winning. That is a big part of our differentiation."

Richardson said he was especially grateful for the support of family and friends who have stood by him during his career. "You sacrifice a lot of nights and weekends to be out there visible in the channel community," he said. "I am incredibly appreciative of that support."

Finalist Schijns, vice president of solutions and sales channels for Verizon Business Markets, credited the strength of Verizon's channel programs and the loyalty of its partners for her success throughout the tournament.

"We have a great program and our partners know it, and they want to vote for the program that they believe in, they love, they know they can trust, and clearly that's Verizon," said Schijns, a 24-year veteran of the indirect IT channel. "Secondly, we have an amazing group of partner loyalists to the brand, and it's wonderfully humbling for me to see how much support each and every one [is giving]," she said. She also spotlighted the strength of New York-based Verizon's channel marketing team. "Marketing matters, and I think it's a great message for partners to sometimes struggle with whether or not they should or shouldn't [focus on marketing] -- you could see it as when we got to the Solutions 16 and then the Field of Four and then in the championship, the folks that have marketed through social media and rallied people through a clear marketing campaign on why to vote and who to vote for have done better, and our marketing team is second to none, as we have done an unbelievable job marketing this occasion."

Solution providers are working hand in hand with Verizon Business Markets to capitalize on a number of market opportunities, she said.

"Our product portfolio is really unmatched. The IoT investments we are making as well as the other investments -- that's definitely part of it," she said. "Partners see that their customers want to talk about how they can get to this big data world with connected sensors and devices, so we are there for them. We have a very large wireless national reseller and partner team, and they are excited and pumped up and believe in the partner program because we believe in them. Also, with SD-WAN we have a hot hand there, and the partners see it and know it," she said.

Schijns said close to 40 percent of networks will be at least in part SD-WAN-enabled in the next year. "Our partners know that this is a great time to be with Verizon," she said.

Going forward, Verizon will continue to evolve its partner program, she said.

"We brought the XO channel in [following Verizon's $1.8 billion acquisition of XO Communications in February], and with the creation of Verizon Business Markets, we've brought together our small-business channel, our [Verizon Partner program] and XO, and we are having conversations with our top partners about how we are going to evolve in the program [with plans to relaunch the program later this year,]" Schijns said. "Many of our partners had overlap there, and to not have to deal with three programs or three different companies gets the partners really excited. So, partners look at products, they look at programs and they look at people, and I think when they see that, it's leading to some really good dialogue and expansion of business with our partners."

Richardson's path to victory started with the defeat of Extreme's Bob Gault in Round 1, winning 57 percent of the vote. He then bested fellow HPE channel chief Scott Dunsire with 75 percent of the vote in Round 2. He breezed through the quarterfinals, winning against F5's David Helfer with 59 percent of the vote, and in the semifinals, he bested Dell EMC's John Byrne with 57 percent of the vote.

Schijns put in a decisive Round 1 performance against LogicMonitor's David Powell, winning 80 percent of the vote, and then knocked VMware's Frank Rauch out of Round 2, winning 77 percent of the vote. In the quarterfinals she outlasted Intermedia's Eric Martorano with 56 percent of the vote. In the semifinal round, she moved past Microsoft's Gavriella Schuster with 74 percent of the vote.

Previous Channel Madness Tournament winners include Sandra Glaser Cheek, vice president of worldwide channels at Brocade Ruckus in 2016, and Mike Valentine, senior vice president of worldwide sales at Sophos in the inaugural 2015 tournament.

For full coverage of CRN Channel Madness, visit crn.com/madness.

GINA NARCISI contributed to this story.