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CRN Exclusive: Xerox Channel Chief Peterson Goes 'Uber Communications Mode' To Lead Through A Crisis

O'Ryan Johnson

As the fight raged this year at Xerox between ex-CEO Jeff Jacobson, his loyalists on the board, and a pair of activist investors, the company still had business to do.

And so it fell to Pete Peterson, president of Xerox Channels, to soothe jittery channel partners sometimes by phone, but often as not, face to face.

[Related story: Xerox Partners: We're Going Back To Doing 'What We Do Best' ]

’The message to my team has been, and was during that entire process, around our communications,’ Peterson told CRN in an exclusive interview. ’Let's make sure we stay close to our partners. Making sure that we collectively reach out to them, and then ultimately update them on changes as they transpire. I can’t recall how many conversations I had, but I had dozens of them.’

From the bombshell announcement that the company was selling at the end of January, to the legal fights that started two weeks later, to the court hearings, and the revolving door boardroom drama, the copier was itself good copy for newspapers, but less so for partners. As the company’s ambassadors in the field, it fell to them to answer questions from customers, often times questions they didn’t’ have the answer to, about boardroom politics and majority shareholders Carl Icahn and Darwin Deason.

Some partners armed their sales reps with talking points, others openly complained that the bad press took the attention off the products. Peterson said it was disappointing to hear that.

’Yeah. I’d be naïve if I didn’t say that you know the ideal scenario is that the sun was shining and the birds were singing and there was a rainbow in the sky, but you know, that’s a reality of business,’ he said. ’At the end of the day, as a leader, and certainly as the leader of our channel business, it's my responsibility to make sure that I’m in what I call ’uber communications mode’ updating them, and I shared everything that I know in terms of where we are and where we’re heading … There’s no substitute for a face-to-face meeting, or a call.’

Peterson said he had some luck in that regard. In May, there were two meetings with partners, which managed to coincide with news that the company was making.

’So I had access to 50 of our top partners here in the last four or five weeks and had a chance to talk to them not only as a group, but also individually,’ he said. ’The message has been pretty consistent from us … Let's focus on the business at hand. There aren’t any changes to our products. There aren’t any changes to our solutions. And there aren’t any changes to the support that we offer them. So a lot of it is noise. So make sure that we continue to focus.’

Prior to leading the Xerox channel, Peterson worked at TESSCO Technologies where he led the sales organization, he also spent time as a VP of channels at Brocade, a leading data and storage networking company; and 20 years at Tech Data, one of the world’s largest distributors of technology products, services and solutions.

He is bringing that experience to Xerox partners under new CEO John Visentin, and new board members as well.

’Of course there will be some changes as there are anytime there’s a change in leadership,’ he said. ’But the main focus for us at Xerox is we want to invest in their success. Our programs are critical to that, our tools are critical to enabling that, and we want to make sure we do that and drive that.’

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