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Partners To Microsoft: ‘Pick The Right Leader’ To Replace Clark

‘There is a lot of change and adjustment going on in the Microsoft channel side of the house,’ Bob Venero, CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Microsoft partner Future Tech Enterprise, tells CRN in an interview.

Microsoft partners told CRN that they want someone with sales acumen and trust in the channel to succeed outgoing channel chief Rodney Clark and guide the tech giant’s partner program through a period of major change.

Clark will stay in the role through the end of May, when he’ll leave for an undisclosed executive job at a publicly traded firm that is “a great partner to Microsoft,” according to a Microsoft blog post. CRN has reached out to Microsoft and Clark for comment.

Bob Venero, CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Microsoft partner Future Tech Enterprise – No. 100 on CRN’s 2021 Solution Provider 500 – told CRN in an interview that Microsoft should use Clark’s sudden departure to hire someone with fresh ideas who can bring strong sales alignment with channel partners.

[RELATED: Microsoft Channel Chief Rodney Clark To Leave After Over A Year In Role]

“There is a lot of change and adjustment going on in the Microsoft channel side of the house,” Venero said. “It is yet to be seen if this is going to impact us negatively. Hopefully it will have a positive impact in terms of getting some new leadership on the channel side that can bring new ideas and better alignment potentially as it relates to working with partners. My message to Microsoft is – take this time to pick the right leader. Don’t rush just to fill the role. Get someone who is going to have longevity and deliver value.”

Venero said he was not shocked by the sudden departure of Clark after 14 months. “Nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to channel chief turnover,” he said. “When you look at the Microsoft channel there are a lot of cogs that are consistently moving. That makes it difficult for Microsoft channel leadership to be able to consistently drive the channel sales messaging because it changes fairly often. That being said, when we are talking about global supply constraints, a software company like Microsoft has major advantages over what some of the hardware OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are dealing with right now.”

David Stinner, CEO of US itek, a Tonawanda, N.Y.-based Microsoft partner, told CRN in an interview that his message to Microsoft is to continue to remain focused on the channel.

“As long as Microsoft continues to be channel focused, I am a happy reseller,” he said. “If they change things and try to go direct and cut us out, they are going to have an uprising.”

Kelly Yeh, president of Phalanx Technology Group, a Chantilly, Va.-based Microsoft partner, told CRN in an interview that he is not surprised with Clark’s departure given the strong economy. Yeh said he’s overall happy with Microsoft as a vendor partner.

“Microsoft has always been a great partner to the channel and has been willing to listen to its partners to provide the best services and products to our clients,” he said. “The last 10 years has seen a major paradigm shift from on-prem to cloud, and we partners have benefitted from Microsoft – and Rodney‘s – ability to help partners adjust to the ever-changing market.”

His advice to Clark’s successor is to remember that many partners are small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs), not large enterprises.

“I think a better integration or mindset as it pertains to the SMB partners would benefit clients and partners alike,” Yeh said.

Michael Goldstein, president of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Microsoft partner LAN Infotech – a member of CRN’s 2022 Managed Service Provider 500 – told CRN that he was surprised to learn about Clark’s departure but that he wished him “the best of luck” in his next role – described in a Microsoft blog post as “an Executive Officer at a publicly traded company that is a great partner to Microsoft.”

Goldstein said that Clark’s successor has “big shoes to fill” and needs to provide leadership during a “time of turmoil with the new Microsoft Partner changes coming up.”

Clark “worked through a tough Microsoft time and provided partners with some great insights,” Goldstein said.

Short Tenure With Tumult

On Monday, Clark took to LinkedIn to express his thanks to Microsoft and announce his leave.

“For 24+ years I have been able to learn, grow and work for the best company in the world,” Clark said in a post on the social media network, which is owned by Microsoft. “My family has been raised with Microsoft, and my community has been shaped by Microsoft. Thank you to all that chose me – that took a bet, that trusted, that believed (my staff, my team members, sponsors, mentors, peers, etc)…. I am and will be forever grateful!”

His post elicited more than 70 comments an hour after publication and more than 110 comments after three hours.

Congratulations messages came from his immediate predecessor, Gavriella Schuster; Seattle’s first lady, Joanne Harrell; Mayka Peterson, who leads marketing for the AppSmart powered by AppDirect managing partner program; Chris Sakalosky, managing director of health care and life sciences at Microsoft Azure rival Google Cloud; and Marc Monday, vice president of global strategic partnerships for Sage.

JG Chirapurath, chief marketing and solutions officer at SAP, whom SAP recruited from Microsoft last year, called the news “the end of an era.”

“This is the end of an era, Rodney Clark,” Chirapurath said on LinkedIn. “Congratulations and all the best on your next adventure!”

When Clark took the channel chief role, he told CRN in an interview that it was his “destination role, my dream job at the company.”

Clark’s time as channel chief is among the shortest in Microsoft history. Last year, he succeeded Gavriella Schuster, who held the title of corporate vice president, One Commercial Partner, for more than five years.

In 2016, Schuster succeeded her mentor, Phil Sorgen, who had held the global channel chief position for more than two years before moving to a role heading up the U.S. channel. Sorgen left Microsoft in 2020, according to his LinkedIn.

In 2013, Sorgen succeeded Jon Roskill, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of the worldwide partner group, who held the channel chief role for four years, according to his LinkedIn.

Roskill succeeded Allison Watson as channel chief, who held the role for eight years, according to her LinkedIn. She left Microsoft entirely in 2019.

Watson’s predecessor, Sam Jadallah, served as channel chief for nearly a decade. He left Microsoft in 1999, according to his LinkedIn.

Not only was Clark’s tenure short, but he served as Microsoft’s channel chief while the Remond, Wash.-based tech giant rolled out a variety of changes to the partner program, some of them unpopular among partners.

Among the more controversial Microsoft partner program changes is a 20 percent premium on month-to-month subscriptions of popular Microsoft software packages such as Microsoft 365, which partners have said pushes customers into annual commitments and leaves partners on the hook if a customer no longer needs a license before the commitment ends.

Another major change to the partner program is the partner capability score (PCS), which requires partners to score at least 70 out of 100 to qualify as a “solutions partner” with Microsoft.

Clark has defended the partner program changes as necessities, though he has made changes to the timeline for changes in response to partner pushback.

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