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CRN Exclusive: Meet IBM's New Channel Chief

John Teltsch and David La Rose, outgoing and incoming IBM ecosystem leaders, respectively, discuss passing the baton, completing a massive channel revamp, and integrating Red Hat while preserving its independence.

Not long after stepping into the top channel position at IBM in June 2017, John Teltsch launched a once-in-a- generation overhaul of the dated IBM PartnerWorld program.

That project, while far along, is far from finished, and David La Rose, IBM's new channel chief, is ready to pick up where his predecessor, friend and mentor left off.

"I'm thrilled to be taking on the legacy of John and continuing the transformation we've got around skills, sales and the strategic areas IBM is centered on now," La Rose told CRN in his first interview as general manager of the IBM Partner Ecosystem.

"We've had a lot of important transformation elements around our culture and how IBM is perceived in the marketplace. We've made a good start on that journey," he said.

[Related: IBM And Red Hat: What’s Next For Their Channel Programs]

La Rose takes the reins of the partner ecosystem at a pivotal moment in Big Blue's 108-year history.

Under Teltsch, IBM's channel team focused on encouraging partners to gain expertise around multi-cloud and hybrid cloud infrastructure, as well as emerging products like artificial intelligence, blockchain and security.

If driving channel buy-in of those transformative technologies wasn't enough on his plate, La Rose stepped into his new job just after IBM closed its largest-ever acquisition, and he must now also oversee the integration of Red Hat's large and well-established channel organization.

But before attacking those strategic goals, La Rose said he will first set his sights on the immediate priority: delivering third-quarter growth through the channel.

"The channel is a critically important part of IBM's ability to scale in the marketplace," La Rose told CRN. "We have to take our portfolio that's changed over many years to enterprise and commercial clients across the world and get the reach we need throughout the globe."

The new channel chief hopes all his experiences since joining IBM in 1989, from his most recent position leading IBM operations in his native Australia and New Zealand, to senior roles in Asia and Europe, have prepared him to pick up the baton.

Teltsch and his team were well down the path of simplifying the PartnerWorld program, lowering the barrier of entry for participating, emphasizing specialized skills, and encouraging partners to bring to market emerging parts of IBM's portfolio, La Rose said.

"That work is not done," he told CRN. "We're about halfway through that journey."

Teltsch also oversaw some of the preliminary work of preparing to merge with Red Hat, but there was only so much he could do. While the $34 billion mega-deal won regulatory approval, IBM and Red Hat's channel leadership operated under a "clean room" concept where a third party compiled information on distributors, ISVs, resellers and global systems integrators of both companies.

Now La Rose must pick up that information to begin leveraging channel synergies while also strictly preserving Red Hat’s neutrality and independence, as IBM promised partners of both organizations and the larger business community.

"Red Hat is going to be a big piece of the next phase," he said. "It's a whole new ecosystem we have to plug into."

While Red Hat is a highly successful business achieving double-digit growth, it still doesn't operate at the scale that's possible, he said.

"To scale that business, that's where the IBM engine and go-to-market model is going to come into play," La Rose said.

For Teltsch, leaving the channel side of the business is bittersweet.

"My number-one love in the company has been the ecosystem," Teltsch told CRN. "That's something that really energized me and truly challenged me as we continue to transform every point of the channel—processes, tools, incentives."

It's those transformational initiatives Teltsch introduced to the channel organization that Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president of IBM Systems, asked him to apply to Big Blue's hardware business as general manager for IBM Systems Sales.

"I'll be leveraging the knowledge and work we're doing in the ecosystem because we can't transform IBM Systems without continued transformation of our ecosystem," Teltsch said.

He expects to remain involved with the practices of the many business partners he has worked with throughout much of his 38-year career at IBM—and so closely with in the last two years. And he certainly will not be a stranger to his successor.

"I'll be David's biggest partner now since such a significant percentage of revenue that goes through the ecosystem is Systems-based," Teltsch said. "As we continue to invest in IoT, cognitive, cloud, Systems will continue to be the platform that all of our cloud runs on."

Teltsch looks forward to working closely with La Rose, who he sees as the perfect person to replace him.

"David's been in and out of the channel in all of the roles he's had, most recently running Australia and New Zealand business across all IBM brands, and before that he ran all of the channel in Europe," Teltsch said.

That experience should prepare La Rose well for channel leadership, as IBM's business in smaller countries such as New Zealand is far more dependent on partners.

"I couldn't think of a better choice than to have David La Rose come out of a huge job to take on Chapter 2 of our transformation of the ecosystem," Teltsch said.

La Rose definitely has his work cut out for him, he added.

"With Red Hat coming in, we still have a good two years of continued retooling, systems, tools, contracts. Another two years of heavy lifting to modernize everything we're doing with the channel," Teltsch said.

Throughout that process, "I'll be David's number-one fan and number-one client," Teltsch said.

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