Meet Doug Yeum, AWS’ New Channel Chief

'It's my philosophy that things have to be a two-way street,' new AWS channel chief Doug Yeum tells CRN. 'There's got to be a reciprocal value for the investments that partners make into helping to strengthen the partner network.'


As Amazon Web Services continues to raise the bar for partners, new channel chief Doug Yeum says he’s committed to returning value from AWS to ensure long-term partner success.

Yeum sees the partner relationship as a two-way street when it comes to investments in the AWS Partner Network.

“If they’re making that investment, then it’s our job to make sure that we make the right level of investments and bring the right value to them, so that they can create a long-term, sustainable, profitable business,” Yeum told CRN in an October interview at AWS headquarters in Seattle, his first in his new role. “Some of the partners are making big bets with us—and I want to make sure that I find ways to reciprocate.”

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Yeum became head of AWS’ worldwide channels and alliances in July after serving as AWS CEO Andy Jassy’s chief of staff – also known as the “shadow” role -- for almost two years. He previously worked as AWS’ general manager in Korea.

“I'm so impressed by the partners,” he said. “I'm impressed by their energy. I'm impressed by the breadth of partners that we have, but just also the specialization that I'm starting to see.”

Yeum believes partners can play an even bigger role in AWS’ drive to vastly scale its business.

“There's innovation to be done everywhere in our business,” Yeum said. “The IT industry and the landscape are changing so much, and you're starting to see technology becoming such an integral part of all the transformation that's happening with these enterprise customers. They all need partners. And so if we continue to focus on the customer and try to invent and simplify, and think big, we're going to get big results.”

And Yeum has walked in partners’ shoes.

“I take partnerships, and I take our business, very personally,” he said. “I ran a small company (Xfiniti in Korea) for about seven years. I know what it feels like to be a smaller SI company who is trying to grow a business and making sure my team is happy doing what they do. I wish I could have grown a business to the size of what Onica has built, or what some of the other smaller born-in-the-cloud partners have done. I'm learning a lot from them.”

Yeum talked with CRN about taking on the new channel position, how his past experience with AWS has further prepared him for the role, what partners can expect from him, and Jassy’s commitment to the partner ecosystem among other topics. Here is an edited version of the interview.

Is this channel chief role one that you sought, or did AWS CEO Andy Jassy steer you into it?

Obviously, the decision was mine, but he and I...had a number of discussions about my next step after my chief of staff role. This opportunity was available, and so I told him that I think that's something that is really exciting and also challenging. It's already having a big impact on our business, but it could...have even more impact on our business as we continue to scale. One of the things that we have thought a lot about is the fact that we're a $30 billion-plus business that's growing at (35) percent (year over year), but we have aspirations to be much bigger. And for us to get to the result that we're all looking for, we felt like partners could play an even bigger role. I felt like there was a lot of goodness that could come out of this, and I could grow in this role.

How do you think your experience in Korea and working with Jassy prepared you for the position?

My job in Korea was obviously in the field as sort of the GM (general manager) for that business. My experience in working with partners and customers in Korea helped me to get a better sense of what is it that the partners need in terms of the value that we need to deliver to them, so that they can be successful in their business, serving the customer. I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of that.

The other thing that's quite interesting is that there are a lot of large SIs (systems integrators) in Korea that are part of a larger conglomerate. These are slow-moving, quite conservative SIs who have a captive market, and they don't want to be disrupted. They like what they're doing. I see some of the similar profiles of partners also in the U.S., where you have these large SIs who have their set of captive customers, and they're not going to do anything new until the customers tell them to do something new. I have experience working with them and trying to motivate them and giving them the right reasons to move, and I'm hoping that some of the experiences…will be able to translate into the work that I'm doing here.

Working in a remote office is also quite difficult at times in a large global company. I understand their feelings about working with an HQ (headquarters) team, like a partner organization...running here out of Seattle, so it's given me more appreciation for and also more empathy for what the teams out in the field need. Therefore, I'm focusing a lot on trying to help those partners who are outside of the U.S. market and trying to understand what they need in their local markets. There are a lot of technology those markets -- let's say in Japan or in Australia or India -- that also are looking to come into the U.S. Global expansion is really important for them. I want to be able to help them be successful.

My experience with Andy -- there's so many things…in terms of what I've learned from him that I can apply here. It (was) a two-way street where I'm learning from him…but I'm also trying to add value to him in terms of how he spends his time -- the things that we have to be looking out for, sort of like looking around the corner. I'm also supposed to be his ears to some of the other teams outside and trying to get their feedback, and then sharing that feedback to him, so that he knows what's happening. We call it the shadow role, because I end up basically going everywhere he goes and attending almost every single meeting that he's in. So I'm there taking in what's happening and then, later on, just also being a sounding board for him. We spent a lot of time talking about the business that way. He wanted me to get a bigger view of the business, so that…taking those learnings, hopefully I can bring that into a new role like the one that I'm in right now to help the business grow.

What can partners expect under you?

Some partners have said that, 'Hey, as you guys become so big, and you guys have a lot of different programs, it requires the partners to make a lot of investment to make sure that we stay up to speed.’ When we increase some of the requirements for partners for them to sustain the tier that they're in currently, some partners are disgruntled by the fact that they have to continue to meet the higher bar that we're setting for them. It all goes back to our desire to make sure that our customers are working with the best partners, so that they drive the best business outcomes. But it's an extra effort and extra investment on the partner side. I'm empathetic to that. It's my philosophy that things have to be a two-way street. There's got to be a reciprocal value for the investments that partners make into helping to strengthen the partner network. If they're making that investment, then it's our job to make sure that we make the right level of investments and bring the right value to them so that they can create a long term, sustainable, profitable business.

One of the things I actually learned from Andy and I think is very important, is that he always takes a very-long term view of things. I also take a long-term view of the partner network, because this business is going to be around for a long time. And so for us, building these trusted relationships with partners is very important. We have certain leadership principles that we care deeply about, and it all starts with customer obsession. Finding partners who align on those leadership principles actually matters a lot to us. We are trying to create these partnerships that outlast all of us. We're not thinking about the next year or next five years, we're thinking about the next 10 (to) 20 years from now -- what do we envision the partner network to be? And when it's around for 20 years, I think that's a sign that we've done the right things with our partners -- that the partners have been able to grow a strong business with AWS, and that AWS has been an integral part to their success.

What partner areas could AWS invest in?

I think the things that we're doing already around providing market development funds, providing funds or credits around partner opportunity, acceleration, things around training.

One of the things that we are doing a lot on these days is providing new…customer opportunities and referrals to our partners. One of the key areas that we are also thinking deeply on right now is how do we better work with our technology partners or ISVs (independent software vendors) -- companies like Splunk, companies like Sumo Logic or Datadog. These are all companies who have built great businesses, but they want to continue to grow. We are investing more into creating internal teams that are specialists in selling with our technology partners. We have a role called the ISV success managers (ISMs)…who specialize in partner products. Their job is to work with our field sales team to (sell) the value proposition of our partner products and make a case for the customers to adopt and try the new products.

We piloted (ISMs) maybe 18 months ago, and then we decided to expand the team starting this year. We have a more mature team in the U.S., but we're going to invest more into growing that team outside of the U.S. going forward. We see a lot of value that's being delivered to partners right now. Some of the partners have come back to us and said, 'It's been...night and day in terms of before we had ISMs working with us and after we had ISMs working with us.' It's driven amazing results for our partners.

Can you characterize AWS’ newest breed of partners and what makes them successful?

Mission is one of our cloud-native, born-in-the-cloud partners who decided to go all-in with us, and they've done fantastic in growing that business. We also have guys like Onica who've done that. You have these smaller SIs who made a big bet. They've had a singular focus on AWS, and they've been able to get the delivery capabilities and have gone really deep into the platform, so that they know how to deliver the best set of outcomes for the customers. Partners like Slalom have also made big investments early on to build out (those) delivery capabilities. They've differentiated by saying, 'Hey, you know what? We have the deepest bench of skilled AWS experts who are able to deliver the best outcomes for you on whatever project that you're trying to engage with AWS.'

The other thing that we're seeing right now, and which is quite exciting, is a set of new partners who are basically leveraging the innovations that AWS is putting out there. There are companies who are now specializing in specific areas, whether that's end-user computing, Amazon Connect or machine learning. They're trying to differentiate their capabilities and their value proposition and their positioning in the market by gaining that expertise.

You have a partner like VoiceFoundry, who has decided that they're just going to focus on Amazon Connect and become the best delivery partner for Amazon Connect. These guys have come in and been able to work very closely with customers and with our service teams and our sales teams to deliver some amazing outcomes. You also have another partner called SynchroNet. They are a partner who's specializing in end-user computing. We have a service called Amazon WorkSpaces, which is a virtual desktop service, and they've been just focusing on helping us implement WorkSpaces into these enterprise customers, and they built a practice around that.

Are there areas where partners are under-investing?

They could always train more people, because there's just so much demand out there from our customers to have people with AWS skills, and we are always sort of in shortage of that. There's sufficient demand to actually get everyone who's trained to be working.

Competency is something that I think more partners can invest into, but I think that takes a little bit of time. Differentiation for partners is important. If the partners want to continue to have the right positioning in the market vis-a-vis other partners, then they're going to have to have the right set of specializations. They obtain these competencies to show that they have the technical proficiency, as well as a proven track record at delivering great customer outcomes. When customers (are) looking to do an Amazon Connect project, one of the first things that they'll do is ask our seller or ask the partner team, 'Can you recommend me a partner?' And we will obviously recommend the partner who has that competency. That is creating a level of trust between the partners and the customers, and the customers are choosing to use these partners, and these partners are now growing. So it's a really good virtual cycle that we're creating right now.

Obviously, there's a huge demand for machine learning right now, but we don't have enough partners to support all that demand.

How do you feel about AWS partners partnering with other cloud providers?

Each of the partners has to make their own decisions about what they want to do. Some of the partners are saying that, 'Hey, although we do the majority of our work with AWS, sometimes customers come and say I want to do something with Azure, or I want to do something with GCP.’ I think it's fine for them to do that, because they're focused on the customer. But I still believe that a lot of the partners are primarily focused on AWS, and they'll continue to do that. Some of them will just say…‘If a customer wants to do something with another platform provider, they may just have to find another partner, because we just don't have the resources to support multiple clouds, because we have a hard enough time just focusing on AWS.' Partners are all free to make their own strategy. I'm going to do my best to give them more incentives to focus on AWS.

How would you characterize Andy Jassy's commitment to partners?

I don't question his commitment all. I'll say this -- which I think is just very important -- is that for him to spend as much time that he does with partners…He meets with partners all the time, and partners want to see what Andy's thinking. The CEOs of large partners or small partners, they ask for his time, and he's always very open to make time for them, because he understands the value that the partners bring to us. He is, I would say, 100 percent committed to growing our partner network and making sure our partners are successful with us in delivering successful outcomes for our customers.

Obviously, I had a front-row seat into his commitment to the AWS business in general. He loves to build. Although he's been with Amazon for 22 years, and he's been working on AWS for 15,16 years -- I don't think his approach to our business has changed. He's still the same guy who gets up every morning and is so excited to come into work, that I don't think that passion is going to go away soon. In the two years that I was with him, I have never seen that dissipate. Every day he comes in, he works harder than anyone that I know, and he's passionate about it. He has so much curiosity about what's happening. And also, he's spent so much time listening to the customers that he gets so many of our ideas. Ninety percent-plus of our services are all basically driven by what the customers tell us. He's out in the field talking to customers, talking to partners, getting their feedback, and he is genuinely listening to what they're saying. Every time he listens to them, he gets a new idea. And then he'll go to the service team and say, 'We've got to build this, or we’ve got to add these new features, or we've got to build out our business in some other parts of the world.' That's why our pace of innovation continues to grow every year.