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Meet Ernest Jones, Red Hat’s New North American Channel Leader

The former IBM channel exec is taking his position amid major leadership transitions at Red Hat and IBM, as well as a global pandemic that he’s determined not to let slow progress in meeting partners

Red Hat’s newest channel leader is a seasoned IBM and Oracle executive who’s determined not to let the tumultuous time in which he assumes his critical position slow the process of building relationships with Red Hat partners.

Ernest Jones steps into the role of Red Hat’s vice president of North America commercial partners and alliances amid top-level leadership changes at Red Hat and its parent IBM, and the coronavirus pandemic that is creating massive market turbulence and rapidly changing how professionals collaborate with colleagues inside and outside their organizations.

“I’ve been at Red Hat for two weeks and a day,” Jones told CRN. “We’re not only busy, but busy in a way that none of us are accustomed to.”

Jones replaces D. Robert Martin, who took the position of president of the field organization of services provider ConvergeOne.

[Related: IBM Earnings: Strong And Steady Red Hat Performance Caps Monumental Year]

Originally a mechanical engineer who worked in industrial chemical manufacturing, Jones later earned an MBA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and went to work for IBM in the mid-1990s. He quickly rose to senior leadership in Big Blue’s hardware channel across products, and later ran alliances for its iSeries server business.

But it was running the Tivoli software business for EMEA—dealing with large enterprises from Russia to Turkey to South Africa—that really imparted an understanding of “all nuances related to channel,” he said, as those regions went to market exclusively through partners.

“That was a job when I really learned what a true go-to-market via the channel was all about,” Jones told CRN.

Jones left IBM in 2014 and went “from Big Blue to Big Red.” He ran the strategic business unit at Oracle, responsible for the software giant’s 17 largest accounts.

In 2016, he co-founded vVents, a startup enabling companies to use live-streaming virtual events to boost sales channels.

As Jones sees it, Red Hat’s primary objective right now is to maximize the benefit of its synergies with parent IBM.

“Today, with the official passing of the torch from Rometty to Krishna, and changing of the guard here at Red Hat, all Red Hatters are pointed at the right direction, the same direction of optimizing performance for the benefit of both companies,” he told CRN.

While realizing synergies with IBM is important, Jones appreciates the need to maintain Red Hat’s independence and the neutrality of its technology across clouds, and he will ensure partners they will not be limited in how they want to bring Red Hat to market through their practices.

Krishna, IBM’s new CEO who was the catalyst for the $34 billion Red Hat acquisition, “more than anybody else understands the importance of Red Hat remaining an open company in the industry,” Jones added.

With a pandemic raging across the world, the business challenges ahead, at least for the short term, are not entirely known.

“We don’t have any hard answers in regard to go-to-market and business operations,” he said. But Red Hat is in a strong position to thrive during the crisis.

“It’s apparent we are one of the few players in the industry that is well-positioned to be able to help our clients through these turbulent times, with our open offerings portfolio that lend themselves well to all these clients.”

Jones remembers the pride felt during his previous tenure at IBM in the company’s ability to offer full-stack solutions across every pillar of information technology. Red Hat allows IBM to realize that vision comprehensively across the open source landscape, from edge to hybrid cloud, he said.

Now he needs to start forging closer relationships with partners, some of whom he already knows from his days at IBM. But it’s a strange time for relationship building, as he’s almost certainly grounded from travel for months.

In the meantime, Jones is scheduling calls with partners at a breakneck pace, trying to carve out as much time talking to them before Red Hat’s virtual summit next month.

“A lot of partners have reached out and given me a warm welcome based on relationships I’ve had in previous roles,” Jones said. “The channel is committed more than ever in delivering value to their clients.”

Jones will be reporting directly to Larry Stack, senior vice president and general manager for North America Commercial Sales.

Joe Dickman, senior vice president of Vizuri, a Red Hat consultancy based in Virginia, told CRN that while he has never personally met Jones, based on what he has heard from other associates the seasoned channel leader should fit right in to Red Hat.

“He’s a tenured IBMer and has significant experience working in the hybrid cloud marketplace,” Dickman said. “I am confident that he will bring in fresh ideas to help grow Red Hat’s direct and channel sales programs.”

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