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Microsoft Channel Chief Shakeup: Rodney Clark Replacing Gavriella Schuster

‘I’ve always seen myself and envisioned myself in this role, where I can be that face of Microsoft to the channel and help continue to drive transformation,’ says Clark, who most recently has been Microsoft’s corporate vice president of IoT and mixed reality sales, in an exclusive interview with CRN.

In a shakeup of its partner ecosystem leadership, Microsoft has named Rodney Clark as its new channel chief, replacing Gavriella Schuster, who’s exiting the role after five years.

A 23-year Microsoft veteran, Clark has been leading its IoT and mixed reality sales for more than 3.5 years, most recently as corporate vice president, with responsibilities for building intelligent systems from edge to cloud and mixed reality capabilities, and driving sales and go-to-market execution with partners and customers. He also served as general manager of IoT for another four years.

Clark is no stranger to the partner ecosystem, having worked directly with partners for more than 15 of his years at Microsoft and directly with Schuster, he said.

[RELATED STORY: Microsoft’s New Channel Chief Rodney Clark: 6 Things You Need To Know]

“I’m super excited about stepping in and taking on this opportunity,” Clark told CRN in an exclusive interview. “I would want the ecosystem to know that I ran sales and marketing teams in our small/mid-market solutions and partner organization in the field, that I’ve worked with some of our largest ISVs and GSIs and OEMs. They’re getting someone that has been passionate about the ecosystem, that has invested, personally, my career in the ecosystem.”

During his tenure at Microsoft, Clark has led multi-billion-dollar businesses, developed new channels and markets, driven merger and acquisition initiatives and ran international organizations, according to the company. In addition to his role as general manager of Microsoft’s former Small and Mid-market Solutions and Partner Group, he also served as general manager for the company’s Samsung alliance and and its public sector business of small and mid-sized government, educational and healthcare institutions.

“I’m moving into my destination role, my dream job at the company,” Clark said of his new channel chief role. “The last 10 years of my career development plan at Microsoft, I’ve had this role front and center. I’ve always thought about the ecosystem and the role that partners play in Microsoft’s success and in our customers’ success. We’re helping economies transform through our partners, we’re helping companies transform through our partners -- while we’re also helping them. I’ve always felt that there was a broader role that I can play to help enable that. And I’ve always seen myself and envisioned myself in this role, where I can be that face of Microsoft to the channel and help continue to drive transformation.”

The leadership change takes effect April 1, and Schuster will retain her title as corporate vice president of One Commercial Partner (OCP) for a few months as she helps Clark transition to his role and she determines the “next chapter of her career,” according to the company. It’s unclear if Schuster, who was unavailable for comment, will remain with Microsoft.

“After seven great years leading the partner ecosystem and the One Commercial Partner team, Gavriella felt the time was right to explore a new leadership challenge and transition her current channel responsibilities,” a Microsoft spokesperson said. “We are grateful for the leadership she provided during her tenure as Microsoft’s channel chief.”

In a LinkedIn post, Schuster said she found herself contemplating whether it was time for a change at the beginning of the year.

“The restrictions brought on by COVID have given me time to reflect on and reconnect with my passions and to spark a new passion to drive a movement to shift the status quo and make an impact on inclusion and gender equity in the tech industry,” Schuster said in the post. “At this same time, I was in conversation within Microsoft about the next steps of transformation for the business. As a result, we concluded that now is a good time to begin to transition my current Microsoft accountabilities and focus on thinking about how to engage in work that fuels my passions.”

Clark comes with a “solid” reputation, according to Jon Thomsen, CEO of Atmosera, a Beaverton, Ore., Microsoft Gold Partner and Azure Expert MSP.

“We look forward to Rodney’s ability to lead global channel sales to strengthen our ties and execute on strategies with Microsoft sales motions to accelerate our growth, drive innovation and deliver great client outcomes,” Thomsen said. “Gavriella has done a tremendous job as CVP of OCP and has provided the direction and solid foundation for Microsoft partners and OCP since its rollout in 2017.”

Clark will take over the channel chief reins with clear instructions from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella.

“During these processes here at Microsoft -- especially for roles as important as the channel chief partner ecosystem role -- we have clear marching orders that partners…always have been and remain critical to our business,” Clark said. “We have to continue to focus on how we enable the partners to leverage our platform, building their capability, in essence, on top of ours. And we have to find ways to make it easier and simpler to engage and to transact.”

Clark said he wants to “dig in” and hear from partners over the next several months as he develops priorities for the coming fiscal year to help them continue the accelerated innovation that the industry has seen during the global coronavirus pandemic.

“A big part of my approach is taking that vision that Satya has -- and what we know to be an opportunity for us with the channel and how we enable them to help deliver the right set of services and solutions to our customers -- and listening to them and ultimately making it easier for us to do business together,” Clark said. “Secondly, (it’s) looking at where we as a company are moving in terms of our own continued transformation, and how do we engage our partners along that journey well. As we continue to invest in industry-specific clouds, and as we get more precise on customer outcomes, we want to ensure that the solutions that we‘re enabling from our ecosystem are also supporting our customer journey.”

The biggest opportunity for partners is to continue to evolve and invest in their own transformations, according to Clark.

“There is the tech and ‘tech intensity’ side, and then there is the business modeling side,” he said. “How are they changing fundamentally? How are they evolving the way that they build and develop talent? How are they evolving the way that they build and develop their services and capabilities?”

Clark stressed the importance of Microsoft partners expanding beyond reselling and transforming into digital companies that wrap their services and intellectual property around multiple Microsoft offerings to drive cloud consumption.

“It’s critical to the success of our ecosystem for others in the ecosystem to really understand how they go from their current business model today to one of subscription or annuity, or in other words, transforming into digital companies,” he said.

Boston-based PTC, Microsoft’s 2020 Global Manufacturing Partner of the Year, is an example of a partner that had to completely change the way it does business, according to Clark. CEO Jim Heppelmann had to make some tough calls around strategy and maximizing PTC’s opportunity in a digital economy.

“They were a fixed-package company selling licenses and services in the traditional CAD (computer-aided design) world, and they had to completely transform their P&Ls, the way that they thought about their profit and loss,” Clark said. “They had to get to subscription and annuity models, they had to invest in new development capability. They had to invest, quite frankly, into their ecosystems…their partnership approach.”

Helping partners complete their transformations is core to how Microsoft works with the ecosystem around that “tech intensity,” according to Clark.

“It’s really each company enabling their own capability and supporting that with our platforms and services,” he said. “We have roles that we invest in the field—from our enterprise sales team, to cloud solution architects, to our partner development management managers—that are there to usher our partners through this process. And so everything from enabling business model transformation through direct engagement, be it architecture or otherwise, through our programs, through things like Partner Central, where they can come in and…see the opportunities, to things like simplifying how we go to market and sell together. All those are a big part and a key component of our engagement with partners, and we’ll continue to invest in those things to simplify and make it easier for our community.”

Global Partner Solutions Reorg

In additional to channel chief, Clark’s official title will be corporate vice president of global channel sales.

The title change reflects a reorganization last year under which Microsoft named Nick Parker, former corporate vice president of consumer and device sales, to lead its Global Partner Solutions business. That reorganization brought all of the company’s intelligent cloud and edge partners -- independent software vendors, systems integrators, and managed services and devices partners – under that single team.

The designated leaders of each partner business now report to Parker, as does Clark.

“The title is more a function of how the Global Partner Solutions team has evolved and continues to evolve with Nick‘s leadership and with Nick’s role,” Clark said, noting the core duties remains the same. “We’ve gotten very specific about how we want to build and develop our ecosystem.”

Microsoft will formally introduce Clark to partners at its Inspire conference in July.

“His experience, passion, and commitment to not only accelerate the industry, but to push Microsoft through focus on building capability through partners, positions him incredibly well to help our partners continue to drive growth,” Parker said in a blog post today.

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