AMD Channel Veteran Bixler Starts New Channel Venture

Gary Bixler, an 18-year AMD veteran who built a multibillion-dollar channel that forever changed the balance of power in the processor industry, is stepping down to start his own channel consulting company.

Bixler created the first channel program at AMD, emphasizing the company's superior technology to recruit thousands of partners to sell the AMD Athlon direct connect architecture and in effect loosened Intel's monopoly grip on the processor market.

Intel is widely viewed as using pricing pressure and exclusive deals in a bid to squash AMD.

But the grass-roots channel program championed by Bixler ultimately powered AMD from the desktop to the server market, the mobile market and then finally into the graphics market following AMD's acquisition of ATI.

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"All those successes were built on superior technology, but superior technology doesn't go very far if partners don’t know about it and aren't enabled to sell it," said Bixler.

NEXT: An Ability To Rally, Inspire Partners

That ability to rally partners around a new product set with an alchemy of channel programs, incentives, marketing initiatives and the sheer force of his personality transformed AMD into a prominent channel company, said solution providers.

Bixler started the AMD channel program as regional marketing manager with only a handful of partners and built it into a worldwide program with some 35,000 partners operating under a single channel structure.

Bahr Mahony, director of worldwide channel marketing at AMD, is taking over the AMD Fusion Partner Program.

"Gary was AMD's channel," said Joe Toste, vice president of marketing and sales for Equus Computer Systems, Minneapolis, one of the largest system builders.

"He did the job of six people at Intel. AMD's architecture being superior was important, but he transcended that. You wanted to sell product for Gary because you liked him and you connected with him," Toste said. "He had vision on where the market was going because he was connected to customers and the market."

NEXT: Early Beginnings At AMD

Bixler started his career at AMD in 1992 as a strategic marketing engineer just as the company launched the 40MHZ 386 microprocessor.

From there, he moved into a product marketing manager role for the launch of the K7 processor, the first processor to reach 1GHz and the predecessor to the popular AMD Athlon.

But it was his channel roles that made him a star at AMD. Bixler was frequently named as one of the industry's most influential channel chiefs by CRN and the channel programs that he created regularly received CRN's 5-Star Awards.

Bixler himself says that channel marketing was key to his success at AMD.

"Channel marketing is all about knowing how to tell the story in a way that partners not only understand, but then are able to retell," he said. "Our job was getting partners to buy into and believe the AMD story. Through all of it there has been a theme of AMD delivering products based on an open industry standard architecture that was good for customers and in turn for partners as opposed to Intel's proprietary architecture."

NEXT: Putting AMD On The Road Map

One of Bixler's creations was the popular AMD Tech Tour road shows that featured AMD's latest and greatest, and held in the biggest cities in convention centers providing partners access to AMD top-level engineers.

"That was powerful for smaller partners," Bixler said. "They realized they were talking to the source, getting the real scoop. That made them feel special. They had inside knowledge and insight into our product and what we were thinking."

Bixler's last big challenge at AMD was merging the AMD channel program and the ATI channel program into a worldwide program, the AMD Fusion Partner Program, as a precursor to the next-generation processors combining graphics processors and CPUs onto a single chip.

"That [channel] program is the key to the next big technological advancement at AMD," said Bixler.

"It was critical that we get partners integrated into the same program because we are about to totally destroy the lines between CPU and graphics putting them on the same silicon," Bixler added. "This is just as revolutionary as the direct connect or the 64-bit architecture."

NEXT: The AMD Fusion Partner Program

The new Fusion Partner Program, which launched last September, covers all AMD regions, product type and partners.

Bixler estimates that 98 percent of all companies are still operating on regional channel models. Key to the Fusion program, he said, is a framework that is consistent to support all partners worldwide but flexible enough to accommodate widely different countries.

The program has six different tracks (retail, e-tail, commercial solutions (VARs), consumer solutions, commercial volume reseller (CDW, Insight) and distributors. "We built the program around our partner's business models," Bixler said.

Bixler said he believes that AMD has another home run with its Fusion technology, but with the one-year anniversary of the program he felt it was time to realize a long-held ambition to help other companies in the channel. "With the program built and launched, it just feels like the perfect time to go help some other companies take their channel programs to the next level," he said.

Bixler said he is just getting the company up and running, but can be reached at [email protected]. He is looking forward to helping both young startups build channel programs or larger companies tackle channel challenges like building a global program.

NEXT: Helping Companies Get Channel Strong

Bixler says at one end of the spectrum nearly all of the big players in the business have yet to take the single global channel program plunge.

What's more, Bixler estimates, 70 percent of all channel programs are antiquated and need to be reworked to become simpler and easier for partners to navigate. Many partners are refusing to sign on to programs because they are too complex or require additional hires to manage them, he said.

Bixler said he will continue to be a channel force advising companies and working with partners. For his part, Equus Computer Systems'Toste says that's a relief. He sees Bixler as an anomaly in an era when executives are increasingly disconnected from partners.

"He's no Johnny-come-lately to the channel," said Toste. "He was there. He did it. He understood the problems and the opportunities. He was on top of it. You can have strong positioning and marketing, but at the end of the day it is about field sales execution. Gary had sales energy and made things happen."