Sun's New Channel Chief Talks Up Partner Experience

The sudden resignation of Sun channel chief Greg Stroud begs the question: What's the future of the beleaguered company's channel strategy? And who exactly is Tom Wagner, the executive tasked to replace him?

"Hopefully, the pendulum won't swing too far toward the direct business," says David Auerweck, vice president of sales at Helios Solutions, a Sun partner based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

In his first interview since Sun named him vice president of partner sales, Wagner said that's not going to happen.

"I don't see any substantive shift there at all," Wagner said. "The one thing we are seeing is a continued focus on our field sales efforts, so you are going to see a very robust Sun sales force to continue to beat the Street, so to speak."

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Wagner, who first worked for Sun from 1994 to 1998, rejoined in 2002 to head up Sun's communications business, overseeing relationships with key customers in the telecommunications industry, including Verizon, Cingular and Cisco.

He sees his direct relationships with customers as a positive.

"I will tell you our coverage and sales strategy in those large accounts has been completely partner-centric," Wagner said. "The account plans we develop, which basically help us understand how we deliver true value into the enterprise, have a very strong partner component to it. Frankly, we don't deliver the highly differentiated value we believe we bring to the Verizons and Cingulars of the world in the absence of a clear, crisp solid partner engagement and strategy. So I've come to know the partner community in a very large way."

That said, Wagner also has experience building a channel program, which he did as president of DSL provider Covad's Southeast region.

"I literally built out Covad's business in BellSouth's and Southwestern Bell's [territory], and basically built the channel infrastructure," he said.

Now, as head of partner sales at Sun, Wagner will build on Stroud's plan to roll out the company's new Sun Partner Advantage (SPA) program during the next several months.

"We are going to work to maximize partner profitability to help them more effectively align with the key tenets of our key imperatives, which is mainly to make money and grow this business," Wagner said.

SPA will provide more clarity about how partners will be compensated, said Bill Cate, director of Sun's U.S. partner programs.

"It will clearly delineate partners who invest in Sun," he said. "Not just servers, not just storage, not just services and software, but partners who do all of those combined."

The program will have three levels, but the big message is how it will provide clarity to partners, Cate added.

NEXT: Wagner's interest in managed services.

Another thing worth noting about Wagner is his interest in managed services. As it turns out, Sun is readying a slew of managed services that will be rolled out in October.

"I fundamentally believe that a robust managed-services portfolio delivery capability is really having a critical path to fundamentally changing the landscape or revenue line for the company," Wagner said.

Jeff Barteld, director of Sun's U.S. channel sales, said he believes the channel will receive Wagner with open arms, and that his background is well-suited to running partner sales.

"Tom is absolutely up to the task," Barteld said. "He has a great track record. He's a seasoned VP; we look forward to working with him."

Meanwhile, outgoing partner chief Stroud said not to read anything into his departure. He insists he is going to take about a year off to spend some time with his family and then try something different.

"It is truly a retirement," Stroud said. "I have been at Sun for over 24 years, and it has been a fantastic experience for me. I am just hanging up the old Sparc chips and heading out to different pastures."

For more about Wagner and his channel plans for Sun, read the Aug. 7 issue of VARBusiness.