Cisco Seeking New U.S. Channel Chief

CMP Channel

Robbins, group vice president of U.S. and Canada channels for Cisco, has been promoted to senior vice president of Cisco's U.S. commercial business, where he will oversee the 1,300-member direct-touch sales team that calls on customers with fewer than 1,500 employees. The change is effective immediately, with Robbins now reporting to Robert Lloyd, Cisco's senior vice president of U.S. and Canada operations.

Chuck Robbins

Solution providers said they are sad to see Robbins leave his job as North American channel chief, but they applaud Cisco's decision to put a channel veteran in the SMB sales role.

"When you lose somebody as an advocate, you have a little bit of consternation, but then to take someone with channel knowledge and move them into commercial sales is a plus, plus, plus," said Joel Schleicher, CEO of Presidio Networked Solutions, a partner in Greenbelt, Md.

Robbins is replacing Doug Dennerline, who was named senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Collaboration Software Group, which includes its WebEx conferencing business. Dennerline, himself a channel veteran with vendors such as 3Com, will report to Senior Vice President Don Proctor, who Thursday was named as the head of Cisco's newly created Software Group.

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Robbins said he will be able to bring his channel experience to bear in his new role as head of the San Jose, Calif.-based networking vendor's U.S. commercial sales, a business that moves 100-percent through the channel.

"I think what I can bring is a full view of how we can accomplish goals in the commercial segment by including the partners in ways others may not think of because I do know them and I know how we operate and I know our systems and programs and all of those things," Robbins said.

One example Robbins gave is that Cisco could better leverage its channel partners to tackle upgrade opportunities within the installed base rather than relying on its sales force to work up proposals with partners.

The move leaves an empty spot on Cisco's channel team, as the vendor has not yet named a replacement for Robbins, who has led Cisco's U.S. channel for the past five-and-a-half years. Keith Goodwin, Cisco's senior vice president of worldwide channels, said he expects to have the position filled by February 1, the beginning of Cisco's third fiscal quarter.

"We've got a very strong slate of candidates, but on the other hand, I want to make sure I take the appropriate time to vet all of the candidates and put the very best person in the role," Goodwin said. "We're getting close to the short list at this point."

Goodwin said that both internal and external candidates were considered at the outset of the process but said it was too early to comment on whether the short list will be comprised entirely of Cisco veterans.

Mike Fong, chairman and CEO of Calence, Tempe, Ariz., he hopes Cisco names an insider to the position.

"My preference is for someone from inside Cisco. Naming someone from outside of Cisco would be a concern because of all the tribal knowledge. Keep putting more gas on a positive fire," Fong said, of the momentum he's seen Cisco building up with its channel partners.

NEXT: Successor Will Have Challenges To Face Goodwin said he is seeking a candidate that possesses some of the same qualities Robbins brought to the position.

"What Chuck has really brought to the role is a lot of passion and enthusiasm for the channel. He's an extremely effective communicator, and when I say communicator, I mean he's an extremely good listener to the partner community and then a very strong communicator and advocate back into Cisco for the partners," Goodwin said.

He also credited Robbins as an innovator who spearheaded initiatives such as Cisco's push to help channel partners address the IT talent shortage and the creation of Cisco Velocity, an event held last week to help partners better market themselves.

Jere Brown, CEO of Dimension Data Americas, New York, said Robbins' leadership and channel advocacy has improved the vendor's channel organization and benefited partners.

"Chuck has been a very strong leader. He knows our business, understands partners and our customers, and he's helped drive quite a bit of innovation across the channel organization and helped the channel organization evolve," Brown said.

Which isn't to say there isn't more work left to do. Robbins' successor will have to face a whole new set of challenges compared to those Robbins tackled when he took the job in 2002, Brown said.

"There's consolidation now in the channel marketplace. The economy is different now than it's been for the past several years. The service provider segment is different. The channel dynamics are very different," Brown said.

Brown said he hopes the new North American channel chief will continue Cisco's efforts to add automation, operational efficiency and Web-based tools to its channel programs.

"We're still doing a lot of things manually," he said.

Calence's Fong said he'll be watching very carefully for the naming of Robbins' replacement. "When that person does come in, do they try to put a different imprint on the channel and where it's going, and is that good or bad for us?"

Goodwin tried to assuage partners' uneasiness over the unknown.

"Don't be concerned. Clearly the intent is to replace Chuck with a strong leader that can build on the success that Chuck has had, develop the close relationships Chuck has developed and be the good listener that Chuck has been," Goodwin said.