Former F5 Channel Chief Back In the Saddle

Darwin replaces former chief Steve Hale, who was first appointed vice president, North American partner organization, at F5 in July 2007 after more than 17 years at Microsoft. According to F5, Hale left the company in August, and Darwin's return was finalized by the end of October.

"I'm not aware of any skeletons in the closet--he [Hale] wanted to start a consulting company and saw value there," Darwin said in an interview with ChannelWeb. "I was out doing my thing and they said, 'Any interest in coming back?' "

Reached for comment, Hale didn't discuss his current ventures but did confirm he had left F5 amicably and was doing some consulting. A Web site that appears to be under construction is at and contains blog posts from Hale that have been updated occasionally since September. Hale is listed as CEO of ZenLion LLC, offering enterprise partnership consulting.

Darwin, who was named one of VARBusiness' Top 100 Channel Executives in 2006, left F5 and took a year's sabbatical, he said, "planning not to come back to high-tech."

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But he said he felt rejuvenated after some time off, and that he got in touch with F5 Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales Mark Anderson, who mentioned the opportunity. Darwin's return was announced internally at an F5 sales meeting in the fall.

"People get nervous when the leadership changes," he said. But the transition has thus far been smooth considering he's "a known quantity." Darwin said he would not be making any personnel changes to F5's channel team.

Darwin returns at a time of continued, steady growth for F5. On Oct. 22--the same day Darwin's return was made official--the vendor announced fourth-quarter revenue of $171.3 million, up 3 percent from the third quarter and 18 percent from fourth-quarter 2007. For fiscal year 2008, F5 reported fiscal year 2008 revenue of $650.2 million, up 24 percent from $525.7 million in fiscal year 2007. The first quarter of the company's fiscal year 2009 ends Dec. 31.

"We're going to take all that was done [with F5's channels] and we're not going to go back in time," Darwin said. "What's interesting with this tough economic time is that the cream kind of floats to the top but apps are still incredibly key to get operational efficiency, and what comes with apps is F5. I hate these times, but I love these times, too, you know?"

About 94 percent of F5's revenue comes through solution providers. Darwin said that in the new year he'll continue to fine-tune F5's channel program and help train F5 solution providers to succeed in a recession economy.

"I talk to some of my best partners and I see them entrenching, focusing on fewer vendors," Darwin said. "Qualification is totally different in this economy. You've really got to train your reps in the channel to look for a budget. Some channel partners have this tendency to say any appointment's a good appointment. But hoping a budget will just appear is a waste of your time."

Darwin said he'd also like to architect new channel business through services.

"There is services revenue from a consulting perspective--some really no-brainer ROI," he said. "Microsoft SharePoint, for instance. You mention that with F5 and people are going to want to talk to you. Is the traditional channel for SharePoint there? No. These partners don't want to resell, they want services. It's a matter of saying to a customer, 'Do you want some wireless gear--or can I fine-tune your SharePoint implementation?' They just have to integrate within the Microsoft solution set. Marrying these two worlds together is one of my primary goals."