Nuance, Novell Veteran Takes Channel Reins At Meru Networks

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Meru Networks has named Cindy Cole its new vice president of worldwide channels, CRN has learned.

Cole, who assumed the role about four weeks ago, will be managing Meru's growing community of channel partners as the eight-year-old company attempts to grow its market share of the hyper-competitive wireless space.

Cole most recently headed worldwide enterprise channels for Nuance Communications, where she spent the last six years. Coming from Nuance to Meru, she said, is "boarding another rocket ship."

"I've never been so excited about starting a position," Cole said in an interview with CRN. "I just came off a rocket ship ride with Nuance, where we grew the company from under $50 million to over $1 billion. But I was looking for another rocket ship, and in meeting with our CEO [Ihab Abu-Hakima], he just said the things that got me excited. I loved the vision of 'wirelesss like wired.'"

Before Nuance, Cole held various sales and channel executive roles at a number of tech companies, including running the strategic alliances group for Trend Micro, launching a global systems integrator alliance team for Palm, heading up worldwide systems integrator alliances for Sun Microsystems' iPlanet, and before that, directing partner development at Novell, where she was when Google's Eric Schmidt became Novell's CEO in 1997.

She arrives at Meru at a time of huge transition for the once-fledgling wireless LAN company, which this spring had a successful initial public offering. For its first quarter as a public company, Meru earlier this month reported revenues of $19.6 million -- a 28 percent year-over-year increase -- and posted a net loss of $36 million, part of which came from a $35.2 million adjustment from the IPO.

In the past six months especially, Meru has also been remaking some of its executive ranks. Among other new arrivals to Meru were Ram Apparalaju, vice president of marketing, and Glenn Cross, senior vice president of worldwide sales, both of whom joined the company last fall.

About 90 percent of Meru's revenues go through indirect channels, and according to Cole, her group will be focused on backing up Meru's technology with more ways for partners to make money, especially in services.

"I hadn't seen such a religious fervor for products since my days at Novell," Cole said, when asked about her initial meetings with Meru partners. "The technology is a clear advantage in the market, so one thing we have to do is put more of a solution focus on it, and open it up to a different class of partners. You're going to be seeing a lot of interesting things coming from Meru in the next few months."

Meru faces stiff competition in the wireless space from networking titans like Cisco, its more immediate wireless LAN rivals like Aruba -- two of whose top channel-facing executives, Michael Tennefoss, head of strategic marketing, and Bob Bruce, vice president of worldwide channel sales, are former Meru executives -- and wireless upstarts like Ruckus.

Cole said she's in listening mode right now with partners. One issue that has dogged Meru's channel for some years now -- that is, that it's still a "best kept secret" company -- is one she'll be addressing right away.

"Partners are saying, give us the ammunition to sell the technology," she said. "We're focusing on a concise solutions bundle to help them evangelize the technology in a better way."

The opportunities for Meru are vast, Cole insisted.

"I remember Eric Schmidt when he'd just joined Novell, and I remember him saying, walking around, 'There's more technology oozing out of the offices around here' than he'd ever seen before," Cole said. "I see that at Meru in a different way, with solutions. With my solutions background, it's like a kid being in a candy store around here."

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