Avaya's Hackney Promises No Slowdown in Avaya Channel Growth

If Joel Hackney has one message for the Avaya channel in the wake of Todd Abbott's high-profile executive departure this month, it's that Avaya's newfound channel momentum -- on the back of its successful integration of Nortel's enterprise unit -- isn't going to stall.

"We're high-touch, channel-centric. We're focused on accelerating, and that's the message," said Hackney, who officially became Avaya's senior vice president of sales and marketing and president, field operations on June 14.

Abbott, who joined Avaya in May 2008 from Seagate, stepped down from his post to pursue other interests, according to Avaya.

In a CRN interview, Hackney said that partner concern about the move is understandable, seeing as Abbott was one of the most visible executives behind Avaya's revamped channel programs and the Nortel acquisition.

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"Todd felt it was the right time to pursue something different," Hackney said. "He helped us tremendously to lay out a high-touch, channel-centric strategy, and he helped us architect and close the acquisition and led a lot of work around first six months."

Abbott could not be reached for comment.

Hackney previously led Nortel's enterprise business unit before it was acquired by Avaya, and then joined Avaya to head up government and data operations. In his new role, he will continue to oversee the government unit, but Avaya Data Solutions is now under Steve Bandrowczak, vice president and general manager, Avaya Data Solutions, and, like Hackney, a former Nortel executive.

"I don't expect it at all," Hackney said, when asked whether there would be additional major executive or program changes at Avaya. "What we've committed to the partner base is that we're going to increase our channel concentration, and we've already grown from 52 percent to 70 percent plus. The team strategy is to continue."

The continued integration, including the product launch plans that Abbott had previously mentioned, is on track, Hackney said.

"People know this is the right thing for the industry base. We're stronger coming out of this economic cycle," he said. "In the short term, we will have an additional set of product launches that will significantly refresh pretty much our complete product suite, up and down."

Hackney said he's spent his first two weeks in the role reaching out to Avaya VARs and distributors, and planned to host additional roundtables with partners in various sales theaters.

"The partner community knows I'm one that gets in there with them, and that this is a commitment both from a business and a personal perspective," he said. "I'm seeing them respond well."

Next: Partners Weigh In On Hackney Move

John Black, president of ScanSource's Catalyst Telecom unit, said Abbott's departure was a surprise, but that Catalyst had scheduled meetings with Hackney and he didn't expect "major hiccups."

"I don't know Joel yet, but I'm confident they'll realize they've got to strike the right balance between the Avaya objectives and what Todd was trying to balance with the resellers," Black said. "It's not just the Nortel integration, but also all the other changes, especially with what they're doing with services. The key for Joel is to make sure it's win-win for everyone."

Black urged observers to view Avaya's progress in the context of the economy, too.

"To me, we're not any better off than we were a year ago. Banks are still not lending, credit is tight, especially with small business, and no one is really hiring," he said. "The fear has subsided, but the results, which is how we always measure everything, are not quite what anyone would like to see yet. The overall integration, I think, was well laid out, and it's just going to take time to get everything in place."

Greg Forrest, CEO of Xeta Technologies, a Broken Arrow, Okla.-based solution provider and one of the country's most prominent Avaya-Nortel VARs, described Abbott's departure as "a head-scratcher" but said he's confident in Hackney's ability.

"I know Joel, I'm a big fan of Joel, I knew him at Nortel and he's a very bright individual," said Forrest, who said he had talked to Hackney since the move. "If you look back to why Avaya acquired Nortel, it was to double the size of its addressable market and to acquire a channel business. No one there knows Nortel channels like Joel, and he has a lot of good friends on the Nortel side."

That aside, Forrest said, Hackney and Avaya have no time for a drawn-out transition.

After a year of waiting to exhale, the Avaya and Nortel channels are hungry for growth -- Xeta itself has acquired several solution providers in the past few months and isn't done yet, Forrest said -- and speed will ensure Abbott's departure doesn't slow progress.

"This is a little disruptive, and no one can afford disruptions right now," Forrest said.

Hackney, he said, needs to make sure his communication is consistent and that Avaya articulates clearly -- to solution provider and customers -- why its evolving product portfolio and services strategy are the right ones.

Overall, he said, "there's a lot of stimulation, so now we need to take that stimulation and turn it into growth. Let's get away from the 'defend the base' mindset and move into growth mode, and take some share from our competitors."

One national solution provider said he had also spoken briefly with Hackney earlier in June, and so far, he said, "I'm hearing the right things."

"He knows the Nortel history obviously and will probably be a little bit more sensitive to a lot of the Nortel partners getting used to how things are done at Avaya," said the solution provider, who asked not to be identified. "But a lot of people think Abbott said the right things, too. It's going to take some time before anybody's really sure they know what they're doing over there."

Hackney insisted partners need not worry.

"Why you hear us talk so much about reinventing the company is that when people look back at 2010, they'll see that the company did so much with its product set and structured its program to incentivize partners," Hackney said. "I think we understand deeply what they're looking for, and they understand what we're looking for."