D-Link Guts North America Management Team

D-Link is pledging to stay the channel course in the wake of a management shakeup that includes the departures of three top North American executives.

The end to end networking provider Friday confirmed that D-Link North America President Nick Tidd and two of his top sales executives, Pat Piwowarczyk, vice president, U.S. enterprise and channel sales, and Rod St. Michel, D-Link's vice president of consumer sales, have all stepped down. Tidd's imminent departure was announced internally Friday. Both Piwowarczyk and St. Michel left the company several weeks ago.

D-Link said it is actively seeking a North America president. A.J. Wang, CTO of D-Link, will be taking over for Tidd on an acting basis.

Tidd could not be reached for comment.

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Reached by CRN, Piwowarczyk said he left to focus on other opportunities.

Piwowarczyk said he is happy about the job his team had done at the company, pointing to 22 percent growth year-over-year in U.S. enterprise sales since he took over the position in 2010.

"It's not clear to me where the focus is right now," he said of D-Link. "We were focused on building a channel and a full set of solutions for D-Link, and what we accomplished was people selling on solutions, not on boxes and price."

Dan Kelley, associate vice president of marketing at D-Link North America said D-Link's commitment to solution providers remains intact. "Our strategy is not changing. We are 100 percent committed to the channel," said Kelley. "We have built programs based on partner profitability and ease of doing business, because we know how programs can get quite complicated. Our commitment has not wavered. We are continuing to build up that program."

Kelley said, D-Link is reallocating resources to support the hiring of more inside sales representatives -- something that will benefit D-Link VARs.

"We have to have the ability to talk to and touch more of our partners on a regular basis," he said. "We realized we needed a wider breadth of resources, and we were looking at where our sweet spots are, and then how to make modifications to our business to make sure we're available when a partner needs us. The decision was made because we needed more resources inside to talk and touch on a regular basis to thousands of VAR partners."

Kelley said that D-Link will be making updates to its Value In Partnership (VIP) channel program in the first quarter next year. "This will be a very significant set of enhancements," he said.

Kelley said Tidd's departure "was a mutual decision on both of our parts, and looking at the bigger picture of how we're suited for our respective futures." Kelley declined to go into details on the departures Piwowarczyk or St. Michel.

Other executives well-known to D-Link VARs that have also recently left the company include Kevin Lahm, associate vice president for North America field systems engineers, and Betsy Roddy, senior director of marketing communications and field marketing, according to sources. The management shakeup follows what Kelley described as a small number of layoffs in the fall.

Replacing Piwowarczyk as D-Link's new channel chief is Albert Ling, whose title is senior vice president of channel operations for D-Link North America. Ling has been an executive in D-Link's North America business for 14 years, Kelley said, and most recently had a business operations role covering sales operations for D-Link's channel business. His most recent title was AVP North America of Business Development and he is based in D-Link's Fountain Valley, Calif. office.

The North America management shakeup follows a major change this fall to D-Link's Taiwan-based leadership. In September, Roger Kao -- brother of the late Ken Kao, D-Link's co-founder and former CEO -- was named D-Link's chairman and CEO following eight years as chairman of D-Link's Greater China division. At the same time, longtime board member A.P. Chen became D-Link's president following 14 years as its chief financial officer. The two men replaced Tony Tsao, who had been D-Link's president and CEO since 2008.

Several D-Link solution providers said they hope the upheaval doesn't derail their efforts with the vendor.

Neil Medwed, president and CEO of Preferred Technology, a Richardson, Texas-based solution provider, said he'd asked D-Link why there had been so many recent changes, and the company told him that D-Link was consolidating resources and that he as a partner would be better served as a result. Medwed's D-Link area account rep, former sales manager Doug Chase, was among recent departures from the company.

"I'm hoping that they continue their channel-friendly ways and that they don't stub their toes," said Medwed. "The product is good, the channel program has been good and I felt I had a partnership with D-Link and the regime in place.'"

Mark Essayian, president of KME Systems, a Lake Forest, Calif.-based solution provider who is now selling about $10,000 a month in D-Link products, up from zero before he took on the portfolio in 2010, said he is concerned about the North America management changes.

"They were gaining traction with us and with other partners, so I see this happen, I have to wonder," Essayian said. "We're a big HP shop, but D-Link took time to understand us and where we thought they could fit in with our clients."

Kevin Gregg, vice president of business development at Business Continuity Technologies (BCT), a Las Vegas-based solution provider, said he plans "to stand back and wait and see how this pans out. There was this momentum, but now the tree shakes again and these guys are gone. So what happens now?"

NEXT: D-Link's Channel Advocacy

VARs interviewed by CRN said D-Link has made substantial progress with channel partners in the past two years -- a period of time that dates back to when D-Link's current North America management team was put in place.

In January 2010, longtime channel executive Tidd was promoted from channel chief and marketing boss to North America president. A year earlier, Tidd had arrived at D-Link with a charter to make the company's VARs more profitable and more focused on selling integrated solution sets with services, not just reselling point products.

D-Link had by then seen several years of upheaval. A sweeping reorganization in May 2009 had ousted then-CEO Steven Joe and former U.S. channel chief Keith Karlsen, and D-Link had collapsed its U.S., Canada and Latin America sales theaters into a single unit, the Pan America group.

Tidd, meanwhile, was no stranger to companies in transition. He'd joined D-link following the implosion of 3Com, which at the time was two years away from being acquired by HP but had recently ousted then-channel chief Tidd and his team and seen a deal to be acquired by Bain Capital Partners go bust.

When they left 3Com, Tidd, Piwowarczyk and others were highly regarded in the channel, VARs said. That allowed Tidd and his lieutenants used the strength of their reputations to get down to business right away evangelizing D-Link to skeptical channel partners.

BCT's Gregg said he'd known Tidd and Piwowarczyk and other executives since their 3Com days. That helped in getting VARs to take a fresh look at the D-Link portfolio, he noted, even if at first they considered D-Link a consumer product.

"These guys had put together award-winning reseller programs at 3Com, and I trusted them," Gregg said. "I thought they had the right idea here."

Medwed said that before Tidd and his team took charge his company "did not have much of a relationship" with D-Link. "We knew of them, but we didn't know them much from the professional side. When Nick took over, all of a sudden, there was some clarity regarding what they were trying to achieve," he said. "They reached out to us and we took a hard look at the D-Link solution because we could trust them."

Tidd and his team went to great lengths to emphasize the breadth and depth of the D-Link product portfolio and its appeal in enterprise accounts. D-Link was even added to Gartner's influential Magic Quadrant for Wireless LAN in 2010, for example, with the researcher calling out its "expanded channel delivery strategy that can provide new partners and open up its presence in other locations" and the strength of its integrated switch, offering security for wired and wireless network management.

D-Link has also shown up more favorably in channel-wide industry surveys. This year, for example, D-Link was No. 18 on CRN's 2011 Best Companies to Partner With, an exclusive research study that measured customer demand, partner relevance and strength of technology to cull a list of 25 top channel vendors from a herd of 225 vendors in 13 technology categories.

"We've had some great changes in perception," Piwowarczyk said. "When I came to D-Link, the thing people said to me all the time was, 'Do you compete with Cisco?' The meek commentary at that point was, 'OK, we'll take the edge and Cisco can have the core.' But now we compete directly with Cisco. I think we built a sense of pride for D-Link."

Piwowarczyk said his team's goal was to spend less time focused on transactional partners and its inside sales, and more time focused on building customer and partner intimacy with a higher-touch approach.

NEXT: How D-Link Grew Its Program

VARs pointed to D-Link's strengthened partner program as evidence of the progress Piwowarczyk referred to. D-Link in the past two years made a number of new investments in its channel, and partners cottoned to specific incentives like the D-Link Bounty Program, in which Silver- and Gold-level D-Link partners who ended up losing registered deals to competitors could still receive a small rebate for D-Link for the work they put in to the deal.

But the biggest raves came for the revamped deal registration program in Value In Partnership (VIP) program, in which deal registration discounts were offered by deal size rather than by partner level and were offered on the front end of deals instead of the back. Steve Ryan, another former 3Com executive who joined D-Link in November 2010 as its director of North American channel programs, told CRN in April 2011 that the changes D-Link made to VIP had brought a five-fold increase in new partner registrations -- more measurable progress for a team rapidly gaining good will with VARs.

Piwowarcyzk said that the VIP revamp was one of several programs D-Link was successfully executing. Partners, he said, saw a consistent message from the team.

"We got really good at regularly communicating with partners, particularly with things like quarterly product roadmap updates," Piwowarczyk said. "We think that kind of stuff is important to the partnership of the VAR and the manufacturer."

The growth of D-Link's technology portfolio has similarly been steady. Earlier in December, D-Link launched a new line of five- and eight-port network switches for SMBs that were power-efficient, self-managed and included built-in cable diagnostics for between $30 and $69 a piece.

Its cloud strategy has also come to the fore. D-Link in May updated its portfolio of cloud-managed products with a Power-over-Ethernet access point, a security client, and a broadband aggregation router, which were packaged as hardware-plus-cloud-service-subscription investments with low-cost annual renewal fees.

Piwowarczyk said that entering this fall, D-Link's network switches, iSCSI SAN products, enterprise wireless and IP surveillance lines were all growing, with the storage and IP surveillance products catching on quickest among VARs.

"We looked at their low-end SANs, for example, and they were more than what we expected," KME's Essayian recalled. "We were guilty of thinking, yeah, this is consumer. They said, let us convince you. They built the channel, built the people, hired some good folks. We agreed that this makes sense for clients that are budget-conscious."

BCT's Gregg said his company didn't sell any D-Link products before Piwowarczyk's arrival there."It wasn't even considered part of the line card before," he said.

"There was a fit for our product portfolio," added Medwed. "They are very good quality products, priced reasonably for more price-conscious shoppers. We like to say in our business, 'Let the facts be our friends.' The facts are D-Link's friend."

NEXT: VARs: D-Link Is A Good Answer For A Lot Of Customers With many businesses still reeling from the economic downturn, VARs said, D-Link products are catching on with customers more willing than ever to evaluate alternatives to Cisco and other networking players -- especially feature-packed storage, security and networking products at attractive price points.

"How we pitched it to the customer was 'What exactly are you trying to accomplish?" Gregg said. "And what came back was we need this number of VPNs and things like that and it was, 'I know Cisco does it and these other guys can do it, and can you do it?' The answer was, yes I can, and I can do it at so much less. We're in tough economic times. It's a good answer for a lot of customers."

Beyond the improved deal registration and other programs, KME's Essayian said that Piwowarczyk's team spent a lot of time in the sales trenches, backstopping partners who were willing to take a chance on D-Link.

"We did some pretty good deals with them. What we were getting from D-Link was 'what do you need from us' and 'how can we help," said Essayian. "They got it. I mean, that's Channel 101. It's not just price."

D-Link, for its part, stressed that its channel commitment is unwavering and will get even stronger in the future.

"D-Link is gearing itself up for a strong future," said Kelley. "We're really excited about our future in the channel and for getting our message out there."