Cisco Loses Another Longtime Channel Leader: Surinder Brar

The long list of channel leaders leaving the networking giant gets longer as Surinder Brar heads for the door after helping design and evolve the company's channel programs for 15 years.

"It was the right time for me to move on," said Brar in an interview with CRN.

Brar was Cisco's chief strategy officer for its Worldwide Partner Organization from 2010 to 2014, responsible for developing the company's channel strategy, understanding market transitions' effects on partner business models and evolving Cisco's partner go-to-market strategy. Before that, Brar spent 10 years helping lead Cisco's channel strategy and programs for its worldwide channels, where he assisted in the architecture of the company's initial channel strategy in 2001, he said.

[Related: Here's Who Made Gartner's 2015 Wired And Wireless LAN Magic Quadrant]

Sponsored post

"Everyone knows of Brar -- although he was behind the scenes a lot, he was really instrumental in designing the channel [programs]," said a top executive solution provider and Cisco partner, who declined to be identified. "It seems everybody, everyone knows and likes is leaving."

In 2014, Brar shifted to the cloud, becoming chief of partner strategy for Cisco's Cloud & Managed Services Organization. Brar said Cisco created the organization to develop its cloud channel strategy, led by Edison Peres -- who also left the company this year -- but the group reorganized and folded back into the overall sales organization this year. He left the position and Cisco in August.

"I think it’s the absolutely right thing to do for Cisco, but it's time to move on," said Brar, who is seeking a new job based on his channel experience. "Because I was there for 15 years, it gave me an opportunity to not only design the channel strategy but sort of implement it and see the results."

The departure of several veteran channel leaders at Cisco followed the appointment of Chuck Robbins, a former longtime channel executive himself, as CEO of the company in May. In June, Robbins selected a new leadership team and revealed his plans to create a flatter, faster company.

Top channel leaders who has left the company include channel chief Bruce Klein; Rob Lloyd, president, development and sales; Edzard Overbeek, the company's top services executive; Richard McLeod, channel collaborative sales leader; Chief Technology Officer Padmasree Warrior ; and Peres, senior vice president of cloud and managed services -- who also served as Cisco's senior vice president of worldwide channels for more than a decade.

"Bruce was well-liked -- we like [new channel chief] Wendy Bahr and [we're] glad she's staying, but Edison, Warrior, now Brar -- those are a lot of people who have been there a long time and the partners had a lot of comfort with those people," said the solution provider. "Although in all fairness, comfort with people doesn't necessarily mean that's who you need to lead change. … Partners recognize that Cisco needs to change and evolve to stay ahead of the curve, but we also liked the people who were in those roles. It's the classic 'What got you here, won't get you there' -- those are the people who got Cisco here, but they might not be the people to take them into the future."

In response to a request from CRN, Cisco declined to comment about Brar's departure or about whether the company will be refilling the position.

Brar said he has faith in Robbins' heading up the channel charge as the company's new leader.

"It's fantastic to have a CEO with direct channel experience like Chuck," Brar said. "I've worked closely with Chuck in the past. … He personally knows all of our top partners. Running a channel as a channel chief or CEO, you need to have deep trust with the partners, and Chuck absolutely has that."

Brar says Cisco's channel is going to play a different, more critical role for IT in the new cloud era compared with the former reselling model.

"The cloud is where all the real value is now for the channel," he said. "For VARs, that value added needs to change for cloud, where it used to be for resale."