Aruba Channel Chief Donna Grothjan Is Retiring, Hailed As ‘Ultimate Channel Champion’
“I have had the opportunity to realize everything that I’ve wanted to do, and the next step for me—which I have been thinking about for a long time—is wanting to participate and serve on boards [of directors],” said Aruba Worldwide Channel Chief Donna Grothjan.
Aruba Worldwide Channel Chief Donna Grothjan, who has championed partner programs and policies that have powered solution provider growth for more than three decades, is retiring.
Felise Katz, CEO of PKA Technologies, one of HPE Aruba’s top partners, called Grothjan an “incredible force” in the channel, always advocating to help partners be successful.
“Donna has been a tremendous advocate for partners over her long history in the channel,” Katz said. “She fully understands the day-to-day challenges that partners have to deal with. She has been a tremendous friend and will be missed. HPE Aruba has very big shoes to fill with her departure.”
Katz also commended Grothjan for being “a trail blazer for women and for me personally.”
“Her work ethic and her approach to getting things done is a hallmark of how she comports herself,” Katz said. “She has been an exemplary role model for me and many other women in the industry.”
Katz said Grothjan’s “tenacity” maintaining partner commitment and helping drive sales growth was critical in the wake of HPE’s acquisition of Aruba. “That was huge,” said Katz. “For all of us in the partner community, there was never a hiccup. It was always business as usual, let’s get it done and move ahead. It was all about taking care of business.”
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Aruba Head of Worldwide Sales Alain Carpentier made the announcement of Grothjan’s departure, which is effective at the end of May, at Aruba’s Atmosphere conference in Las Vegas on Tuesday.
“It’s an understatement to say we’re incredibly proud of the unwavering commitment Donna has shown to HPE Aruba Networking’s 55,000 partners globally, as well as the broader channel community over the course of her career,” said Carpentier in a blog post honoring Grothjan. “Her focus has always been on helping the channel community adapt to, and thrive in, changing conditions through innovative, partner-focused programs and tools that set our industry’s bar high.”
Played Key Role During HPE Acquisition
Grothjan, a nine-year Aruba channel veteran known for her indefatigable partner commitment, played a key role in ensuring partner sales growth in the midst of HPE’s $3 billion acquisition of Aruba in 2015. Furthermore, she was one of the architects of the HPE Partner Ready Vantage program—the GreenLake ecosystem program that for the first time united both the HPE and Aruba portfolios in an end-to-end edge-to-cloud channel program.
Grothjan, who also spent a decade as a top channel executive for Juniper Networks and 15 years driving partner-vendor collaboration at distribution behemoth Ingram Micro,
is known for her “problem-solving and collaboration superpowers” and for her philosophy of placing partners “at the heart of her efforts” to serve customers, said Carpentier.
“Where others may see channel partners as extensions of their sales force, for Donna it’s always the other way around—vendors such as HPE Aruba Networking are part of her partners’ ecosystems,” said Carpentier. “This makes it a competitive imperative for vendors like us to provide and enable value creation for partners every day.”
Carpentier will take on the additional duties of worldwide channel chief until a replacement is named.
“As Donna has provided us with such an incredible blueprint, it’s our intention to continue her work,” said Carpentier. “HPE Aruba Networking will remain channel-first, with the key goal of enabling our partners to realize and maximize their opportunities.”
Carpentier pledged that Aruba will continue to help partners “optimize their business models, invest in new areas of market growth and further grow their services businesses.”
Furthermore, he promised, Aruba will continue to help partners expand their cloud solution offerings while driving more professional services, which will enable partners to grow their net profitability.
Grothjan Says Timing Is Right
Grothjan, a perennial on CRN’s annual list of most influential channel leaders and the annual CRN Most Powerful Women In The Channel list, said that she has been thinking about retiring for the last three years and that the timing was right given that she has accomplished all of the goals she set for herself as Aruba’s worldwide channel chief.
“I have had the opportunity to realize everything that I’ve wanted to do, and the next step for me—which I have been thinking about for a long time—is wanting to participate and serve on boards [of directors],” she told CRN.
Key to that next step in serving as a director is an innovative HPE program that Grothjan participated in designed to mentor 12 women as board member candidates for the tech industry. “That provided us with the opportunity to interact directly with a lot of our [HPE] board members and with [HPE CEO] Antonio [Neri],” said Grothjan, who received her National Association of Corporate Directors certification in January 2022. “The idea was to help with our development with the opportunity and mindset of ultimately taking a board seat with a company.”
Grothjan said among the accomplishments she is most proud of is building a strong channels team at Aruba and launching the HPE Partner Ready Vantage program. “We launched HPE Partner Ready Vantage so we could accelerate our as-a-service growth,” she said. “We have that consistency and predictability in place, and now we’re looking to drive growth in the market through as a service.”
As for the biggest challenge facing partners, Grothjan said it is the need for partners to move their sales teams to an as a service Opex model.
“With the shift to as a service, the question is: how long does it take to train your sales team where it becomes part of their DNA and that they are able to sell in that [Opex] model?” she said. “They need to be able to identify customers and bring to those customers the appropriate solution. The dialogue needs to happen with the CFO and the line of business in some cases, as opposed to the IT organization. A lot of those long-standing relationships exist with the IT organization, but now new relationships need to be established.”
Ingram Micro CEO: Grothjan Understood Distribution
Ingram Micro CEO Paul Bay, who has led the charge to reinvent the partner digital experience with Ingram’s Xvantage digital experience platform, called Grothjan one of the premier leaders in the channel over the last three decades.
“Donna has been one of the biggest advocates from an overall channel perspective,” he said. “Coming out of distribution, Donna always understood the value of distribution. We always felt like we had someone in our corner to help talk internally at the companies she represented as to the value we were providing from an overall distribution, channel and partner perspective.”
Bay, who started his career working for Grothjan in product management at Ingram Micro, said he has always admired Grothjan’s leadership skills including her ability to develop “lifelong relationships” and keep the focus on partners.
“One of the things I love about Donna is it was never about her,” he said. “As part of that, she was a very, very good listener and a great learner. Those are the type of people you want to work around, work for and work with. I learned a lot from her, whether it was while she was in the vendor community or at Ingram. I have the utmost respect for Donna. She is a quality person, [a] salt of the earth individual who is one of the hardest workers I have ever been around.”
Bay said Grothjan will be an “amazing” contributor as a member of a company’s board of directors. “Donna knows how to run a business,” he said. “Think about her experience in the early days of Ingram Micro and her role on the vendor side of the business. She really understands where the opportunity is to grow the business. She has a huge capacity to operate at the very tactical level and, more importantly, at the strategic level. One of the things she taught me is to say what you are going to do and then go do it.”
Bay said Grothjan has always been able to bring all sides together for the benefit of partners. That was evident at Aruba where she was able to navigate the broader HPE channel while also keeping the focus on driving Aruba partner sales growth. “That was definitely not an easy role because she had to make sure it worked out for Aruba, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and distributors and partners,” he said.
At Ingram Micro, Bay saw Grothjan use her skills at building strong partnerships at a moment in time when a “contentious” relationship had developed between a longtime vendor and Ingram. “She was the senior leader who brought both sides together to help articulate why it worked for both sides and calm the challenges of why it had gotten to the point it was at,” he said. “She did a very good job of saying, ‘Here’s the value and why it works for both sides.’ That was 20-plus years ago. Today we have great relationship with that company. That was a critical time where either side could have gone in a different direction. She was the key leader making sure it worked out for both sides.”
‘The Ultimate Channel Champion’
Frank Vitagliano, the CEO of the Global Technology Distribution Council, which represents leading distributors who collectively drive more than $150 billion in annual sales through partners, said Grothjan is “the ultimate channel champion.”
“When you step back and look at what she has done, you realize she has spent more than 30 years dedicated to the channel and helping partners drive sales growth,” he said “She has an in-depth understanding of how the channel works and how it creates value for companies. She has a PH. D. in channels. She fights internally for what is right to help partners be successful. She is the ultimate channel champion.”
Grothjan is one of the few members of the channel community that has made the move from distribution to a top channel chief job, said Vitagliano. “She has shown a tremendous ability to build and run channel programs,” he said. “Donna was able to apply her detailed knowledge of distribution to help vendors develop very successful channel businesses. She understands the channel landscape as well as anybody in the business. She is a true channel icon. I was surprised that she has decided to retire. I guarantee you there will be companies looking for her to join a board or two. With her knowledge of the industry and her passion for this business, she will be a tremendous asset out there to any company out there looking for channel expertise.”
Ingram Micro’s Bay, for his part, said Grothjan has had a big impact on the channel for more than three decades. “Donna will be missed,” he said. “She has left her mark in a great way on this industry. She should hold her head high.”