George Samenuk, McAfee

On the heels of reporting second-quarter sales growth of 32 percent with more than 90 percent of sales going through the channel, McAfee Chairman and CEO George Samenuk spoke with Industry Editor Larry Hooper on how the security vendor has zeroed in on the channel to drive growth. Here are edited excerpts:

CRN: Over the past year there has been a major shift toward the channel at McAfee. What prompted that change?

SAMENUK: A couple years ago the board and I decided that we wanted to be a pure security company and only concentrate on security for our customers. We decided to sell the nonsecurity assets, Sniffer network management and Magic help desk. We sold in 2004. Prior to those sales we were about 60 percent channel and 40 percent direct. Our partners wanted us to be 100 percent channel. So after we sold those assets, we are pretty much a 99 percent channel company today, and it has changed the whole channel message. We changed the relationship with our partners, and it&'s proven to be a tremendous help for our business.

CRN: Are you attributing that growth to your focus on the channel?

SAMENUK: One of the major reasons why McAfee has been successful over the last year is because of the channel relationships. In January of 2004 we sold Magic, but we didn&'t sell Sniffer until July 15, 2004. So the first quarter after we sold Sniffer we grew 28 percent, then we grew 36 percent and then last quarter we had 32 percent growth. The channel was critically important to achieving those growth rates and profitability.

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CRN: But what did you do differently with the channel?

SAMENUK: We strengthened the relationship with our existing partners. We added new partners. We&'ve added more channel relationship people and we&'ve added new relationship management capabilities into our IT systems.

And we have brought out a number of new products that are small and medium business-friendly and channel-friendly.

CRN: And it was the decision to go pure security that led to the decision to go pure channel?

SAMENUK: Exactly.

CRN: As CEO of a company with a history of channel conflict, what did you do personally to push the channel focus down from the top?

SAMENUK: I met with channel partners over the last few years and they all said we could never be No. 1 in their minds until we were 100 percent channel. So, once we decided this, we drove this through the entire company.

CRN: What did you do to make McAfee products more appealing to the channel?

SAMENUK: The partners want the most innovative products and the hottest-selling products. We&'ve added enterprise antispyware. We have added some very innovative products and acquired some innovative products.

CRN: You decided to go pure security at a time that some heavy hitters were entering the space. What made you think you could compete once Cisco and Microsoft entered the field?

SAMENUK: Microsoft is a very large and very successful company, but security is very complicated, as both Cisco and Microsoft have learned. It&'s a bet-your-job-every-day kind of business. Microsoft has enough problems getting their operating system to work for customers vs. providing security for customers. Same with Cisco. There was a flaw discovered in Cisco&'s operating system. I bet my job every single day that I can protect my customers. Security is not for novices. It&'s not the kind of thing you can add to your existing product line. We breathe, eat and live security 24 hours a day, seven days a week.