Partners: McAfee's Channel Outlook Brightened With Appoinment Of New VP

"The fact that they actually named a global channel leader, and they went to an organization like Cisco -- they went to the top, if you will," said Michael Sullivan, president of Dallas-based Quest Network Solutions. "My initial reaction was, 'Wow, they really are committed to a channel strategy.' "

McAfee said Wednesday that Thurber would officially take over as the company's new senior vice president of worldwide channel operations, a role in which he will oversee all aspects of the company's global channel programs and strategy.

Thurber, who will report to Michael DeCesare, executive vice president of worldwide sales operations, came to McAfee from Cisco, where he oversaw the development and execution of Cisco's channel strategies and programs for security, wireless and emerging technologies while heading channel integration of Cisco acquisitions.

McAfee said that Thurber would focus on implementing infrastructure improvements that would ease doing business with the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company, and would work to implement pay-for-performance programs within the channel.

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"I'm excited for the opportunity to build upon this success and to drive the vision and leadership for the McAfee channel," Thurber said in a statement.

Thurber's appointment follows several months after McAfee appointed Fernando Quintero to the position of vice president of channel operations for the Americas.

However, channel partners say that while they're encouraged about the possibilities in new channel management, they say that the company still has a long way to go to re-establish relationships and regain trust of the channel community.

Sullivan said that realistically, he hoped to see changes occur sometime next year.

"It's going to take some time. I'm not going to be naive," Sullivan said. "I don't think [recent executive appointments] will have an immediate impact. Where it will have the biggest impact is going to be in 2010. I would absolutely hope that we see continued improvement in how they work with the channel partners."

Partners say that historically, McAfee's channel strategy had lacked vision and was inconsistent region by region and between direct sales and channel sales divisions within the company. "Their internal alignment is not necessarily in sync with their channel alignment. That created the biggest challenges for us," Sullivan said.

Sam Panebianco, CIO for Orange County, Calif.- based, said that although it looked as if McAfee was "actively trying to change some things," he hoped Thurber's appointment would elicit more support at the local level in the near future. In addition to the company's unfocused channel strategy, McAfee also has experienced rapid turnover -- from the management level to channel reps -- over the last few years, which has made it difficult to establish long-term channel relationships and receive timely support, he said.

"We've seen a lot of turnover in our territory in Orange County over the years. I don't know their regional turnover rate, or how many times they've changed directions," Panebianco said, adding that while he has a 10-year working history with McAfee, the company was currently not one of his top vendors.

"We get lost in the distribution shuffle," Panebianco said. "There are other vendors that are really easy to work with, whether you go to Cisco or Juniper or EMC."

Panebianco said he will take a "wait and see" attitude regarding McAfee's most recent executive shuffle, but will likely place his energies with other vendors.

"They want channel partners that will promote their channel and really drive it," Panebianco said. "At this point, it's not me."