Partners Fret About McAfee's Channel Following DeWalt's Departure

Partners say that Dave DeWalt’s departure from McAfee and the appointment of co-presidents has created a sense of instability, and they wonder if the move foreshadows an Intel-imposed channel restructuring down the road.

The company said Tuesday that DeWalt resigned after a four-year stint as McAfee president , but would remain as a non-employee member of the company’s board of directors.

McAfee said it planned to fill the leadership void with Mike DeCesare, executive vice president for global operations, and Todd Gebhart, executive vice president and general manager of consumer, mobile and small business. DeCesare and Gebhart will serve in a co-president capacity by the third quarter.

The move sparked an outpouring of criticism from channel partners, who said that they will feel keenly the loss of DeWalt’s leadership.

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’Dave is, or was, a visionary and a driving force for McAfee. Really sorry to see him go,’ said Jim Hindy, branch manager for Entre BTG, a TIG company, a McAfee partner and security solution provider based in Norcross, Ga.

hannel partners expressed strong concerns about the executive shift, contending that DeWalt’s resignation does not bode well for the future of the McAfee channel.

’This is hardly unexpected, but isn’t the best news for the channel,’ said Andrew Plato, CEO of Anitian Enterprise Security, a Beaverton, Ore.-based solution provider. ’DeWalt was good for the channel. And his handling of the DAT update disaster is the stuff of MBA case studies for years to come.’

Partners point out that the news seems to contradict company promises that everything would remain the same following Intel’s $7.68 billion acquisition of McAfee, announced last August and finalized in February of this year.

In the wake of the merger, executives flooded partners with reassurances that the company would retain its channel focus while operating autonomously as the company’s separate security division. Alex Thurber, McAfee senior vice president of worldwide channel operations, told CRN at the time that it would be ’business as usual’ following the acquisition.

Partners now say they wonder if DeWalt’s resignation indicates a further executive shakeup or foreshadows an Intel-imposed restructuring and possibly the first stages of channel erosion.

’Intel has almost no comprehension of the channel,’ Plato said. ’I think all VARs are a little nervous about McAfee’s future. I am not ready to write the McAfee channel obituary quite yet. Although I hope Intel won’t do anything stupid and ruin DeWalt’s accomplishments.’

’There hasn’t been a lot of change thus far,’ said Stephen Nacci, regional account manager at Everything Maintenance, a division of TLIC Worldwide, based in Exeter, R.I. ’But that might be changing. It could be a sign of more things to come. Intel paid a lot of money for McAfee, and they may want to see a return on their investment.’

Next: "McAfee Will Not Change"

However, Thurber told CRN Tuesday that McAfee ’has continued and will continue to run our own channel program’ in the wake of DeWalt’s departure, emphasizing that his resignation didn’t signify an impending Intel takeover or channel restructuring.

’Intel has continued to reiterate that it will run McAfee as a separate division,’ Thurber said. ’McAfee will not change. We’re continuing to expand our focus on the channel. The rest of the staff isn’t changing. None of this is going to change.’

Thurber also said that DeWalt’s decision to step down was of his own volition, and quashed rumors that DeWalt left to take the helm at competing network security company Palo Alto Networks.

’It’s been very clear, Dave’s goal was to become the CEO of a publicly traded company. His primary goal was to bring value to the shareholders. He’s certainly done that,’ Thurber said. ’And he’s made it very clear he’s not going to take a job with a competitor,’ Thurber said adding that a forthcoming move for DeWalt would likely be as a CEO of a non-competitive publicly traded company. ’I can’t imagine him going to Palo Alto Networks,’ he said.

But the fallout from DeWalt’s departure will undermine confidence and create a sense of instability about the future of the company’s channel, partners said.

Many McAfee solution providers applauded DeWalt’s efforts, particularly when it came recent channel initiatives. Over the last two years, the company had taken initiative to restructure and stabilize its fragmented channel program by rolling out significant changes to its Security Alliance Partner Program, aimed at providing a better partner experience following a tumultuous few years fraught with high executive and channel rep turnover, inadequate support and gaping inefficiencies in its channel operations.

The program upgrades included numerous incentives that allowed partners to earn increased margins around accredited sales and services while protecting partners with streamlined deal registration rules.

Hindy said that the rollouts improved the program ’as deal registration rules were streamlined, rules of engagement became more channel focused and those partners that invested in McAfee were rewarded.’

Thurber maintained that both DeCesare and Gebhart retained the same commitment to expanding the McAfee channel, adding that the company exceeded its previously stated goal of being 90 percent channel during its Q1.

’We’ll remain committed to security. This is a real passion for us,’ he said. ’None of our strategies or priorities are going to change.’

But looking ahead, channel partners said that they are eyeing Intel’s decision to implement a co-presidency role with skepticism, maintaining that the decision essentially fragmented the security company’s leadership which could possibly give it less autonomy as the security arm of Intel.

The move could indicate the ’lack of synergy in the Intel deal,’ one partner said.

’I have never seen a hardware company successfully run a software company, or vice-versa,’ said one West Coast channel partner who asked to remain off the record. ’One or the other is always a dabbler and they both seem to get diluted with neither showing true expertise and focus once the try to do both.’

Hindy said he was taking a ’wait and see approach as to how they coexist and how their philosophy coincides with the channel.

’Will Intel bring in a new guy or gal and then will that person want his or her own team and will that men a revolving door of executive management?’ he said. ’That cannot bode well for an organization that had developed a winning strategy.’