Zscaler Poaches Palo Alto Networks Veteran To Lead All-Out Channel Charge: Exclusive

‘Zscaler has always been partner-first, but now we’re looking to continue to really invest and grow. We’re going to look at how we can evolve the partner program to be more beneficial and profitable for our partner community,’ says new Zscaler Senior Vice President of Global Partners and Alliances Karl Soderlund.


Zscalar Senior Vice President Karl Soderlund

Zero trust security powerhouse Zscaler has hired Palo Alto Networks’ six-year channel veteran Karl Soderlund as its new top channel executive.

“Zscaler has always been partner-first, but now we’re looking to continue to really invest and grow,” said Soderlund, who was named senior vice president of global partners and alliances at Zscaler. “We’re going to look at how we can evolve the partner program to be more beneficial and profitable for our partner community.”

Soderlund, who played a critical role in expanding the zero trust cloud footprint of Palo Alto Networks partners, has been named to CRN’s 50 Most Influential Channel Executives for the last four consecutive years.

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Soderlund told CRN that he has “always admired Zscaler” and that about 99 percent of the business touches an ecosystem partner. “We want to scale,” he said. “We want to get greater leverage. And we want to give partners an opportunity to increase their profitability with Zscaler.”

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Alan Mayer, senior vice president of partners and alliances at Denver-based Optiv—No. 25 on CRN’s 2022 Solution Provider 500 and a company whose 450-plus vendor partners include Zscaler and Palo Alto Networks—told CRN that Soderlund’s transparency and ability to align vendor success with partner success are some of the skills that have made him an effective channel chief.

“It has been balancing the requirements of both entities, understanding the broader market dynamics and having mutual respect and strong communication so that we can arrive at our shared goals,” Mayer said.

Soderlund’s appointment comes with Zscaler aggressively expanding its zero trust platform over the past several years. Zscaler was founded as a secure web gateway provider but now provides its partners with a full complement of zero trust security services that range from cloud workload security to digital experience monitoring.

Soderlund To Go On Listening Tour

Soderlund’s first order of business is a worldwide listening tour with Zscaler partners, many of whom he already knows from his time with Palo Alto Networks. His tour will focus on understanding “what’s working, what can be improved and what the vision and future should look like between the ecosystem partners and Zscaler,” he said.

Zscaler’s enablement resources for partners and whether partners are fully using those resources, the liability managed security services providers (MSSPs) face and the purchasing of Zscaler products on online marketplaces are all subjects he’s ready to discuss with partners, he said.

Zscaler is 100 percent committed to its partner ecosystem, Soderlund told CRN. The vendor “has had a vision of scaling with partners at the very center of that vision from the start.” He said the state of the economy—with businesses in the U.S. faced with growing inflation and a potential recession—has made partners more valuable for customers that can’t recruit more security professionals.

“The opportunity for partners will be greater in the next five years than they have in the last 25 years,” he said. “There is a global IT shortage of cybersecurity professionals. There is a lot of transition within companies right now with folks leaving and the demand for talent. And so the partners have an opportunity to provide these services to provide consulting, to provide life-cycle management to these customers.”

Customers “need to maximize the return on what their investments are,” he said. “And partners are so good at evaluating what the needs are in the infrastructure, in the community, to really produce the best results. So it’s perfect sense why we lean in so much.”

As for customer spending on cybersecurity tools, Soderlund said that the economy hasn’t had an effect from his vantage point. In fact, customers have shown a willingness to buy products and services from multiple security vendors.

“The threat of cybersecurity attacks are at an all-time high,” he said. “The nation-state attacks are at an all-time high. And the need for companies that really have top technology is at an all-time high.”

When asked about his time with Palo Alto Networks, Soderlund said, “There was no compelling event for me to leave Palo Alto [Networks].

“I’ve been very proud to represent Palo Alto Networks for the last six years,” he said. “It’s an amazing company. We’ve had a great run together. I’ve learned a lot. And I’ll have friends for life.”

The vendors have an overlap of partners, but the demand for cybersecurity is so high that “there’s plenty of business for all of us, and we all need to be successful,” he said.

Soderlund Replaces Todd Meister

Soderlund replaces former Zscaler channel chief Todd Meister, who left Zscaler in January, according to his LinkedIn account.

Meister joined Norway-based video company Neat in the newly created role of COO, according to a Neat statement.

CRN has reached out to Meister for comment.

Soderlund brings about 25 years of indirect sales experience to Zscaler. He most recent role was senior vice president of North America ecosystem sales at Palo Alto Networks, a role he took in December. At that time, Tom Evans became vice president of worldwide channel sales for Palo Alto Networks.

A spokesperson for Palo Alto Networks told CRN in a statement, “We thank him [Soderlund] for his contributions throughout the past six years and wish him well in his future endeavors.”

Before Palo Alto Networks, Soderlund worked at Imperva for about a year, leaving in 2016 with the title of vice president of worldwide channels and alliances.

Soderlund’s resume also includes more than a year with Aruba Networks. He left the company in 2015—shortly after its purchase by Hewlett Packard Enterprise—as vice president of worldwide channels and alliances. He appeared on CRN’s 2015 Channel Chiefs list for Aruba.

He worked at Avaya for more than two years as well, leaving the company in 2014 as vice president of Americas channel sales. At the company, he was “responsible for $700 [million] in revenue and managing 200 employees.”He appeared on CRN’s 2012 and 2013 Channel Chiefs list for Avaya.

Soderlund said he is excited about the no-holds-barred channel commitment that Zscaler is bringing to partners.

“We’re solving customer challenges that are at the intersection of mobility, security and the cloud,” he said. “And when you think about it, these are three of the highest IT priorities today in any organization around the world. So I’m really excited to be joining a company that’s focused on solving these complex challenges and having companies increase their security posture.”