Fiorina: Let's Talk

"Those horrible numbers probably turned out to be the best thing for us," said Don Richie, president of Sequel Data Systems, an HP enterprise solution provider in Austin, Texas, who attended the meeting with Fiorina during HP's Americas StorageWorks Conference in Houston. "HP understands that they need the partners to make their numbers."

Fiorina and Jack Novia, senior vice president Americas of HP's Customer Solutions Group, sat with the partners for 45 minutes, where Fiorina spoke only for a few minutes before exchanging in an open dialogue with them.

Richie said Fiorina knew in minute detail the problems faced by partners related to delays in getting special-pricing bids and logistical snafus caused by HP's transition to a new SAP system.

"There was no doubt she had a sense of urgency," Richie said. "For someone in her position to sit down with us--none of us are a $1 billion or even a $100 million player--that says an awful lot about her. This is the first time in a long time that I finally see some light" in HP's channel relationships.

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Rich Baldwin, president and CEO of Nth Generation Computing, San Diego, said Fiorina seemed to understand the need for more product marketing and said HP will put more emphasis on storage going forward. She even hinted that she might intervene personally to close deals, Baldwin said.

"Her calendar is obviously full," he said. "But she implied there are ways to do it. It gave us a glimmer of hope that executives like her and Jack Novia are committed to help."

Felise Katz, CEO of PKA Technologies, an HP enterprise solution provider in Suffern, N.Y., called the meeting a positive exchange of information. It was the "best time I've spent with HP in a long time," she said.

While Fiorina did not make any promises at the meeting, she took copious notes. "I feel [Fiorina and Novia] really care about the channel and the company," Katz said. "Now we'll see about the time and execution. But for the first time, the exec team is empowered in regard to the channel."

The enterprise solution providers at the meeting represented a group of regional partners that are either exclusive or predominantly HP, a class of VARs that HP intends to focus more resources on in the future.

Mark Gonzalez, HP's Americas vice president for enterprise storage and server sales, said that HP's relationships with channel partners vary according to degree of intimacy--from "family," which are HP-exclusive partners, to "friends," which are Elite partners that also sell non-HP solutions, to "acquaintances," which are non-Elite, non-exclusive partners.

The level of intimacy affects who will benefit most as HP moves more of its accounts to the channel, Gonzalez said. "As we select the channel partners we expect to be working with those customers, we're going to put a priority on the level of intimacy that exists between ourselves and those channel partners."

Gonzales met with the same group of partners, following their meeting with Fiorina. But it was clearly Fiorina whose channel message held most weight for the solution providers.