Sun Channel Chief: Sales Changes Positive for Channel

Stroud, Sun's vice president of iForce partner sales, said a recent management restructuring in the GSO, which resulted in former Pirus Networks CEO Rich Napolitano taking over as president of Sun's U.S. geographically established market (GEM), is a "net positive move by Sun in how it relates to partners." CRN broke the news of those changes Friday. Napolitano, who joined Sun when the vendor bought Pirus in September 2002, replaced Sun veteran Bill Cook, who previously served as Sun U.S. vice president of Sales. According to a Sun spokesman, Cook is looking at new opportunities within Sun.

Stroud said Napolitano is supportive of channel sales in the United States and, because of his executive background, will be able to take a bigger-picture approach than a traditional sales executive might.

"Richard's background is one of running companies," Stroud said. "He has a strong understanding of Sun and its culture, and will be taking a business view of how we move into the United States."

Rob Wolfe, CEO and president of Silver Spring, Md.-based Sun partner AvComEast and a Sun VAR Council member, said he was pleased with Napolitano's appointment for this very reason.

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"I think it's really exciting to see Sun, if you will, break glass and bring in some new blood, to move the U.S. sales organization forward," Wolfe said. "Rich Napolitano is clearly an outsider, clearly a guy who knows how to run a business."

Tom Kuni, president of SSI hubcity, a Metuchen, N.J.-based solution provider and co-president of Sun's VAR Council, echoed this sentiment. "[Sun President and COO] Jonathan Schwartz's decision to go with a new employee rather than the old regime might signal his impatience with the [Sun] resurgence he knows is imminent," he said.

Stroud said the appointment of Napolitano, along with the general establishment of the U.S. territory as a GEM, also will give partners a more direct way to engage with Sun's sales team. Previously, the U.S. territory was split into different geographic regions, each with its own regional vice president, and were run like "their own little GEMs," he said.

"Now it's all unified," Stroud said. "What we will get from a partner perspective is a stronger partner voice at the U.S. level."

Napolitano also will have some help engaging with partners in the form of Tim Lieto, now vice president of U.S. customer sales. Lieto will be responsible for customer acquisition, retention and growth in different sales regions, as well as for government and education sales within the U.S.

Stroud said the new model will continue the effort that Cook began last year to put more feet on the street working with regional VARs. "We'll be able to follow through with the things Bill started," he said.

At the end of last year, Sun said 54 percent of its sales went through the channel in fiscal 2004. Stroud said that percentage is now at about 60 percent.

Cook has been with Sun more than 17 years and spent the last two and a half years leading the U.S. sales team. While he has left only his previous position, not the company, partners speculate that he is looking for opportunities outside of Sun.

While solution providers were generally bullish on the GSO changes, Pat Sherman, co-owner and vice president of sales at Sun partner eServ, Peoria, Ill., said he will reserve judgment until their effect on Sun and its sales is clearer. However, he agreed that, "Sun definitely needs to shake things up."

Kip Lindberg, vice president of enterprise sales at Ncell Systems, a Minnetonka, Minn.-based Sun partner, said that, while Sun eked out a small profit in its most recent quarter, it needs to do more to reign in expenses. The changes in the GSO should achieve some of that objective.

"Sun has to flatten their organization -- not just at the top, but throughout the organization," Lindberg said.

JOSEPH F. KOVAR contributed to this story.