The CEO Effect: Channel Chiefs Discuss Partner Culture, Leadership

Partner Advocates

How much does the CEO matter when it comes to a vendor being partner-centric or not? During the recent XChange Solution 2014, CRN spoke with the top channel chiefs from HP, Cisco, Dell, Microsoft, IBM and VMware during a roundtable discussion about a number of industry trends and issues. The channel executives talked about their respective CEOs, their channel cultures, and how much one person can matter to a vendor's partner philosophy.

Edison Peres, senior vice president of worldwide channels at Cisco:

John Chambers happens to be a very strong partner-led guy and has been since he's been at Cisco. A lot of the culture at Cisco has been driven by his belief that the leverage capability of a one and one equals three is just the foundation of how he goes to market, and that's just the way it's been.

Edison Peres, Cisco:

The CEO's one thing; the culture of the company is another. I see a lot of CEOs want to do certain things but getting hung up on the culture of the company all the way through. Is that the way the sales organization works? Is that the way we're compensated? And I think that in some companies you get a lot more of a partner-centric approach, up and down, the way in which you go to market, from the CEO across the company, and in some you get less, even though the CEO themselves might be committed. [Establishing the culture] is the important part of truly being partner-centric or not.

Jesse Chavez, vice president of worldwide channel strategy and Operations at HP:

When Meg [Whitman] came on board, it was a marked difference as far as the way that we operated from a channel perspective. The first thing that she said is that there's no way that HP is ever going to get the growth unless it's done through the channel. So she's a big believer in that. She's been very, very vocal about the channel, and it's core to our DNA.

Jesse Chavez, HP:

With [Whitman] coming on board, she absolutely brought the key focus on that, and she operates on a daily basis. She meets with partners just as much as she meets with customers. She's an executive sponsor of many partners around the world. So that's really permeated throughout the culture. That permeates itself into driving not only from the top down, but as she travels and asks all the questions from a channel perspective, everybody's going to react to that, and that turns into their culture. She certainly brought that into our environment.

Frank Rauch, vice president of VMware's Americas Partner Organization:

I know I am biased, but I think Pat Gelsinger is the best CEO in the industry. This guy's been recruited for many, many of the open [CEO] jobs. He drives the car. I think if you ask any partner that's been around VMware over the last year-and-a-half what the three priorities are of VMware, get them right away because of him. He drives humility, and he's just a very, very genuine guy.

Frank Rauch, VMware:

So when you get [Gelsinger] in a room like we did three weeks ago with the partners, if they want to talk engineering, he's deep enough to go into engineering. If they want to talk about monetization and business models, he can go there as well. So he's a real advocate.

Cindy Bates, vice president of Microsoft's U.S. Small and Midsize Business (SMB) division:

We obviously have a new CEO, Satya Nadella, and his first outreach was to partners. Internally, he's made it very clear that the DNA of Microsoft is as a partner-led company. Our success as an $80 billion company was built in partnership with our channel ecosystem, and that's not going to change.

Cindy Bates, Microsoft:

I personally worked with Satya when he was in the [Microsoft] Dynamics organization, and it's a very partner-oriented group. I'm highly confident that passion for partners that does permeate our DNA is going to continue under his leadership.

Frank Vitagliano, vice president of North America channels, Dell:

We've made an amazing shift relative to [the channel] and Michael has led it. More than ever now as the primary owner of the company of the world's biggest startup, he's driving it. I do think it has a profound impact on the [partner] community.

Frank Vitagliano, Dell:

So we did something really pretty amazing two months ago, three months ago in Dell world. We announced that we're actually paying our internal sales force a 20 percent premium for taking new business for certain opportunities through the channel versus direct. You think anybody in this room would have thought five years ago that Dell would be paying their sales force more to take something into the channel than to take it direct? That was all driven by Michael's vision for us to get to that next level and get back on the growth path that we need to be on and work with the channel.

Tami Duncan, IBM's vice president of global business partners for North America:

I was [Ginni Rometty's] chief of staff last year and I spent the whole year with her. I prepped her for well over 500 CEO meetings in that year. She is maniacally focused on customer needs and where the market is going, and all of that trickles down through the team. She sees the partners, like she said at IBM Partner World, as being a part of us. It's not even just a partner. It's part of the DNA. It's a part of us. It's a part of our culture. It's a part of what we need to survive. So she's very strong on that.

Tami Duncan, IBM:

[Rometty's partner approach] permeates down through all the organization. I know Rose Amelia is a very strong proponent, and Steve Mills is a huge partner fan. And she hand-picked myself and Marc Dupaquier, who is leading the worldwide channels. Those are her choices -- her personal choices -- for those jobs. So I know she's very focused on it.