McAfee New Channel Chief Eyes Cisco Model

By Lawrence Walsh  |  Print this article Print


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Alex Thurber has just assumed the role of McAfee’s global channel chief, but he’s already laying plans for bringing better structure to the security vendor’s channel program. His inspiration is the Cisco channel way, a program he’s spent the better part of the last decade on.

If McAfee partners are looking for clues to the future of the security vendor’s channel program, they only need to look to the organization from which the new global channel chief came: Cisco.

Just nine days on the job, Alex Thurber is still feeling his way around the McAfee headquarters and collecting bits of information about the channel he inherited. But the one thing he’s observed so far is the need to provide better structure and consistency in partner relationships.

"The channel program has been cobbled together in the legacy that is McAfee’s endpoint security products and all the acquisitions it’s done," Thurber told Channel Insider. "There hasn’t been an overall strategy that, with a plan, we can snap new acquisitions into place."

In the past decade, McAfee has acquired 18 companies ranging from small startups to mature organizations. Companies added to the McAfee portfolio include Foundstone, IntruVert, Citadel, Reconnex, Preventsys, Solidcore Systems, Entercept, Secure Computing and, most recently, MX Logic. The acquisitions have bolstered McAfee from being an antivirus software vendor to a portfolio company of security products that address consumers to large enterprises.

Acquisitions have given McAfee more weapons to battle longtime rival Symantec, but Thurber says it’s created a channel hodgepodge of different programs, products and partners. What’s needed—he suspects—is better program structure and consistency in the way McAfee interacts with partners.

"We need to give partners consistency in the money they’re going to make, who they are going to work with and where they’re going to get support," Thurber said.

Where Thurber will draw the inspiration for that structure, consistency and guiding channel management principles is the company he called home for the last decade, Cisco.

Until last month, Thurber was a part of the Cisco Go-To-Markets team, where he handled channel strategy for Cisco’s security, wireless and emerging technologies under Edison Peres. At the Cisco partner summit in Boston last June, Thurber was one of the key executives talking up the virtues of peer-to-peer partnership and collaboration, and the need for solution providers to adopt technology and vertical alignment to maximize their market potential.

Thurber envisions building a channel structure at McAfee that’s similar to Cisco in terms of creating technology disciplines, systems of rewards for partner investment, and consistency in support and communications. He says that companies like McAfee cannot lose sight of the fact that partners are independent small businesses that rely on their vendors to create a navigable framework for conducting business. The ultimate goal is to create a value-based channel program that has common elements for all channel partners—from small business to large enterprise.

Will the Thurber McAfee channel program have the same attributes as Cisco’s? Thurber says no. "It won’t be a carbon copy," he says. "There will be elements that we emulate and elements that we improve upon."

Thurber replaces Roger King, the former executive vice president of worldwide sales who also oversaw the company’s channel strategy and management. King, who left to pursue other opportunities, was standing in for David Dickison, who left McAfee a year ago, and Lisa Loe, who oversaw channels for just three months.

Thurber’s appointment follows the promotion of McAfee veteran Fernando Quintero from his role of overseeing Latin America to running North America channels.

Prior to joining Cisco, Thurber was the founder and owner of Thurber Works, a network and security VAR in Portland, Ore. He sold the business in 1999 when he took his first position at Cisco.

Leaving Cisco and taking the McAfee post was a chance opportunity resulting from connections made through social networks. After meeting with McAfee CEO Dave DeWalt and Michael DeCesare, the executive vice president of worldwide sales, he was convinced that the security vendor had a tremendous opportunity to build world-class channels that would help grow the overall business.

The move means Thurber will compete, on some level, with his former employer, Cisco. It’s a situation that doesn’t faze him. "I love Cisco and it’s a wonderful company, and I want them to do well except in one area."

Lawrence Walsh Lawrence Walsh is editor of Baseline magazine, overseeing print and online editorial content and the strategic direction of the publication. He is also a regular columnist for Ziff Davis Enterprise's Channel Insider. Mr. Walsh is well versed in IT technology and issues, and he is an expert in IT security technologies and policies, managed services, business intelligence software and IT reseller channels. An award-winning journalist, Mr. Walsh has served as editor of CMP Technology's VARBusiness and GovernmentVAR magazines, and TechTarget's Information Security magazine. He has written hundreds of articles, analyses and commentaries on the development of reseller businesses, the IT marketplace and managed services, as well as information security policy, strategy and technology. Prior to his magazine career, Mr. Walsh was a newspaper editor and reporter, having held editorial positions at the Boston Globe, MetroWest Daily News, Brockton Enterprise and Community Newspaper Company.

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