As if Hewlett-Packard didn’t have enough on its hands with boardroom scandals, the company is now searching for a new channel chief. John Thompson, the highly regarded head of the vendor’s North America channel operations, is leaving the post for a new job at HP.
HP, of Palo Alto, Calif., faces the significant challenge of replacing the man who had become the company’s face to countless channel partners, many of which less than two years ago were ready to give up on the vendor altogether. Frustration was running high over HP’s practice then of competing with its channel partners for even the smallest accounts in the most remote areas of the market.
Thompson, who was vice president and general manager of the partner organization for two years, was a huge positive force in righting the wayward vendor’s channel ways. He is deservedly credited with being instrumental for his role in the major steps the company took in the past 18 months to do right by the channel.
Those steps included the implementation of a “named accounts” strategy that clearly delineated the rules of engagement for customer accounts that belonged to the company’s direct sales force versus those open to partners. Another step was the elimination of an outbound sales call center that had become the nemesis of numerous channel partners, many of whom had stories to tell about attempts by the direct sales reps to steal their customers.
It is no wonder that HP partners such as Jane Cage, co-owner of Heartland Technology Solutions, of Joplin, Mo., and David Tan, chief technology officer at CHIPS Computer Consulting, of Lake Success, N.Y., are quick to sing Thompson’s praises.
Before Thompson took over the channel organization, partners said it was usually anyone’s guess whether HP would follow up on what it promised the channel. Often it didn’t. But that changed during Thompson’s tenure.
Not that Thompson got a free ride. At an event of distributor Ingram Micro’s, in the spring of 2005 when HP was starting to move in the right direction, reaction to a speech by Thompson about company channel plans was decidedly skeptical.
Jim McDonnell, HP’s worldwide channel chief, is taking over Thompson’s duties temporarily while the company finds a replacement.
Partners expressed confidence the vendor has learned enough over the past year to know it must replace Thompson with an executive who will build on his legacy. HP will have to fill the post with someone who understands partners’ needs and their value to the vendor and the end-user customers.
And it has to be someone who is as strong a voice for continuing to steer the company in the direction of working with partners as Thompson has been. It certainly would make sense for HP to find an executive with channel experience. A familiar face is usually the best choice because channel companies, whose businesses revolve around maintaining solid relationships, like to work with people they know.
HP has enough on its plate right now, with its former chairwoman facing charges of fraud and conspiracy as a result of a boardroom leak investigation that went very wrong. The probe allegedly involved spying, accessing phone and fax records under false pretenses, and running a sting operation on a journalist.
The last thing the vendor needs now is to make a false move in picking its next channel chief. Partners who stuck by the company through the rough years can endure only so much. It wouldn’t hurt for management to immediately reassure partners that HP plans to remain on track, regardless of who fills the channel chief position.
Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner and contributing editor to The Channel Insider. He can be reached at email@example.com.