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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.”