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When Channel Leaders Move On

A look at the tenure of channel chiefs in technology.

Earlier this week, news broke that Lenovo North America channel chief Sammy Kinlaw will leave the company by the end of the week. Until a permanent replacement is found, Rob Cato, executive director at Lenovo, will take his place. While the comings and goings of vendor channel leaders are things that partners roll with, they don’t necessarily like it. What they like is stability.

But that’s not necessary what they get.

Just look at another big vendor - Dell EMC. Less than two month's ago, Dell EMC replaced John Byrne, who led the company's global channel teams for the past year and a half, with Joyce Mullen. Prior to being tapped as Byrne's replacement, Mullen ran OEM sales and Internet of Things (IoT) for Dell EMC. Byrne now heads North America commercial sales for the company. Dell EMC has been shaking up its channel leadership since the two companies came together in 2016.

At Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) there's been a revolving door of channel leaders. Denzil Samuels, head of global channels, alliances and business development and ventures at GE Digital, took the top channel job at HPE, in January 2017, when Kerry Bailey vacated the channel chief seat at the company after a 1.6 year tenure. Just nine months into the job, Samuels took flight. He's been replaced by Paul Hunter, a 15-year veteran at the company.

Clearly there's been a lot of business disruption at both Dell EMC and HPE. Lenovo too is experiencing a lot of strategic business changes, particularly, since the company purchased IBMs x86 business in 2014, giving it a foot in the door to the enterprise. Since that time, the vendor's big push is on the data center.

Forrester Principal Analyst Jay McBain says that the average tenure for a channel chief is only 4.2 years. That’s less than the average tenure of a CEO, who holds onto his or her post for about 7.4 years. While there's no firm explanation regarding the churn among channel chiefs, we look at what the job entails. According to McBain, a channel chief is a part-time sales leader, marketer, finance and operations executive, lawyer, motivator, counselor, trainer, product management, strategist, economist, support agent and futurist.

Which brings us back to Kinlaw, whose first gig at Lenovo was director of distribution sales in May 2008. Kinlaw joined Lenovo after jumping ship from IBM a few years after Lenovo acquired IBM’s Personal Computing Division. Kinlaw later became executive director channel sales in 2012. From there, he moved up the executive ladder. Where he’ll land after Lenovo is currently unknown, but the company says Kinlaw is pursuing an opportunity elsewhere.

Cami Parks, general manager at Eastern Data Inc., Norcross, Ga., says she was a bit shocked when she heard the news about Kinlaw. Her company is a longtime Lenovo Business Partner and repair center. Parks liked Kinlaw's energy and commitment. But, business is business, and any disruption in the vendor channel relationship ripples down to the partner's business. 

“It makes us wonder what’s going on, what’s going to change, [and whether things will] be better off or worse," she says.

While Eastern Data has a number of strategic business partnerships, Lenovo being one of those but also Dell and HP, she points out that partners invest in these vendors by purchasing and promoting their products, and make steep financial commitments to them. They commit to their inventory, pricing strategies, training requirements, etc. Significant changes give partner's pause.

"When things change, you pull back and wait,” Parks says. "We're that integrated in our investments with them," she adds.

How does this impact business? Waiting often means hesitating on big deals. While Parks acknowledges that Eastern Data isn’t a big fish for Lenovo, she does say that they’re a loyal one. The company, which serves the greater Atlanta area, generates several million dollars’ worth of business annually for Lenovo.





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