Cisco Channel Chief Keith Goodwin: The Exit Interview
Cisco Systems Channel Chief Keith Goodwin is set to exit the networking giant on August 1 — when Cisco (NYSE: CSCO) starts its new fiscal year. Goodwin will stick around as an advisor and a consultant to Cisco’s channel team — even attending the Olympics to meet with partners. But he’s essentially heading off into retirement. So why is Goodwin exiting now, and what are his key thoughts on the state of Cisco and its channel leadership? Here’s an exit interview with Goodwin and The VAR Guy.
The VAR Guy: Why retire now? What did the decision process involve?
Goodwin: “It’s not a spontaneous decision. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of years. When would timing be right? A couple of years ago, things were tightening up in market. I realized I needed to be here to help guide the change. To ensure that change [within Cisco] continued to be supportive of partners and channel strategies. But I also realized we have a strong channel leadership team in place — you know the players: Edison [Peres], Jim [Sherriff], Wendy [Bahr]…
The timing also worked out with [new channel chief] Bruce [Klein]. Things are in a pretty good place in terms of our partners right now. Satisfaction with Cisco is in a good place, partner wallet share is in a good place. We came off the highest-rated Cisco Partner Summit in five years.”
[Side note: Combine those factors with that fact that Goodwin has five grand kids, and he figured now was the time to spend more time with the family — and more time as a cyclist.]
“[Cycling] has been limited to once or twice a week. Now I’ll get more time in the saddle. And I could really use a few golf lessons.”
The VAR Guy: What was it like to step onto the Cisco Partner Summit Stage for a final time, and exit it for a final time?
Goodwin: “It was definitely bittersweet. Exactly six years ago, at the previous San Diego Partner Summit, it was my first time on stage at the event. That was a euphoric feeling; there were thousands of faces that I didn’t know. This last time, I saw a lot of faces that I do know, and a lot of relationships and friendships from over the years. It was a moment for me; I got a little choked up. And at one point, a few people noticed a little hitch in my voice.”
The VAR Guy: Let’s play some word association. For starters: Edison Peres?
Goodwin: “He’s fantastic… in fact, the best channel chief in the industry. A close collaborator and a dear friend.”
The VAR Guy: Your most successful moment or proudest moment?
Goodwin: “That would have to be Partner Summit in Boston — 2008 or 2009, when we launched Navigate to Accelerate. All hell was breaking loose from an economic standpoint. Everyone was impacted. We came together with our partners, we built a lot of trust during that time.”
The VAR Guy: Favorite place to cycle?
Goodwin: “I’m partial to Northern California. I live in the hills of Los Gatos. Hicks loop is a heck of a climb and a great workout.”
The VAR Guy: Wendy Bahr?
Goodwin: “She’s the consummate professional. She’s such a strong leader with the work she’s doing in the marketplace. A leader in terms of how she’s respected in Cisco — a leading woman in the executive ranks. I’ve got huge respect, and she’s a very good friend.”
The VAR Guy: Retirement?
Goodwin: “It’s about the next chapter. It’s not an end. I’m closing one chapter and it’s time to write the next chapter. I’m excited to write the next chapter. It will be different but I’ll stay connected to previous chapters.”
The VAR Guy: Jim Sherriff?
Goodwin: “He and I were laughing last week. We had dinner together. Did a little roast. He and I go back to the old HP days. He’s a do-er. He makes things happen. He’s a hard-charger. He delivers results. He’s a strong leader and one of the clearest communicators that I know. He takes complex strategies and delivers clarity around them. And he’s a great friend.”
The VAR Guy: Your biggest regret at Cisco?
Goodwin: “When I think about the last seven years, I don’t have any specific regrets around direction or strategies or things we’ve launched to align with the partners. Having said that, there’s one regret: There are areas where we could have moved more quickly. In a few cases perhaps we could have more quickly pursued growth opportunities that we identified. Or maybe we addressed challenges or problems, but we could have gotten to the solution a little faster.”
The VAR Guy: Bruce Klein?
Goodwin: “He’s another person I’ve known for years. I knew him at HP, then we lost track of each other and reconnected at Cisco. I’m really excited to have Bruce taking over the leadership role for me. He has a strong reputation within Cisco and in the public sector. He’s a relationship guy and collaborator; a lot like me. And he’s a fantastic listener. He’s highly respected as an executive within Cisco. What he’ll bring to the role is he’s a sales guy and field guy through and through. He knows how things happen in the field. How do we get even closer to partners in the future? Bruce knows how to make that happen. He brings a lot to the party.”
The VAR Guy: John Chambers?
Goodwin: “Partners and the media have had the opportunity to get to know John’s external persona. But they sometimes don’t realize that’s John’s real personality. He’s very active in channel community so people see John; and his leadership; and his vision for the direction of the industry at our conferences. There have been so many cases where he identifies markets in transition — when he has skeptics, but then he turns out right. It’s the dominant success factor at Cisco: John identifies where the market is heading and gets everyone excited and aligned with that direction.
But the secondary point is what you see is what you get. Sometimes people have an external, public persona that’s quite different from who they are in private meetings. That’s not the case with John. He’s real. He genuinely cares.”
Parting Thought From The VAR Guy
Rewind to 2007 or so. The VAR Guy was kicking around ideas for a media company and some new channel brands. The VAR Guy website as you see it did not yet exist. Yet, Cisco PR and Goodwin opened the doors to the networking giant — offering an in-depth briefing to The VAR Guy long before our resident blogger had gained a critical mass of readership.
Thank you for that opportunity, Mr. Goodwin. The VAR Guy will never forget it.