Dell EMC's senior vice president of global channel has it in her DNA to be a contender.

Lynn Haber

September 11, 2018

6 Min Read
Take the challenge

IT history was in the making in early October 2015. Dell had announced its plan to acquire EMC. Pundits and financial analysts endlessly dissected the then-record-breaking $67 billion deal while industry talking heads tossed around adjectives like “ambitious” and “risky.”


Dell EMC’s Cheryl Cook

But for the channel chiefs involved, Dell’s Cheryl Cook and EMC’s Gregg Ambulous, this deal was personal.

Who would ultimately head up the Dell EMC channel organization? That remained a mystery for eight months. Finally, in July 2016, Marius Hass, then the newly appointed president and chief commerce officer of Dell EMC, penned an open letter to channel partners saying John Byrne was the man for the job.

“I was very optimistic about what the merger might bring, but personally, our roles changed,” Cook told Channel Partners, reflecting on that time. John Byrne came in to run sales. Did it feel great? Maybe not.”

Unexpected twists and turns are inevitable in any long executive career, especially in IT. Cook has spent 25 years in the channel and IT trends and today heads up Dell EMC’s global channel marketing group, an organization she helped build.

We asked Cook what lesson she took away from that transition.

“Take a chance, be flexible and take the challenge — go for it,” she said. “I embraced the opportunity to contribute, give back and make a difference. I’m still very influential in strategy, and I’m loving marketing.”

That message is particularly relevant for women in tech, who routinely undersell their abilities compared with male peers. It’s no surprise that the oft-quoted statistic that men apply for a job when they meet only 60 percent of the job qualifications whereas women apply only if they meet 100 percent of them comes from a Hewlett Packard internal report.

Cook’s seen some major changes in the tech landscape. Prior to Dell EMC, she spent 12 years at Sun Microsystems during the “dot-com to the dot-bomb” tumult.

“Those were challenging business circumstances, and to be fair, there weren’t many managers who had a recipe book or playbook to navigate through some of that,” she said. “I was bringing recommendations to management, such as let’s change contracts, let’s change where we were going at the time. You had Cisco writing off a lot of inventory because the market just crashed, but Sun didn’t do that.”

Instead, Sun had to get creative.

“I’d say there was self-doubt for sure in some of the recommendations because nobody knew what was going to work,” Cook said.

Clearly, more of her ideas worked than not, because by the end of her tenure at Sun in 2010, Cook was senior vice president of global accounts and industries. “Professionally that was one of the more challenging times and it wasn’t always pleasant, but in the end, I probably took away the most learning from that experience,” she said.

STEM Drive

The oldest of three daughters, Cook had a champion early on in life — her father, a NASA engineer and scientist who worked on all of the Apollo missions.

“He told me that I could do anything I wanted to,” she said.

It didn’t hurt that Cook is admittedly …

… competitive and had a knack for math and science. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, one of the few women in her class in the early 1980s.

“I was always stimulated by a challenge, and I liked problem solving and building new teams,” she said. “Pretty quickly it became evident, although I might not have been aware early on, that those were my strengths.”

Cook says she escaped many of the negative experiences that women in male-dominated fields still experience. In fact, she said she was fortunate to have some “pretty fair” bosses who put her in results-oriented positions and judged based on outcomes. “Results matter,” she said.

Indeed. It also helps to be a collaborator and a communicator and willing to advocate for yourself and your staff.

“You have to be able to stand up for yourself — not in a confrontational or adversarial way, but in a confident way,” Cook said. “It was always about the team.”

For a number of years, Cook’s been using those talents to advance women in technology and the next generation of workers. She’s a leader in the Dell Women in Action group and a new Dell EMC Women’s Partner Network and an active member of the Dell Women’s Entrepreneurial Network, which is spearheaded by Karen Quintos, executive vice president and chief customer officer at Dell.

Cook was fortunate enough to be mentored along her career journey and so is now giving back. She speaks both to groups within the Dell organization and externally, pulling together women as she travels the globe for work, which is about 60 percent of the time.

“There’s networking, mentoring and career coaching — helping younger girls, career women, as well as people early in their career,” she said. “I’m motivated by making sure that you’re giving back as much as you’re getting.”

When it comes to young women and STEM, there’s work to do to make a technology career more relevant as opposed to, say, medicine. That means doing a better job educating young women about how technology drives business outcomes, particularly in vertical industries, where they can identify real-world positive outcomes for people.

And, we must continue to get inspired by other people’s stories.

“There are amazing, bright and capable women in this industry and it’s all about connecting to one another and helping others,” Cook said.

There are articles galore about the dearth of women candidates for IT jobs, and an equal number about the inability to retain female talent. Cook sees that reality: Finding female candidates is difficult. Senior women must be active in advocating for the channel, and the tech sector as a whole.

“I think we have a shared responsibility — along with all my male colleagues — to do our very best to …

… hold ourselves accountable to get good, inclusive, diverse candidate lists so that we’re giving people opportunities to step into these roles,” she said.

Firms need to challenge their talent acquisition teams, revisit internal referrals and, when looking at external candidates, make sure that those lists are broad and representative to help open up and create new opportunities.

Leading in this time of monumental change in the tech sector can be both stimulating and exhausting — and there’s no sign we’re slowing down, given digital transformation. “The pace is like nothing we’ve seen before,” Cook said. “It can be invigorating, stimulating and overwhelming. I tell my colleagues to stay focused on their priorities, helping their team, the customers and partners.”

Leaders at channel organizations should think about doing the same. But remember, you need enough fuel in the engine to address the dizzying pace of change in the industry — and that’s all about work/life balance. Give yourself permission to be flexible; to Cook, that means taking the time for important events and being willing to work longer hours on another day.

“My motto is, I can live with guilt but not regret,” Cook said. You can’t be everywhere all the time, but you also don’t want to miss life’s important moments.

“Make judgment calls, and the rest will fall in line.”

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About the Author(s)

Lynn Haber

Content Director Lynn Haber follows channel news from partners, vendors, distributors and industry watchers. If I miss some coverage, don’t hesitate to email me and pass it along. Always up for chatting with partners. Say hi if you see me at a conference!

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