Top Gun 51 Profile: IBM’s John Teltsch on Overcoming Channel Challenges
As a 30-year-plus IBM veteran, outgoing global channel chief John Teltsch brought everything he had to the general manager, IBM Partner Ecosystem position, and then some. In fact, not only did he tell us that being the global channel lead is the best job that he’s had with IBM, because it took all of the skills he’s learned in previous channel roles, and jobs across all of the brands – hardware, software, and even in services – but he also said that there was more to learn.
[After two years as the global channel chief, Teltsch was recently appointed general manager, IBM systems sales, leading worldwide sales for the IBM Storage, IBM Cognitive Systems, IBM Z, Lab Services and Technical Sales teams. IBM’s David La Rose is the new channel lead.]
If ever there were a company to work for where change, or transformation, was a constant — it’s IBM. While Ginni Rometty is the latest IBM CEO tasked with turning around the tanker of an organization, Teltsch had a bird’s-eye seat to learn from two additional exemplary leaders — Samuel Palmisano and Louis Gerstner.
We sat down with Teltsch, a Channel Partners/Channel Futures Top Gun 51 award winner, to find out what more a three-decade veteran at IBM could learn, and what makes a next-gen channel leader.
Channel Futures: Why do you think you were picked to lead the channel organization?
John Teltsch: The last four or five jobs I had at IBM have been in roles where we had challenged businesses that we had to transform and modernize, and I built a reputation that that’s what I do — in a manner that’s externally focused. Quite frankly, I think I knew enough about the channel and I knew enough partners – some that I knew for 15-20 years – that were changing their business models and they were frustrated with us because we weren’t changing.
|We recently unveiled our “Top Gun 51,” a list of today’s channel executives who deserve recognition for building and executing programs in a way that drives partner, customer and supplier success.|
I had a sense of what we needed to do but, in all honesty, until I got into this job, I didn’t realize how complex we really were and how challenging we were to do business with. That confirmed, within the first 90 days, that I had the right ideas, but I surely didn’t understand how large of a transformational project and journey that is underway here.
CF: While future next-gen channel leaders may not be stepping into your exact scenario, you have a lot of insight that can be extremely educational. Please share some of the challenges you encountered in your role.
JT: The first one was that our global channel had a significant impact on country performance – on our 30,000 partners – and the dependency of those partners on IBM was much greater than I ever thought. Maybe it was naïve on my part, but I didn’t understand how dependent the IBM company was on the channel and the channel is on IBM — from a hardware point of view, a software point of view.
Another challenge is around simplifying and removing barriers, or how we simplify, eliminate, and consolidate everything about our channel — the contracts, the pricing, the tooling. That was an eye opener for me as a long time IBMer. We have an incredible number of tools and capabilities, but they’re really not connected. I had disparate tools and systems and capabilities – all very positive – but difficult if you’re a global partner, for example.
Part of us going after that next generation of partners – the new partners that don’t want to do business with IBM, which was one of my big missions – is that I needed to simplify and consolidate and eliminate a lot of the internal tools and systems and pricing and algorithms that we had. This is an internal challenge, but it deeply affected and still impacts – and we’re not done – the financial viability of my partners.
So I’m very cognizant of the channel’s dependency on my simplification work.
CF: What were some lessons that you learned as channel chief?
JT: The first thing I’m very proud of, and affected my leadership roots, is that for the first 90 days on the job I …