Partners: Craig Schlagbaum Made Comcast 'Consistent'Partners: Craig Schlagbaum Made Comcast Channel 'Consistent'
With the architect of the Comcast Business technology advisor program set to leave the business, channel partners weighed in on his legacy and that of his team.
November 15, 2023
Partners shared surprise, concern and nostalgia over the impending departure of Craig Schlagbaum from the Comcast Business partner program.
Comcast Business earlier this week initiated a reduction in force (RIF) that will impact “hundreds” of workers. A notable impact will come to the indirect sales operations team that Scott Mull led. The RIF will impact Mull and reportedly “unbundle” some of Comcast Business’ channel-dedicated operations resources, according to a partner who requested to not be named.
Comcast's Craig Schlagbaum
“It’s the end of an era. This RIF will make a large impact on a great channel program, and we will all have to work together to ensure future success,” said Jed Kenzy, Innovative Business Solutions co-founder and a Comcast partner.
Schlagbaum, the 13-year leader of Comcast’s channel program is retiring at the end of this year. Matthew Fassnacht, national vice president at Comcast Business Enterprise Solutions, will helm the program in conjunction with Schlagbaum’s boss Terry Connell, senior vice president of sales and sales operations.
Multiple partners told Channel Futures that channel-impacting restructurings like this one commonly happen at large corporate entities like Comcast. But they also remarked that they’re grateful for the consistency Schlagbaum and other Comcast Business partner program leaders have provided.
“Craig built a great channel program that we could count on to be consistent, unlike other programs where there have been wild swings in their channel programs. We’ve seen examples of situations where providers have love-hate relationships with the channel and the pendulum can swing in the blink of an eye from friendly to hostile,” IQ Wired CEO Darcee Nelan told Channel Futures. “I hope that the tenants of the program that Craig has built remain intact.”
Comcast Business Partner Program: Origins
Schlagbaum joined Comcast Business in 2011 after a six-year stint at Level 3 Communications. The company in 2011 announced the launch of its National Solutions Provider Program and its initial TSD agreements with Intelisys, Telarus and TBI. According to Khali Henderson's reporting for Channel Futures at the time, Comcast had started a referral partner program the year prior but was only offering one-time compensation. And at the time, the list of multiple-system operators (MSOs) running partner programs with evergreen commissions was rare, according to former Intelisys president Jay Bradley remembers.
Capteon's Jay Bradley
“We have been marketing ourselves to Comcast for a number of years to get on their radar. Not a whole lot happened other than that we just continued to stay in front of them, because we knew the opportunity would be huge,” Bradley told Channel Futures. “And then when Craig came in in the channel, he was the right guy at the right time, and the program was born. Craig did a great job in building an excellent channel program for Comcast.”
Bradley said TSDs – then known as master agents – went through a major pivot with their agent partners in embracing cableco services. Such a move brought a significant opportunity and a potential barrier for partners.
On one hand, partners saw an opportunity to sell a household name like Comcast to business customers.
“It was relatively easy to get customers to use Comcast because they understood what size company they were and they felt confident in the Comcast network and connectivity services they would offer,” he said.
On the other hand, partners would need to adjust to a pricing model that varied significantly from local exchange carrier (LEC) services.
“This new national brand was going to impact some of your existing base because Comcast services were more affordable,” Bradley said. “But at the same time, what we told partners was 'Look, just sell more of it?' Yes, on a per-megabit basis, it's going to be a little bit less than what you're used to selling today. But customers' appetite for bandwidth is insatiable.”
The relationship with Comcast ultimately “changed our business,” Bradley said.
“It became a huge piece of our mix of product and service and a profitable piece. It took a long time to learn it, to understand how to provision and make sure commissions are correct and all the things you do as a TSD. But over the course of the nine years that I was there watching our cable program grow, I've got to hand it to Craig and Terry and their whole team.”
Kenzy credits the Comcast Business partner program for “a good deal of our success” at Innovative Business Solutions. He said the vendor played a educating and enabling the Colorado-based partner to sell cable services. Innovative ultimately signed a direct agreement with Comcast Business, and Kenzy would and co-founder Mike Trede would go on to launch the serviceability platform Cablefinder in 2019.
“As we made the transition from being CLEC-focused to cable, Comcast Business was one of the first to take a chance on us,” Kenzy said. “At that time, we did not know what an impact that Cablefinder would make on the channel as a whole, and I am thankful for Craig, Cary [Tengler], Dalyn [Wertz], Mull and the entire channel team.
'I Always Knew Where I Stood'
Multiple partners highlighted Schlagbaum’s job of mediating between a large corporate entity like Comcast Business and the then-small agent channel.
“Craig skillfully balanced Comcast's interests with those of his channel partners, ensuring that both parties benefited from the relationship,” Bridgepointe Technologies CEO Scott Evars told Channel Futures. “His commitment to fair and transparent dealings earned him the respect and trust of his partners and stakeholders at Comcast.”
Amplix's Joe DeStefano
Amplix CEO Joe DeStefano said Schlagbaum also knows how to walk that line between partners and his channel team.
“I always remember Craig listening to both sides of the story. Always defending his team obviously, but he would listen to what you had to say. And then he would bring the information back, decipher what it meant and be very fair. He was always very fair. Working with Craig at Comcast, I always knew where I stood,” said DeStefano, who first met Schlagbaum while working at Presidio more than a decade and a half ago.
DeStefano also called Comcast Business vice president of indirect sales operations Scott Mull “invaluable,” noting the role Mull played in escalations.
“If we ever got in a pinch with a customer install or an outage, I could always pick the phone up and call Scott on his cell phone to get the problem fixed, no matter what time of day. And he knew when I called it was important,” DeStefano said. “And I didn't want to abuse that, because he’s a very busy guy.”
Bradley also credited Terry Connell for his sponsorship of the channel.
“Terry got it too. And he had a huge bucket of responsibility - not just the channel, but many other types of programs within the Comcast world. He was a big supporter of how Craig built out the program, because he also saw the possibilities," Bradley said.
Evars credited Schlagbaum for his job in promoting joint opportunities between channel partners and direct sellers at Comcast.
“In recent years, Craig recognized the potential of channel integration in the enterprise space and championed its adoption,” Evars said. “His foresight and perseverance have contributed to the success of this initiative, streamlining processes, and enhancing communication between the channel and the enterprise.”
Evars added that he has engaged with interim successor Matthew Fassnacht on multiple channel integrated opportunities.
“Given Matt’s experience leading the enterprise side of the direct business, I would expect him to continue to prioritize channel integration and foster strong relationships with channel partners,” Evars said. “His expertise and understanding of the enterprise landscape will be valuable assets in further developing the program.”
Kenzy gave a shoutout to people across the Comcast Business partner program who gave Innovative a sense of consistency.
“You knew how to get things done because you knew exactly who the players were, because we'd worked with them for a decade,” Kenzy said.
With reported changes coming to the indirect sales operations, Kenzy said the restructuring may prompt lead to “long-needed” automation at Comcast Business and the larger the connectivity industry.
“It is expected for a large corporate enterprise to be combining resources across different departments that have similar job functions. I do have some concerns about how that will impact the channel. Mull and organization were dedicated to this group and understood the nuances and challenges that we have in the channel organization,” Kenzy said. “It's not that they can't be successful if they're not dedicated to the channel. Others do it this way as well. I hope that that the new operational leadership understands who we are as a channel and what what's necessary for us to succeed together.”
About the Author(s)
You May Also Like