Musical management chairs

Management change in the IT channel is notoriously more volatile at vendor level than within the partner community.

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By  Andrew Seymour Published  June 15, 2008

Management change in the IT channel is notoriously more volatile at vendor level than it is within the partner community. That's the way it always has been and there is nothing to suggest the pattern is going to be disturbed just yet.

Take a look at the senior management history of the ten largest distributors or resellers during the past three years and I guarantee you it will make for pretty brief reading compared to the comings and goings that preoccupy events in the vendor landscape.

There is a straightforward explanation for this. Broadly speaking, channel companies tend to be family-owned businesses or enterprises that are run by the same people that founded them. Reporting lines are typically fewer and there is not as much of a ‘do or die' culture when it comes to short-term performance targets. This leads to the type of affinity that just isn't conceivable in the larger organisational framework of a vendor corporation where the rate of attrition is much higher.

Without getting dragged into all the underlying politics, it has always struck me as incredibly ironic that in an industry where success heavily depends on the bond between manufacturer and reseller there are such noticeable differences when it comes to management stability.

Unfortunately for resellers that crave some constancy from the vendors they work with, the rate of change seems to be more proliferated of late. There is no single reason for this, but I firmly believe it has to be taken in context with the development of the Middle East market and the unique challenges facing each vendor's regional business.

On the one hand we are seeing a change of guard take place when the current management has taken the operation as far as they can. Although it's more than likely that the individual will have set up the local office and established a satisfactory runrate of business, it is often clear that a new pair of hands is the only solution to drive the company to the next level.

Alternatively, it could be that the policies and practices that the existing management has used to grow the business are no longer allowed to persist. As the Middle East becomes a larger part of everyone's revenue, EMEA HQs are starting to closely scrutinise the way that business is conducted and managed in the region to ensure they satisfy the corporate standards they are obliged to adhere to.

Then of course, we must simply allow for the fact that some executives wish to leave their current positions in pursuit of new challenges elsewhere for career or financial reasons. This is perfectly understandable.

But whatever the rationale may be, change at the top always means an interesting time for the channel as partners wait to see what the next dynasty will offer. McAfee resellers will no doubt be anxious to find out who replaces long-serving regional director Patrick Hayati after his surprise departure following a number of years at the helm. The same goes for 3Com and AMD - other vendors that have parted company with senior managers in recent weeks.

I'm sure 3Com dealers will be intrigued to hear what new Middle East general manager Mahmoud El-Ali has to promise after former chief Hamed Diab barely lasted a year in the hotseat despite revealing bold plans for the company when he took over. AMD's Gautam Srivastava held his post for a similarly short period of time and with no signs yet that the chip vendor is any closer to naming a replacement, local AMD partners will be wondering what the future holds.

The real issue here is that although senior management change is part and parcel of life in the market, vendors need to handle it in a way that minimises disruption to the channel. If regular games of musical chairs are absolutely necessary, or simply unavoidable, then it is also vital that an effective succession strategy is in place. Just ask Logitech partners who claim the lack of a swift replacement since the departure of regional chief Ahmed Khalil has harmed business.

Make no mistake about it, distributors and resellers want stability and consistency. They get fed up of general managers waltzing in, declaring dramatic plans for growth and then disappearing out the back door a year later only for the whole routine to start again.

To be honest, there is probably a wider topic on vendor recruitment strategies here, but all that matters for the channel is that they see some coherence because it is impossible to develop and execute business plans on unstable ground. As much as vendors are unable to avert certain personnel changes, there is still a level of chopping and changing that is self-enforced. Unless the transition is managed properly it can cause more turbulence in the channel than many vendors give credit for.

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