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Cisco Channel Might Focus on Strategy Changes as ‘Legend’ Bahr Departs

Strategy

… a significant shift. The launch of Cisco’s DNA Center signals a move from its traditional networking model to a software-defined, API-centric infrastructure.

Does that mean new blood is needed from outside the company, or will a senior executive in Cisco’s channel organization, such as Rick Snyder, SVP for the company’s Americas Partner Organization, get the nod? While Clancy believes there’s a good chance someone could be promoted, it will likely depend on what the trend line looks like in Cisco’s 2018 annual report.

“Just basing my opinions on the 2017 annual report, I can say that certainly the past few years have had some troubling signs like shrinking top-line revenue and less earnings per share,” he said.

Gerri Elliot, Cisco’s executive VP and chief sales and marketing officer, will likely have a say in that decision. Elliot, Bahr’s boss, who came on board in April, is a seasoned tech executive who has served in leadership positions at IBM, Microsoft and Juniper Networks. The company said it’s not commenting beyond the statement it has issued.

Bahr’s 18-Year Run

Nonetheless, Bahr’s move comes with Cisco’s fortunes on the rise. Shares are up approximately 50 percent over the past year. Much of that credit of course goes to moves made by CEO Chuck Robbins, who analysts have praised for how he restructured the company’s engineering team, and stepping more aggressively into software-defined networking, cloud and application-centric infrastructure.

Bahr’s stewardship of Cisco’s channel has played a key role in how the company was held as a model for best practices in partnering. Bahr took over as senior vice president of the global partner organization after Bruce Klein’s short tenure. She followed in the footsteps of several Cisco channel chiefs who faced a variety of challenges throughout their tenures. For early Cisco chiefs, keeping up with runaway sales growth, massive product shortages and other channel initiatives dominated their focus.

After the dot-com bust in 2000, just when Bahr arrived after a decade at Verizon, Cisco’s channel leaders were consumed with reducing a bloated channel inventory, rampant price and margin erosion and, in some cases, partner insolvency. Then there was a near revolt of 2005.

At the time, many Cisco partners were losing money on the sale of Cisco goods. To buttress their margins, some turned to the gray market seeking to boost profits. Others vowed to walk away from Cisco altogether.

That’s when then-Cisco channel chief Paul Mountford approached the company’s executive management with an outlandish idea that few believed would get a green light. Mountford, who is now CEO of Riverbed, asked for more than $1 billion to be used specifically to give to partners after the sale of products.

The bold move was critical, Mounford pleaded, because the Cisco channel was in revolt. Recognizing that the channel was a strategic component of the company’s go-to-market strategy (it still accounts more than 85 percent of the company’s business) Cisco’s board of directors approved Mountford’s request for channel incentive funds — even though the money took directly from Cisco’s bottom line.

Instead of bouncing from opportunity to crisis and back, subsequent Cisco channel chiefs tried to stabilize the company’s programs over time. They invested more in …

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