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New CenturyLink Channel Chief, Former Unify GM, Talks IT, Partner Opportunities

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Edward GatelyJohn DeLozier, the new CenturyLink Channel Alliance vice president, wants partners of all types to feel welcome as it repositions to appeal to IT shops juggling a growing number of public and private cloud resources.

CenturyLink's John DeLozierDeLozier previously was general manager of channel for the Americas for Unify, where he built the company’s channel organization. He now leads CenturyLink’s business and technology partner program, which entails overseeing the development and execution of strategic sales and partner plans, and defining new go-to-market models with third-party partners such as SIs, MSPs and software companies.

In May, when Bill Corbin began serving as CenturyLink’s senior vice president of strategic partnerships and channel operations, his first order of business was hiring a new Channel Alliance VP. Blake Wetzel (a member of Channel Partners’ Circle of Excellence) vacated the position to take a similar one at Rackspace.

“Blake was the face of the channel for CenturyLink,” Corbin said at the time. “I’ll be looking for experience and knowledge, and a knowledge of the partner base. I also want somebody who’s going to think outside the box on not only how we service our existing partners, but how we attract net new partners to the business so that we can continue the growth that we’re on.”

DeLozier founded and ran ACT, a system-integration company focusing on UCC and call center implementations. He also held senior positions in distribution and multinational channels leadership at Arrow Electronics and Cross Telecom.{ad}

In a Q&A with Channel Partners, DeLozier talks about joining CenturyLink in the midst of transition and how partner input will play a major role in his plans moving forward.

Channel Partners: Why did you want to leave Unify and join CenturyLink in this position?

John DeLozier: You always want to be running to something and not away from something, so it really wasn’t about Unify. It really was about CenturyLink and I looked at a couple of things. No. 1, first and foremost, is the recognition of the brand, and the reputation of CenturyLink is just incredible. People associate the name and the brand with excellence. It’s very known. No. 2, I believe … that the service provider, specifically CenturyLink, is the train tracks for technology. Everything is riding on network and us, and as we get more advanced from …

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… the basics of the stack all the way up into colocation, cloud, etc., it all stops and starts with the service provider. So I think things are collapsing that way and I wanted to be there. And the last thing and the most important thing, is the people.

CP: In May, Bill Corbin said Blake Wetzel was the face of the channel for CenturyLink. What does becoming that face mean to you?

JD: It means a lot that Bill would have the faith in me to put me in that position. It comes with a lot of responsibility because I am the representative of the channel partner – many, many channel partners and many, many families – throughout the United States. So when it comes to their families, their income, the ability to do business effectively and ultimately family vacations, I impact that. That’s pretty important, so it means a lot because it comes with a lot, and I’m humbled by it and excited by it, and inspired by it.{ad}

CP: CenturyLink is repositioning to appeal to IT shops trying to manage an increasing number of public and private cloud resources. With that in mind, what will be your role in terms of partner and channel strategy going forward?

JD: No. 1, there’s a place for everybody here at CenturyLink. We have partners that specialize in MPLS and basic network services that are foundational at the lower end of the stack, and those partners are welcome here. We’re excited about that … that keeps the lights on and keeps the businesses running. However, there’s this movement now in our industry to solve this CapEx vs. OpEx, on-premises vs. cloud puzzle, and I think the service provider is very well positioned to help make that a reality through education around managed IT services, hosted cloud, colocation, those kinds of things; educating their partners to move up that stack because, as we know, when we move more into the OpEx space, it’s way more profitable. So my role specifically in that will be to continue to enable and educate the partner community around those things. And so we’ll pay a lot of attention to that as we move forward.

CP: Do you see new market opportunities for CenturyLink and its partners, such as in the midmarket?

JD: Absolutely. I grew up in a Centrex childhood. Literally, where I’m from, in rural Ohio, we not only had Centrex, we had a party line, so we literally had a person come out from the phone company and deliver our handset to us, and we subscribed to their services; we didn’t have to do anything except pick up the phone and make a call. We didn’t even have to pick out the phone. It’s incredible to me how history repeats itself. Now it’s more sophisticated and the technology has grown, and there are different things that we have now that we didn’t have then that we can take advantage of. But it’s really just Centrex on steroids, isn’t it? And so some of the small businesses and even midsize companies don’t want to …

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… worry about it anymore. They don’t want the hassle. They don’t want to hire a staff, they don’t want to worry about the technology, and so they’re subscribing to things like cloud services and hosted opportunity, colocation even, to take advantage of those things and not have the responsibility and have that worry. So we’re going to lead that charge in the SMB space.  

CP: What were the biggest challenges you faced as Unify’s global channel chief? Are those different than the challenges/issues you will be dealing with as CenturyLink’s channel chief?

JD: They’re very different. With Unify, first of all, the role was global. Now CenturyLink does have a global footprint, albeit it very small, but specifically my responsibilities are the North American community and keeping the North American channel not only on pace to the tremendous growth that we’ve seen currently from my predecessors, etc., but definitely to open up new spaces and new markets. So the challenge will be to continue to fortify the programs and the partners that we have while bringing in new partnerships and new programs, and attacking the new technologies that are really U.S. specific. So it’s a little bit of a different place than before.

CP: What do you think of CenturyLink’s current partner program? Are there things you like/dislike? Are changes in order?

JD: There are things that I love, not just like. My predecessors did a good job of building this foundation here that took care of the marketplace in a certain way for a certain amount of time. So lots of those things, we won’t fix it if it’s not broken. That being said, the opportunity to build on those things, and to attack new spaces and new markets with new opportunity is incredible. As long as this business continues to change at the rapid rate that it does daily, there will always be opportunities for that. I’m most excited about the new stuff, the new places that we can take the program, not just from a policy perspective, but from a technology perspective, and open up new opportunities for partners.{ad}

CP: Have you received feedback from partners yet? Have they brought up issues they want you to address?

JD: After I got into the door and figured out where the coffee machine was, I went into our database and pulled up the list of our top 20 partners. I wanted to talk to them and wanted to get to know them. Today is the beginning of week four, so in the first three weeks, I’ve spoken to our top 40 partners, and got to know not only their ownership, I’ve talked to some of their sales executives, etc. And as you can imagine, any company with any partner program no matter where it is, there are …

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… things that the partners like and there are things that they dislike. And typically it’s not the same partner to partner. So you’ve got to really understand and get to know the mentality of each partnership and where they want to play. They’re all entrepreneurs, so they’re very vocal about the things they like, some of the things they’d like to see change, and that’s all taken into account as we move forward with my agenda.

CP: In the short term, what do you most want to accomplish?

JD: CenturyLink has been on a nice growth line, so we don’t want to disrupt that. We want to continue the value when it comes to sales. We want to continue the incredible growth that we’ve seen in the marketplace. And behind that in the first year, I want to look at all of the programmatics that the partners are adhering to and I want to make sure that all partners are not addressed the same. What I mean by that is we want to reward for the things that are important to CenturyLink, and those partners that help us accomplish those things will be rewarded handsomely. It doesn’t mean we turn off the spigot on other stuff. It may mean that, but it more than likely won’t. It just means that we take it up a notch on the things that we want to accomplish.{ad}

CP: Where do you see CenturyLink’s partner strategy and program in three to five years?

JD: I see it, first of all, from a volume perspective, the dollars and cents side, a lot bigger than it is even today. And I see a different mix of partners. We’re seeing everything from partners that want to provide simple services around the network, which is tremendous, to partners that want to get into the managed IT stack, cloud services, colocation, those kinds of things. And so I see a lot more advanced services partners as we get into the new space over the next few years. And I think it will be a lot stronger financially.


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