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Q&A: Blake Wetzel on Why He Left CenturyLink, Rackspace Channel Plans

Blake Wetzel

Edward GatelyBlake Wetzel has barely been on the job for a week as Rackspace’s new channel chief and he’s already been inundated with feedback from organizations anxious to forge new partnerships.

Wetzel, a member of the Channel Partners Circle of Excellence, formerly was vice president of CenturyLink Channel Alliance. Prior to that, he held numerous positions with Qwest Communications before it merged with CenturyLink in April 2011.

He spent the last seven years in indirect channels, and played a key role in expanding CenturyLink’s indirect sales, partner program and partner ecosystem.

Wetzel replaced Iain Urquhart, who is now Oracle’s group vice president of North America Applications Division – channels and alliances.

As Rackspace’s vice president of channels, Wetzel will be responsible for all indirect channels, including its agent and distributor programs, its VARs, alliances and strategic alliances, and SI relationships. He reports to Alex Pinchev, Rackspace’s president of global sales and marketing.

In a Q&A with Channel Partners, Wetzel talks about why he left CenturyLink, his plans to accelerate Rackspace and the buzz he’s created among partners.{ad}

Channel Partners: What made you want to leave CenturyLink and switch to Rackspace?

Blake Wetzel: No. 1, I’ve always been very impressed in the market with what Rackspace was doing … definitely the vision of the orchestration across multiple clouds and the migration of IT services to hybrid clouds. I felt that Rackspace was probably the best-positioned company in the industry to be able to support that.

The other thing is really the culture. It’s a phenomenal culture of embracing aggressive go to market and fanatical support of the customer. Through my entire career, I’ve had one fundamental principle, which is: You have to support your customers in an incredible way and there’s no place better than Rackspace with “Fanatical Support.” And now that I’ve been here a week, you can definitely tell it is not a marketing discussion, it is fundamentally the core of everything that every “Racker” has — the fanatical support around their customers. And that is just an extremely attractive place to be. Being in any market where you’re trying to support customers, and you’re trying to help them advance and really work through the myriad of options in this kind of ever-changing IT world, working for a company that not only focuses and has a vision across the entire hybrid IT stack, but also understands how to support customers through that difficult transition, that’s a place I wanted to be.

CP: Was it tough leaving CenturyLink after so long?

BW: It was …

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… tough. I left a very good group of people, a great number of partners that will not only stay as business associates, but as friends. But when I was approached about the opportunity – there were very few companies that I would ever contemplate leaving what we built at CenturyLink – and Rackspace was on a very, very short list of those companies. So when Rackspace approached me, it was a very easy decision … I really felt a good comfort level doing that.   

CP: How is this position different than your previous role?

BW: I will have more of a global tint here at Rackspace. They’ve empowered me to not only focus on the United States and North America, but on the global front. The real difference is the approach that Rackspace has as a unified company in owning alliances and strategic alliances. They truly want this to be unified across the entire corporation, a very unified approach, which is extremely comfortable for where I want to be and the strategy that I feel we need to take, and the best way to build alliances. So that’s the major difference, No. 1, really having that global front to be able to support partners across the globe, especially as the globe continues to shrink. And even the small and medium-size enterprises that are actually reaching a global footprint, that’s going to be a very positive area, and really this construct of how the culture of Rackspace is going to really enable strong, deep partnerships across alliances.{ad}

CP: You were instrumental in expanding CenturyLink’s indirect sales, partner program and partner ecosystem. What are your thoughts on Rackspace’s current partner program and ecosystem? Are changes in order?

BW: There will be changes. I think there’s a great foundation at Rackspace. I hope to bring the expertise that I developed at CenturyLink in my seven years there and working with all different types of partners. I think the building blocks are here, we just need to get a little bit more focused and a little bit more disciplined about how we go, and really doing some evolution around some business outcomes for customers, and making sure that our solutions and that our partners know the way that Rackspace can support the customers in delivering that. It’s just a minor tweak that we need to go do, and we’ll do some enhancements to the program. There [are] obviously lots of areas, there [are] lots of companies in the indirect world that you can align with partners, so we’re going to find the right partners, and we’re going to really put a good focus of building the right platform for them and for Rackspace to grow together. 

CP: Have you received much partner feedback since joining Rackspace? What are they saying to you? Are there things they like/dislike about Rackspace’s partner program?

BW: I have been inundated with feedback from …

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… the partner community across every segment of the business: the distributors, the VAR community, the SI community and the agent community. Last night, I think I received 150 LinkedIn comments alone, and my cellphone has been very active from communities, not just organizations that are working with Rackspace, but the predominance are going to be organizations that aren’t working with Rackspace today who respect what Rackspace is doing, know the position that Rackspace has, and want to develop a partnership with Rackspace.

The feedback really hasn’t been about the program itself. It’s really the excitement and energy around the future, and what could be the solutions that Rackspace brings to market and making those available to all different types of communities, because everyone is going to have a different perspective of how they’re going to support their customers, and how Rackspace and the partners can actually team to do that. 

CP: With you on board, what can we expect to see in terms of Rackspace’s partner strategy?

BW: It’s probably a little too early; we’re still developing that. That’s where my first few weeks are going to be, kind of developing the strategy and what the future looks like. But I will tell you just in general, in my first week being able to see the solutions, the approach to customers, it’s going to be a very exciting time for our partner communities. Rackspace will bring not only a set of technologies, but a different approach to customers that I have not seen in the IT world in a while around supporting customers and helping them through that transition that I believe the partner community has been looking for, for a very long time. It’s a tough transition, whether it’s the transition of the enterprise and the end customers to the hybrid environment and how to really manage across the multiple cloud platforms … and enabling the partners to actually make that transition, too. Whether it’s a VAR into a services-based model, or an agent elevating the conversation to … the C-suite. Rackspace has the ability to be able to deliver and execute like I’ve seen no one else in the industry, and that’s going to be a phenomenal opportunity. 

CP: What do you hope to have accomplished in your first year with Rackspace?

BW: I really hope to accelerate the organization, to get the foundations put in place to start seeing the success, and to bring the Rackspace story to the bigger community. There are thousands and thousands of companies that I have worked with over the last seven years that I’ve been in indirect channels, and they are really looking for the relationship. So in my first year, I want to …

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… build out the robust practice areas, the specific practice areas that we are going to have, I want to make sure that they are, both from a technology solution and operations perspective, as effective as we can possibly be so we can actually start seeing that scale. As we develop that throughout the first year, we’ll start looking at the next areas of solutions that the partner community will bring to us and say, “Our customers are asking for this now; can you do that?” And then working back with the technology teams at Rackspace to say, “Is that something we can do?” — whether it’s on a technology basis or on a support basis.

The other thing … is Rackspace has a great position in the technology arena that I don’t believe a lot of the indirect organizations actually understand. OpenStack is a great example. It’s extremely important to understand that, and I don’t believe in my conversations that the indirect world is actually understanding and really grasping what the power of OpenStack is. And that will be a very powerful transition and education for them. And I hope to be part of that.  

CP: What are the biggest issues facing Rackspace? What role will you play in addressing those issues?

BW: The first big issue I’ve seen is just the lack of awareness. There’s an awareness gap of all of the organizations across the entire spectrum of what Rackspace can bring. Everyone knows the reputation that Rackspace brings, which is an incredible Fanatical Support of the customers and a great technology platform. But they know that from the industry analysts and the short, little briefs. What we hope to do is bring greater depth of that knowledge in the very early stages. So that awareness has to be worked on very quickly.


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