The Changing Channel

Microsoft: Still Crazy After All These Years

Some people might look at the "new" Microsoft and say it's less personal, more corporate. Those people would be wrong.

Many years ago at Citrix Summit, CEO Mark Templeton went onstage and happily announced that Citrix would become a $1 billion company that year. "Say that with me," he extolled the audience, "One-Billion-Dollars!" Almost nobody joined him. After the keynote I met him backstage and asked if he understood why nobody responded. When he indicated that he didn't, I explained: "They have no idea what it means to them."

Five years later Templeton had a journalist friend join him onstage to interview him about what had happened over the past five years. Templeton detailed how he and his management team had worked hard to completely redefine the value proposition for partners. When I met him again after his keynote Templeton said to me, "Five years ago you asked me a question. How did you like my answer?" I embraced him to show my tremendous respect for the man and his extraordinary ability to lead.

This year at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference it looks like Microsoft borrowed a page from Citrix, inviting Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard onstage to interview Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and other execs. While this denied Ballmer the opportunity to do his traditional stalk around the stage, it didn't stop him from screaming everything at the top of his lungs. He beamed with pride at the approximated $690 billion in revenue represented by the Microsoft partners present, and the 10 percent growth of the Microsoft Online Services ranks "per month!"

Jon Roskill, corporate vice president of the Worldwide Partner Group, also borrowed a page from Templeton's playbook, arriving on a bicycle, and speaking from the heart about his two years in the role. While many partners may differ with his read on how well the Microsoft Partner Network has been benefitting them, it was clear that Roskill is committed to achieving growth with the MPN. (See "A Conversation with Microsoft's Channel Chief: BYOD, Cloud and Shifting Partner Roles.")

Recently, there has been a lot of interesting play in the press regarding Microsoft. Vanity Fair ran a scathing article contending that Ballmer has brought the company to the verge of collapse. Indeed, many talented people have left Microsoft in the past few years. The goal of the company used to be singular and clear; it was a license machine. The company did everything it did to increase sales of licenses and the services partners deployed with those licenses.

But since the arrival of COO Kevin Turner, the focus for Microsoft employees has shifted to the green lights on their personal scorecards. Scorecards and stack ranking don't resemble the "hit your numbers" culture that I always saw in Microsoft.

While Microsoft has only been holding annual conferences for 15 years, I've been proud to be a Microsoft partner for 30. My first Microsoft rep, Bruce Chizen, went on to be CEO of Adobe. Back then Microsoft COO John Shirley knew my local rep by name as he knew every rep by name. It was a very personal relationship.

So here we are 30 years later. Much has changed. It is very easy to look at the "new" Microsoft under Turner with his scorecard obsession and say it is a more corporate and less personal set of relationships, but that would be inaccurate.

After I came back from a truly crazy week of celebrating with my friends at the WPC, I sat down to review the recordings of the keynotes in preparation to write this column. While I was watching, an e-mail arrived from Roskill in response to one I had sent thanking him. It was a warm, personal message of friendship, partnership and enthusiasm for a bright future together, not dissimilar from conversations I've shared with people such as Bruce Chizen, John Shirley, Sam Jadallah, Allison Watson, Margo Day and many others across the past three decades.

So I celebrate the many changes you'll read about in future columns, and the constancy of the relationship we partners have enjoyed with our friends at Microsoft over the decades.

More Columns by Howard Cohen:

About the Author

Howard M. Cohen is a consultant to IT vendors and channel partner companies and a board member of the U.S. chapter of the IAMCP. Reach him at


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