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Meet Microsoft's New No. 2 in the Channel

The Microsoft Worldwide Partner Group's new No. 2 may be new to WPG and to most Microsoft partners, but it's not Gavriella Schuster's first time building programs for the Microsoft channel.

Microsoft global channel chief Phil Sorgen named Schuster in May to the newly created role of general manager of Worldwide Partner Programs. The job combines the titles held by two formerly high-ranking and long-serving Microsoft partner executives -- Julie Bennani, general manager of the Microsoft Partner Network, and Karl Noakes, senior director of Worldwide Partner Marketing and Communications. After a brief transition period, both Bennani and Noakes left Microsoft, according to their LinkedIn profiles.

"If you looked at the organization previously, I had one person on my leadership team who did design, strategy and design and program development [Bennani] and then I had another person who did marketing, comms and brand," Sorgen said in an interview at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) last month. "My view, and the change I made, was to bring that together. I wanted single ownership from strategy and design program to comms, marketing and brand for the program. That's the net of what we did."

Asked what it was about Schuster that made her the pick for the job, Sorgen cited her broad experience in various areas of Microsoft over a 19-year career.

"She's a seasoned Microsoft veteran whose done a lot of things at Microsoft, from product group to subsidiary marketing to subsidiary sales to partner group to licensing and programs. So when you look at diversity of background across the areas that are important at Microsoft, she has a pretty deep set of experiences," he said.

Some of that experience includes stints in the Server and Cloud business, the Windows Client Commercial business, enterprise services, licensing sales and marketing and training.

For many partners, Schuster's polished, main-stage keynote at WPC to announce the forthcoming cloud competencies was their first introduction to her.

"Partners have already given me a ton of feedback. They took me very literally. I've got LinkedIn e-mails and lots of cards and people telling me, 'I live in MPN, I can tell you all the things you need to do.'"

Gavriella Schuster, General Manager, Worldwide Partner Programs, Microsoft

In an interview at WPC, Schuster explained that joining the Partner Group is a return of sorts to her Microsoft roots. She was hired in 1995 by former senior Microsoft executive Rick Devenuti to create global standards for the Solution Provider programs being run by Microsoft's dozens of subsidiaries.

"The only thing that was worldwide about it was the name," Schuster joked as she recalled the role. "Everybody called them Solution Provider. We had 39 marketing managers around the world who all had a spreadsheet of their partners. What was happening was that we had global partners like Dell or HP who were saying, 'Look, Microsoft, I don't want to go to 39 marketing managers around the world to say "make me a partner." Do something!' And so they hired me in to figure out what that means."

Over several months, Schuster interviewed country and regional marketing managers, asking how they qualified partners, what they offered those partners as benefits and what they did to enable partners.

"I had these whole spreadsheets of all these countries, and then I sat down and said, 'OK, if I was going to do something globally, what would I do that could be consistent and then what do I say is still for you to do locally?'" The process led to early versions of things that would later become staples of the Microsoft Partner Program and later the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN).

"That's how we started with certifications in the first place," Schuster said. "We don't know customers, so locally you're responsible for doing customer references, so you have to call and make sure and then you just tell us."

"Then we said, 'What do we have to offer,' and everyone was doing different things for partners. What do we have to offer partners that could be consistent? And then we said, 'Well, we can offer them support and products, that's what we do.' That's how we came up with IURs [internal use rights] and support. That was just the beginning of the program. A lot of that took on a life of its own. I did it for about two years in the beginning and then I moved on," she said.

Since starting the new job in WPG, she's been getting her arms around the role and reaching out to partners on the phone and with in-person meetings to keep her ideas for the MPN and marketing grounded in partner realities.

"Partners have already given me a ton of feedback. They took me very literally. I've got LinkedIn e-mails and lots of cards and people telling me, 'I live in MPN, I can tell you all the things you need to do,'" she said.

One of her first big tasks is ironing out final details on the new cloud competencies that she described for partners at WPC -- Small and Midmarket Cloud Solutions, Cloud Platform and Cloud Productivity. She'll need to shepherd those competencies to their debut on Sept. 29. Then she'll be working on hammering out details for a fourth cloud competency covering CRM Online, which is scheduled to come online sometime during Microsoft's current fiscal year.

Another overarching goal for Schuster is what she calls rationalizing the benefits and requirements of the MPN. "We have really had a lot of benefits and requirements that have been set very much at the product level. What I want to do is I want to start to rationalize that. In and of itself, every product manager that comes to talk to you about it -- it sounds simple. But when you have 10 or 15 or 30 products that all have something slightly different, it's not simple at all," Schuster said. "Part of what I'm going to be working on over the next year is to really take a look at what we are trying to achieve and whether we can we come to some standardization. Is there one way of looking at this? Are there three?"

Her experience in the licensing group will be a model, she said. It used to be that similar products were licensed in completely different ways. "We basically said look, really there's seven models of the way that we license and every product has to fall in one of these seven. We're not making little exceptions here and little exceptions there because at the end of the day they start to conflict with each other," Schuster said. "I think that that's the kind of rationalization that my team is going to go through in that journey over the next 12 months is to say, OK, I understand how some of this might have occurred, but we have to simplify it to come back to something rational."

In any event, Schuster joins the partner group at an interesting time -- when many of the old ways that Microsoft and its partners did business together are up for renegotiation.

"It's great to be able to come full circle and take a look at it now, and say, 'Now what do you do? What's the next iteration with the cloud?'"

Posted by Scott Bekker on August 20, 2014