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Howard Cohen Steps Down as New York IAMCP President

After six years as president of the New York chapter of the International Association of Microsoft Channel Partners (IAMCP), Howard Cohen has stepped down, citing term limits. Taking his place is Debra Pfundstein, a former Microsoft partner account manager and now a business development manager at Software One.

At last week's New York chapter meeting, Cohen received a sendoff celebration, where various members honored him for his role in boosting the profile of IAMCP. One of Cohen's contributions and rallying cries was that partners should team up with other partners, either formally or by referral.

Relationships made through IAMCP should be a key enabler of partnering opportunities, Cohen has often asserted. "Partners partnering with Microsoft, partners partnering with other vendors, partners partnering with business resources that help them run better business -- that's our agenda, and that's what our members told us was valuable to them," Cohen said in a speech after receiving several plaques.

At his first meeting back in 2005, only 12 people were in attendance, Cohen recalled. His first order of business was to make the meetings more relevant to partners. For example, he brought in a human resources attorney, a benefits consultant and a financial counselor to discuss topics relevant to partners. He also brought in key Microsoft execs to discuss partner programs and other issues.

"It wasn't death by PowerPoint. It was real people talking about real ways to get something done," Cohen told me. "We all go to a lot of meetings that are just a pitch or many pitches, and there was no pitching going on."

Cohen is well-known for his connections within the partner community and within Microsoft itself. He often helps partners find other partners to work together. Shawn Ezhaghi of Prime Retail Solutions in New York recalls a case when he needed a partner with SQL Server and Access expertise and Cohen connected him with several potential candidates.

"Howard has been very influential in putting partners in touch with other partners for any kind of resources they need," Ezhaghi said. "I've reached out to him a couple of times and he was very fast and efficient in getting back to me and I've seen him do the same for others, where he would put out notices when a partner is looking for a skill set that another partner might have."

Among numerous noteworthy events during his tenure, Cohen recalled an appearance two years ago by Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner, who gave a brief presentation and took questions from members. One member asked about the cloud. Cohen said Turner's response was ironic.

"He said, 'Look, we're no happier about this cloud thing than you are. What do you think we prefer to do, sell shrink-wrapped software for a nice hefty price or charge a couple of bucks a month for a subscription?' Looking back a few years later, I think his perspective has changed an awful lot. Microsoft is nothing but the cloud. That early presentation was very interesting," Cohen said.

In a more recent appearance by Vahé Torossian, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Worldwide Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partners (SMS&P) group, Cohen remembered the executive warning partners the risk of ignoring the cloud.

"Someone said, 'Why should I be motivated to sell one of your cloud services?' And Torossian said to him, 'Because if you don't, within four years you will become irrelevant.' I remember the reaction in the room. Everyone just stopped breathing. It sounded like the nastiest, toughest thing from a very gentle man," Cohen said.

"He then said, 'Don't think I'm trying to be a tough guy, I'm not. That's the reason Microsoft is going all in with the cloud, because we know the value proposition is undeniable. And if we don't do it, someone else will and we will become irrelevant. So I recommend to you that you think the right way.'"

Cohen is known to speak loudly on behalf of the partner community and he has done so on numerous occasions, leading up to the rollout to the Microsoft Partner Network (MPN), which put some onerous requirements on smaller partners. Cohen believes the IAMCP played a key role in convincing Microsoft to give partners an extra year to fulfill their MPN requirements.

Though a key advocate of Microsoft's partner community, Cohen also will be remembered for his efforts with the annual Toys for Tots campaign, where every year he would rally members to attend a morning meeting at Microsoft's New York office and then march to Toys "R" Us in Times Square to donate toys for families who can't afford them.

"I think sometimes you need to stop and remember that there are those that are less fortunate and you need to take care of them," Cohen said. "I am proud to be part of a community that does that. It's the most rewarding way I ever started my holiday season, and I look forward to it this year."

Pfundstein, Cohen's successor, said she hopes to follow in his footsteps and work with other local chapters in the northeast region. "I have big shoes to fill," she said. "He may be retiring but if he thinks he's out of this, he's out of his bloody mind."

Cohen said he will continue to attend IAMCP meetings and advise the organization. "I'll still be here participating," he said.

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on October 26, 2011 at 11:59 AM