New Cisco Channel Chief: Support Partner ‘Momentum,’ Grow ‘Absolutely Critical’ Managed Services

Rodney Clark, arguably best known to solution providers as the former channel chief of Microsoft, tells CRN that he plans to do everything he can to support the momentum that the team already has, while looking ahead to the future and accelerating growth in areas such as managed services.


As incoming Cisco global Channel Chief Rodney Clark prepares to take control of the company’s massive partner ecosystem, he’s already thinking about how he can help solution providers grow.

Clark, who got an early introduction to attendees of the Cisco Partner Summit 2023 last week before he steps in as Cisco’s senior vice president, partnerships and small & medium business in January, told CRN in an interview that he’s eager to start looking at how he can facilitate and accelerate growth for the partner ecosystem.

The path to managed services, for example, Clark said, is “absolutely critical” for Cisco and its partners.

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“[Things like:] ‘How do we connect networking with this opportunity in security? And how do we do more of that?’ [Partners] are looking at us to provide some guidance and direction,” he said.

Clark, perhaps best known to solution providers as the former channel chief of Microsoft, told CRN that his first steps will be to connect to his team and to the partner community, listening to and learning from partners about how the value Cisco brings is resonating with customers.

“And in that process, just being careful to make sure that I’m doing everything I can to support the momentum that that the team has, with our ecosystem delivering on some of the things that you heard [at Partner Summit],” he said.

[Related: Cisco Partner Summit 2023: CEO, Channel Chief Weigh In On Splunk Deal, AI And Channel Culture]

Clark said that there’s unique and noticeable cultural difference between his past channel experiences and his new opportunity with Cisco.

“Partners are genuinely excited to grow with Cisco. The partners are genuinely excited to leverage Cisco’s … capabilities to help them build new capabilities. In the conversations that I’ve had [at Partner Summit], I haven’t had one partner corner me and give me the list of issues. I’ve had partners corner me and give me the list of opportunities to grow, and where and how we can help them. That’s a pretty significant shift and it’s and that that’s my big takeaway … just how genuinely excited this ecosystem is to partner with Cisco,” he said.

Cisco is one vendor that’s been consistent in its commitment to the channel, according to Steve Wylie, senior vice president and general manager, East Majors for Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider and Cisco partner Trace3. With Cisco’s former channel chief Oliver Tuszik having a hand in helping to bring in Clark, Wylie is optimistic about the company’s new channel chief.

“When meeting with Cisco executives, every one of them are asking the right questions, like: ‘What can we do to improve your experience and improve your profitability? What concerns do you have about programs and our portfolio?’ And so, I’m thinking [Clark] will approach it in the same way,” Wylie said.

“We do need the advocate in [Clark] to go and fight for the channel and I have no reason to think that he won’t – he’s a channel guy,” he added.

Drawing From Past Channel Experience

Clark is no stranger to the channel. He’s joining the San Jose, Calif.-based tech giant from industrial machinery manufacturer Johnson Controls, where he has served as the company’s chief commercial officer since June 2022. Prior to that, Clark spent more than 24 years at Microsoft where he held a variety of positions, including most recently corporate vice president of global channel sales and channel chief.

During his tenure as Microsoft’s channel chief, the company rolled out a partner program change that proved to be controversial with some partners. The New Commerce Experience, or NCE, became the only way that solution providers could transact new Microsoft business in March 2022. NCE resulted in solution providers making technical changes to how they connect to Microsoft services and resulted in some providers taking on longer contract durations with customers, potentially leaving providers to pay out a Microsoft commitment if the customer went out of business. Clark left Microsoft in May 2022.

“I can’t comment on the past, and I’ll let the folks at Microsoft comment on the steps and stages they went through. My focus is on making sure that this notion of being a partner-first company, is felt by every single partner that we touch,” Clark said.

One Cisco partner that spoke to CRN under the condition of anonymity said that despite the somewhat unpopular Microsoft program change, Clark had a strong reputation in the channel and looked forward to him taking over.

“I hope, and I have to imagine that [Clark] wants to come in and build on the big successes that [Oliver Tuszik, former channel chief] has had with this program,” the partner said.

Clark is picking up the channel chief mantel from Tuszik, who sat in the channel chief seat for five years until he moved to his new role leading Cisco EMEA as president in August.

The difference between Cisco and many other vendors, said Tuszik, is that Cisco communicates any partner program changes early and plans alongside partners for any changes so there are no surprises.

“The big problem with Microsoft was [that] they made [the changes] a big surprise to everybody. ‘Hey, everything’s changing. Who cares about your investments?’“ Tuszik said. “You heard us talking about building up a new incentive engine that addresses the needs [of partners], this will happen over the next few months. We’re talking closely with the partners who are focused on long term profitability. And for this, you need to be able to plan in a world that doesn’t allow us to plan. That’s what creates the stickiness. That’s our guiding principle and has never changed. We integrate [partners] in every activity. All the announcements we’re doing; they’re not surprises.”

In his new role as senior vice president, partnerships and small and medium business, Clark will report to Cisco Executive Vice President and Chief Customer and Partner Officer Jeff Sharritts.

Sharritts at Partner Summit said that one of the reasons that Cisco is putting Clark in the channel chief seat was because of Cisco’s legacy of more than 27 years of working with partners around the world.

“[Clark] understood that [legacy], because he knows a lot of those partners. He has a true appreciation for what we’ve done with our ecosystem and so I think he’s excited to embrace that past,” Sharritts said. “But then also, how do we extend that into the future? Because we do need to change, we needed to continue to evolve and transform as well.”