Former Microsoft Canada Head Named Channel Chief

Phil Sorgen, new worldwide channel chief at Microsoft

Phil Sorgen, new worldwide channel chief at Microsoft

Microsoft Thursday announced a surprise channel chief change, announcing that effective Sunday, former Microsoft Canada president Phil Sorgen will supplant Jon Roskill as corporate vice president of the company’s worldwide partner group.

Sorgen led Microsoft Canada between late 2005 and mid-2009, at which time he headed back to Redmond for a variety of roles, culminating in a stint heading up Microsoft’s Small and Midsize Solutions and Partners (SMS&P) division for the U.S., effectively making him the company’s U.S. channel chief.

In a statement announcing the leadership change, worldwide SMS&P chief Vahe Torossian said Sorgen’s background, including his work on “multiple global initiatives that have shaped the worldwide SMS&P business and partner strategies” at Microsoft made him an ideal candidate for the job.

“Phil’s rich leadership experience in working with our customers and partners in the United States and Canada makes him an ideal fit to help our partners drive new opportunities as Microsoft transforms into a company delivering devices and high-value cloud services,” Torossian said.

Microsoft wasn’t clear what Roskill’s next move is, although it appears from a blog post announcing the leadership change that he’s staying with Microsoft.

“My plan is to return to my roots of product development and take all the great insights I gained from my time with our partners and use them to create even more partner opportunity,” Roskill wrote.

While many partner initially found Roskill dry after years of high-profile, high-energy channel leadership from Alison Watson, Roskill won the channel over with his own brand of quiet enthusiasm and penchant for sharing both rationale for moves and the supporting data behind them. He took over as Microsoft’s channel chief at the very beginning of the company’s journey towards the cloud, and deserves credit for the programs that have taken Microsoft’s traditionally license-focused channel partners towards the cloud. Last month at the company’s Worldwide Partner Conference, Roskill shared results of an IDC study that showed that the company’s cloud-focused partners were more profitable and faster growing than their laggard peers.

“Throughout my tenure we’ve unveiled new programs, tools, resources and sales incentives to help partners embrace the industry’s transformation to the cloud, and though we still have more work to do, I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made,” Roskill wrote in his message to partners.

Now Sorgen takes the helm as that shift continues, and intensifies down Microsoft’s new “devices and services” strategy. Perhaps his first great challenge heading up the company’s worldwide channel is to map the Microsoft Partner Network to the new strategy. While the transition towards services, particularly cloud services, has gone fairly well, Microsoft has found it harder to get its channel involved in its devices business. One of the company’s key “devices” offerings, the Xbox gaming line, is clearly not in the business-to-business channel territory, and its other major devices offering, its Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets, have been the stuff of much spilled ink by the channel press and chagrin from partners. To succeed in that transformation, Sorgen will not only have to ease partners rankled by almost two years of Surface snubs to date, but will have to convince a senior leadership team that seems to be embracing an Apple-style owned-retail approach to its devices offerings.

“Partners have been core to Microsoft for more than 35 years and will be critical to this transformation,” Sorgen said in a Q&A Microsoft posted Thursday afternoon. “My focus within the Worldwide Partner Group (WPG) will be to ensure this company vision is enabled in concert with the channel. I am committed to that goal.”

Sorgen also faces challenges when it comes to channel conflict. Despite the company’s size, and the fact that the vast majority of its revenues are derived through partners of various types, Microsoft came in next-to-worst in The 2112’s Group study of vendor channel conflict issues earlier this year.