Microsoft Canada Needs Stability at the Top

Microsoft Canada president Max Long is due to leave at the end of the month

Microsoft Canada president Max Long is due to leave at the end of the month

The wild ride that is the leadership at Microsoft Canada keeps introducing new loops and drops, and it’s enough to have partners screaming that they want off.

CDN broke the news yesterday that channel chief Greg Larnder – just over a year into the job from top solution provider Compugen – is the latest to leave, the latest in a series of upheavals in the company’s channel leadership.

Larnder’s departure comes just as the Dennis Cerasoli is taking over as chief of the company’s small and midsize solutions and partners division, and the ultimate Microsoft Canada partner leader, is arriving, and just weeks before Microsoft Canada president Mark Long is due to depart at the end of the month.

There’s also some instability at the worldwide level, as former Microsoft Canada president Phil Sorgen has been introduced as the company’s new global channel chief, replacing Jon Roskill. And then there’s that whole “who’s the next CEO?” question that promises to hang over Microsoft for the next year or so.

All of this would be nothing but interesting industry gossip and water-cooler fodder were it not for the bigger picture for the software titan, which is in the midst of a radical transition from its previous raison d’etre as a software developer, into a devices and services company. While the hard work of current and past leadership teams at Microsoft Canada and worldwide has helped get a critical mass of partners on board for the services part of that equation – particularly when it comes to embracing the cloud, the company has a lot of work to do when it comes to its devices vision. While it’s started to open the floodgates to partners, questions continue to abound about what channel centricity means to Microsoft the devices and services company, as opposed to the familiar Microsoft, the software company.

The slew of changes at Microsoft Canada are particularly striking in comparison to the kind of leadership stability the subsidiary seemed to enjoy between the time of Eric Gales’ ascension to Microsoft Canada president and his departure from the company last year. Coming into the role, Gales was a familiar figure to partners from his preceding role as head of Microsoft Canada’s SMS&P division. And his replacement in that job, Neil Tanner, rapidly ingratiated himself to the channel with his frankness, and all-in approach to collaboration. Much of Microsoft’s success in getting Canadian partners to embrace its cloud vision must be attributed to Tanner, who seemingly made it his personal mission to get partners on-board for much of 2010, 2011, and 2012. Rounding out the triumvirate was another well-known and well-liked Microsoft Canada figure, Corinne Sharp, heading up the company’s partner relationships. It was clearly one of Canada’s deepest and most respected channel benches.

Fast forward two years, and the replacements for Gales, Tanner, and Sharp are all either gone or on their way out, already replaced or about to be replaced. New SMS&P Cerasoli now finds himself in the unenviable situation of moving into a new role without a clear top lieutenant, and with a general due to ship out back to headquarters at the end of the month. He faces, along with the newly appointed Microsoft Canada president, and whomever they choose as new channel chief, the challenge of making sure partners understand and embrace Microsoft’s radically new strategy while simultaneously trying to establish it’s business as usual in spite of the rapid pace of executive turnover at the subsidiary.

At this point, though, Canadian solution providers are anxious for the wild ride to be over, to establish new relationships with a leadership team that hopefully stick around for a while, and to focus on building their business rather than figuring out who’s next through the revolving door. Microsoft Canada’s new leadership team has to focus on providing stability to a partner base that’s been jostled too much for too long, and at a sensitive time in its relationships with the software giant.