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Exit Interview: Cisco Worldwide Partner chief Keith Goodwin

Keith Goodwin retires as head of Cisco's Worldwide Partner Organization after a seven year run

When the marketplace judges Keith Goodwin’s performance at the top of Cisco’s channel business they should look to November of 2008 and an initiative called Navigate to Accelerate. If you recall the economy was in the toilet. Everyone in business, let alone IT, was cutting back. Goodwin along with Cisco channel chief Edison Peres took a page from former Intel Chairman and CEO Andrew Grove and decided to invest during the downtime instead of cutting back.

The Navigate to Accelerate initiative was not a blank cheque but a tactical plan to help solution providers with cash flow, credit lines and accounts receivables. For example, Cisco waived channel audits for partners in good standing. Cisco stopped forcing channel partners to buy demo equipment. This initiative did two things: it gave the channel a break during a tough time and it created momentum for Cisco coming out of the recession.

Goodwin talked about this moment of triumph during his career at Cisco along with many other things. Goodwin is retiring from the IT industry at the end of this fiscal quarter. He is currently at the London Olympic Games hosting channel partners. It will be his last public appearance before Bruce Klein officially takes over his position. Goodwin took some time to talk to CDN about his career at Cisco. The following is an edited transcript.

CDN Now: Why do you want to retire?

Keith Goodwin: My world is changing and it’s kind of nice to be able to do things that I could not for many years. It’s all about timing and I’ve reached that time in my life when you retire. I have been thinking about retirement but when is the right time? I put some thought into it over the last few years. To be honest, it’s a gut feeling but I think the time is right. The leadership team is in place and we have some strong leaders and some others will take on more responsibility. We are also in a good place with partners in terms of driving the market transitions. We have great partner loyalty, wallet-share and investment. On the personal side I have five grand kids and I want to spend more time with them. I will now have more time for biking and I will do some other fun things.

CDN Now: Is there something outside of your business career that you still want to do or accomplish?

K.G.: The one question that I often get is: ‘I’m I really retiring or come back to a full time role or go someplace else?’ The short answer is no. I will retire. I will stay connected to the industry. I am also looking at the potential of joining boards. The one thing I do is guest teach at one of the universities in the Bay area and I would like to spend more time doing that. It energizes me and I might do some selective consulting or coaching. But I will not over commit myself.

CDN Now: Do you have a personal highlight from your time at Cisco?

K.G.: It is hard to come up with one in my seven years. I’ve had lots of highlights internally and with partners. I would say the 2008 economic crisis and how we came together with partners to double down investment in each other when we launched Navigate to Accelerate initiative. I told them we would be in it with them during these tough times. The economic crisis was startling. We never saw anything like that before. With Navigate to Accelerate we saw an increase in partner investment and came out of it stronger and because it was tough it forged a much deeper relationship with channel partners. It also built a better trust level that is unprecedented in the industry today. I’m proud of that. I’m also proud of the company for recognizing the value for the partner’s investment during a time when there was a lot of pressure put on the Partner Organization to cut costs. I was told many a time that no one was investing and Cisco shouldn’t either. But I am proud of that time and we could not have pulled it off without the partner’s faith in Cisco.

CDN Now: What’s been the most difficult time while at the Worldwide Partner Organization?

K.G.: It’s the same; the 2008 economic crisis. Those were difficult and challenging times. As an executive you remember more of the difficult times and how you came out of those positively than the good times. There was tremendous pressure in Cisco and every other major company in the world to cut and reduce investment. I had to do a lot of internal selling to get the company to recognize this was the time to increase investment. We also needed to understand from the partners what that investment was going to look like. What were the priorities to navigate the storm? There was lots of internal debate and we challenged each other. In the end, we looked at a broad set of opportunities and what would give us the most impact.

CDN Now: What’s it like to work with and report to John Chambers?

K.G.: What can you say about our long term CEO who’s been at the helm for a number of years that hasn’t already been said? John is a dynamic leader and a strong leader. He is a visionary. He is the one who often identifies these new market transitions. He is able to energize the whole company and channel partners around those new opportunities. I have huge respect for him. John is a partnering guy and a relationship oriented guy. We partner for life and the channel is an extension of the Cisco family. All of that resonates well with partners and for me one of the highlights of my career was to work with a leader like John Chambers.

CDN Now: What can you tell me about Bruce Klein; the man who will be replacing you?

K.G.: Bruce is someone I have known for number years from our HP days. I got to know him back east when we were calling on Mobil Oil. I spent a lot of time with him back then and I walked away thinking this guy has huge potential. He is going somewhere. And, 20 plus years later Bruce is now my successor. All those things I observed in him at HP such as his strong leadership abilities, the way he articulates the strategy, how he is able to rally people around a decision, being a people person, strong collaboration skills, he is a good listener and his partner style will relate very well to the team and the channel. He has great business experience and public sector experience too. Everything we do at Cisco has to have a deep relationship with partners and Bruce knows how to engage the Cisco field team and the platforms to drive closer relationships with the partner base. He has a great passion for that.

CDN Now: You came at a time when most of the heavy lifting in terms of the partner strategy and program was done. What are the more significant additions in your mind to the channel program that you made?

K.G.: When I came in the role the volume to value model was changed and VIP was starting to be operational. Those tough decisions were already made and the first few years were just about focusing the team on operating most of the strategy. The key program we announced clearly was going to be impactful, but what about the consistency? In those first few years I think back to the offers-based approach we had and tried to move away from traditional resale and embrace MSPs and others with an outsourcing practice. Clearly that was a big one for partners and later on we announced few additions for collaboration, social media and the extension and expansion of the VIP plan for telephony and the broader suite of collaboration technology from video to Webex. It was about executing from a business standpoint with partners. The big one was how we lead solution providers over several years through the collaboration market transition along with data centre virtualization. We also got out in front of the cloud and mobility opportunity as well.