The Final Chapter: Epilogue and Learnings from Hard Deck

The Final Chapter: Epilogue and Learnings from Hard Deck

As I wrote last week, Hard Deck lived on and was adopted by the newly formed HP-Compaq Company. But, as the history of business tells us, leadership changes and programs evolve.

Shortly after the merger, I moved on to a new role as head of World Wide SMB Sales and Programs. Soon after that, our number-one supporter, Carly Fiorina, left HP and my mentor and boss, Adrian Koch, took over Asian Operations.

At my first one-on-one meeting with the new CEO Mark Hurd, it was clear to me that it was time to move on. While a supporter of the channel, Mark was not in favor of Hard Deck for a variety of reasons.

New leaders always bring in their own new ideas and agendas, and I had accomplished what I’d set out to do with our partners, so I knew it was time to move on. I soon left for a CEO role in my beloved New York City. Some of the core team joined me in my new position and many stayed on with HP. A few are still there at HP today.

Hard Deck, together with it’s overarching umbrella program PartnerOne, changed HP’s fortune in the channel in a big way. HP’s channel grew faster than the market, resulting in HP becoming the number one provider to the channel.

So what were the learnings? I won’t bore you, the reader, with axiomatic leadership clichés, but will share the top three lessons I learned from the experience.

Lesson #1 - Mutual Empathy is the Key to a Powerful Channel

The channel is a powerful go to market vehicle that is economically accretive, market share capturing, and end customer satisfying - but that is only if you understand the concept of mutual empathy.

Mutual empathy starts with the manufacturer working really hard to understand the needs of the channel - its economic needs, enablement needs, demand planning needs, supply chain needs, etc. The manufacturer must also understand and limit to the bare minimum non-value added administration, so beloved by finance, legal, and program designers.

Administrative overhead and program complexity eat into margins and frustrates partners, so Channel leadership needs to balance program integrity with empathy to the administrative burden. This controls margin-eating, partner-frustrating behavior, showing empathy for their needs.

When the supplier empathizes with its Channel, the supplier earns the right to ask for reciprocal empathy. Growth, new logos, improvement in customer satisfaction, accessory attach rates, new product launches, etc. are all things the channel is more than willing to help with if they are engaged with a true predictable, empathetic partner.

Lesson #2 - Nothing is More Important than The Team, The Team, The Team

To be honest, I got lucky. To this day, I have never had a more synergistic and powerful team than in the days of Hard Deck.

I only take credit for two things:

  1. First I was introspective and clearly was self aware of my own weaknesses resulting in a proactive recruiting effort to fill those gaps.

  2. Second, I knew when they needed me and, more importantly, when they didn’t. I let them run, and run they did.

In thinking about the build out of the team I am quite proud of the diversity of gender we had. Laura Blackmer, Susan Reynolds, Carrie Maslen, and Donna Waida brought powerful skills and, perhaps more importantly, a superb approach to design and execution.

On the downside, I regret that I did not take a more proactive approach to adding diversity in terms of people of color to the team. We worked hard to accomplish this in the broader organization, but fell short on the leadership team. I have no doubt our work would have been even more profound if we had.

Lesson #3 - Predictability is Essential in a Channel Relationship

While predictability in the cafeteria menu maybe boring, it’s essential in a channel relationship.

I believe now even more than back then that suppliers who understand and build predictability into their channel program will reap the greatest rewards. Here again mutual empathy comes in - what you give, you will get.


On the channel side, there were so many fantastic coaches who showed us the way and convinced us to believe in them. Special shoutout to Tony Ibarguen, who at that time was President of Tech Data. Tony gave me sage advice, encouragement, and, on occasion, a gentle but much needed butt kicking.

On the leadership side, Carly Fiorina and Adrian Koch believed in us. With admirable risk profiles they knew change was needed and they went for it.

On the HP Channel Team my deepest thanks to the following, it was an honor to run with you: Susan Reynolds, Laura Blackmer, Donna Waida, Dave Pansen, Philipe Levy, Mike Coleman, Karen Nunley, Dennis Balmer, Scott Anderson, Elaine Foreman, Liz Vogel, John Ball, Janet McAllister, Marie Chung Ong, Jenn Pointer, and Sandy Laureys.

And special thanks and call out to my friend and business partner of over thirty years, Carrie Maslen. For the dozens of you who have commented that without Carrie the accomplishments would never have materialized, you’re right!

Earlier in this series:

How Channel Partners Can Maximize Vendor Resources (And Their Cash)

How Channel Partners Can Maximize Vendor Resources (And Their Cash)

History of Hard Deck Part II: Enforcement and the Compaq Acquisition

History of Hard Deck Part II: Enforcement and the Compaq Acquisition