SAN FRANCISCO — The first rule in priming for a massive change is appointing the appropriate leaders who can best meet the organization’s future goals. Endpoint security firm Sophos Ltd. has just checked off that box by naming channel vet Michael Valentine as senior vice president of worldwide sales, appointed to lead global channel and sales teams.
The move, announced at the RSA Conference 2013 here this week, might initially have been jarring to some in the channel community. Valentine, often perceived to be synonymous with unified threat management firm Fortinet Inc., had been the channel face of the company since he came on board in 2007.
However, Valentine was a likely a top candidate for Sophos for a lot of reasons – among them were his extensive network security experience coupled with demonstrated ability to align and grow channels.
Valentine started his career at Panasonic, but got his feet wet in networking security channels by holding senior roles WatchGuard, Inc. as well as SonicWall, now under the auspices of parent company Dell Inc.
But where Valentine truly made a name for himself was Fortinet. Most notably Valentine made his mark by expanding Fortinet’s sales and reach, putting it on the map as a fair, profitable, and easy-to-work with channel company that garnered the firm strong respect within the partner community. During his tenure with the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company, Valentine more than doubled channel revenue from $200 million to more than $500 million by the end of 2012.
Some of Valentine’s biggest accomplishments at the UTM firm included expanding its North American distribution network, signing on more than 700 new Americas partners and growing the internal channel team by more than 80 percent — accomplishments that ultimately paved the way for its 2009 IPO.
And it’s possible that Sophos is vying to do the same.
The endpoint security firm expanded into the UTM space with the acquisition of Astaro in 2011. Since then, Sophos has made concerted efforts to revamp its channel in way that combines elements of the two programs, while attempting to bring more Astaro partners into the fold with new training, certification and incentives.
Sophos is still gaining credibility in the UTM space, although, perhaps ironically, faces stiff competition from Fortinet and other better established players. However, the UTM element provided by Astaro gives Sophos partners a bit of a leg up over competitors, with the ability to simultaneously supply both networking and endpoint security solutions for its mid-market and SMB customer base, which would prevent customers from looking elsewhere to satisfy those demands.
However, the company has faced mounting challenges in reconciling its high-touch software sales model with Astaro’s more independent channel model.
And that’s likely where Valentine’s channel acumen will come in. With a proven track record of channel expansion under his belt, Valentine might be just what Sophos needs to align both programs into a streamlined and profitable revenue engine. That in turn, will enable the company to further stretch its channel resources to identify new business and generate new revenue opportunities that will set the stage for future growth.
In light of Valentine’s history, which included overseeing a successful IPO, it’s possible that Sophos is laying the foundation to follow suit. But regardless, it’s likely that Sophos is looking to reconcile silo’d channels and accelerate growth via an empowered channel. To what end will become more clear over the next year.
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