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Lenovo NA Channel Chief Sammy Kinlaw Resigns

Rob Cato
Rob Cato
Lexmark Channel Chief Sammy Kinlaw

Lenovo North America Channel Chief Sammy Kinlaw has resigned to pursue an opportunity outside of the PC and hardware giant, a spokesperson has confirmed to ChannelE2E. Rob Cato will be interim NA Channel Chief, the hardware giant has confirmed.

Updated January 10, 2018: Kinlaw is joining Lexmark, the printer giant has confirmed.

Cato has plenty of partner experience. A lifetime IBM and Lenovo employee, Cato has focused specifically on channel engagements along with vertical market sectors like healthcare and public sector.

Kinlaw's departure from Lenovo, effective January 19, comes at a key time for the company -- which is trying to stabilize its PC business while building a stronger data center business. Kinlaw has a strong reputation as a channel advocate, and during much of his time at Lenovo the company enjoyed strong partner momentum. That partner commitment always surfaced at the annual Lenovo Accelerate conference, where Kinlaw's blend of humor and strategy kept VARs and resellers engaged and focused.

Lenovo: Data Center Challenges

Still, the past year for Lenovo has been challenging on multiple fronts. Renewed competition from HP Inc. on the desktop and in the notebook sector squeezed Lenovo's PC business. And in the data center, Lenovo has struggled to compete against Dell EMC, HP Enterprise and Cisco Systems, among others.

Lenovo has built multiple data center partnerships with companies like Nutanix, Red Hat and SAP. But rivals have countered with outright hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) acquisitions or in-house R&D. For instance, Cisco acquired Springpath and HP Enterprise acquired SimpliVity. Public cloud services like Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform have also pressured the SMB server market -- where Lenovo has been hoping to gain momentum.

The depth of Lenovo’s challenges surfaced in August 2017, when the company issued a surprisingly bad earnings report. By October 2017 the company cut about 2 percent of its workforce — or about 1,000 of its estimated 52,000 team members. Despite the cuts, the company has said that a long-term strategy across mobile, PC, data center and big data technologies is sound.

Lenovo also shook up its partner program by eliminating certification requirements, but the company also took some heat for “slashing back-end payments, spiffs and program discounts in its $30 billion PC business in a series of moves that partners say will dramatically cut profit margins and ultimately result in them shifting business to competitors like HP Inc. and Dell Technologies,” CRN reported in October.

Lenovo Partner Program & Recurring Revenues

Among the additional challenges facing Lenovo: Transitioning from product-centric CapEx sales to some sort of recurring revenue model for partners. The company tested MSP-centric server initiatives nearly a decade ago, but Lenovo hasn't made much noise overall when it comes to assisting partners with managed services and recurring revenue models. Rivals such as HP, meanwhile, have aggressively pushed device as a service programs.

No doubt, Lenovo hopes to drive a partner program rebound during the company's Accelerate 2018 conference in May. The company also is attending this week's CES conference in Las Vegas. We'll update this story as additional details emerge.

Joe Panettieri

Joe Panettieri is co-founder & editorial director of MSSP Alert and ChannelE2E, the two leading news & analysis sites for managed service providers in the cybersecurity market.