Building on a career with Microsoft that spans over 20 years, Rodney Clark has recently succeeded Gavriella Schuster in the role of corporate vice president (CVP) of channel sales and channel chief at Microsoft. Despite his short time in the role, Clark has great ambitions for what he will accomplish in the coming years.
Tell us a little about your background with Microsoft and how your work to date has prepared you for the challenges that lie ahead.
I am thrilled to be taking on this role and it’s been my dream job for quite a while now. I’ve been with Microsoft for 23 years and have held several different roles including sales, marketing, business development, mergers and acquisitions, and – for the last six years – building our internet of things (IoT) and mixed reality business. The common thread is that those roles have required close proximity to our partner ecosystem and the channel.
I’ve been engaged and involved in the partner business for more than 15 years, with some of our largest independent software vendors, original equipment manufacturers and working alongside past and present channel leaders like Nick Parker, Jon Roskill, Allison Watson and Gavriella Schuster, which has given me a front row seat to how we’ve navigated the challenges, opportunities, changes and growth. Beyond that, I believe my experience with managing and driving technical businesses like IoT and mixed reality provides a unique perspective as we see customers requiring new skills and depths from our ecosystem.
My previous roles and tenure at Microsoft have provided me with a deep understanding of our partners and the ecosystem as a whole, and I am deeply invested in putting in the work to continue helping our partners drive growth and success.
You assumed the role at an interesting time. Where is Microsoft most able to have a positive impact on new ways of working and delivering services?
The distinction here is that while we are on the road to recovery, the way we work, live and do business is forever changed. Organisations and infrastructures have evolved over the past 18 months, accelerating their pace of digital transformation, and Microsoft’s partners are in a unique position to use our platforms and technology to help their customers continue to navigate this new world.
In terms of areas where we can make the most impact, it all starts with the Microsoft cloud, which provides fast time-to-value, purposeful integration and an open platform for partners and customers to innovate. Stemming from our most recent announcements at Inspire, Windows 365, Microsoft Industry Clouds, our commercial marketplaces, and our new integrations with Teams are all top of mind as areas of opportunity. Our partners can integrate and build on top of these new offerings and product categories like Viva or Cloud PC to create industry-specific apps, data sources and solutions that allow customers to accelerate their digital transformation journeys and do business more efficiently.
You have just delivered your first global partner gathering for Microsoft Inspire, which was held as a digital event for the second time. How did it feel to be at the helm of an event as significant as this and how does the virtual format compare?
It’s been a whirlwind few months in this new role and Inspire was such a highlight to be a part of, especially having the opportunity to celebrate our Partner of the Year Award winners and particularly the winners of our new social impact category. In so many ways, our partners are pioneering the way forward. While nothing beats sitting next to each other, a handshake or sidebar conversations, the virtual format does grant us the chance to reach a much larger and international group of partners that previously wouldn’t be able to attend. I’m excited for when we can do in-person events again, and think we’ll continue to leverage this digital format in some capacity to ensure we’re connecting with as many partners as possible.
Your previous role as CVP for IoT and mixed reality sales clearly gave you a strong insight into two key areas of the Microsoft business. As you transition into this broader channel sales position, how important do you feel these two themes will be?
IoT and mixed reality are two growth areas I see for the channel. Customers want to connect entire environments to optimise productivity, operations and security. Our partners are building industry-specific solutions to accelerate opportunities like worker safety and automation, retail data and analytics. We’re also seeing increased innovation through connected environments that leverage digital twins, mixed reality and autonomous systems. These areas are both great examples of how partners can benefit from Microsoft’s unique and end-to-end technology stack from intelligent cloud to intelligent edge, meaning cloud and devices.
Partners obviously sit at the centre of this new role. Now that you’ve had an opportunity to lead your colleagues through this year’s Inspire, how do you view the partner ecosystem at large and where would you say the real value of partner solutions will come to the fore in this new financial year?
At Microsoft, our partners have always been critical to our business, influencing more than 95 per cent of our commercial revenue. They are at the centre of how we deliver technologies and business transformation to customers, and we are constantly working to equip them with the most innovative technologies, tools and solutions in the industry to help them drive growth and profitability.
As we look forward, there are four areas where I see the value of our partner solutions making a strong impact.
The first is cloud migration. Partners have an unmatched opportunity to build and serve every customer need when it comes to the cloud, especially given the remaining runway for migrating workloads. From infrastructure to business applications, data and artificial intelligence (AI), productivity and communications, the opportunities are limitless.
The second is security, compliance and identity. When it comes to cybersecurity, the threat landscape has never been more complex or challenging and is a growing concern for customers. Partners have the opportunity to leverage Microsoft’s security and compliance offerings to help organisations extend protection to all data, devices, identities, platforms and clouds.
Business applications is another area of value. With growing emphasis on hybrid work and improving the employee experience, Microsoft 365 will continue to see incredible growth. We are also seeing significant momentum with Dynamics 365 and Power Platform, as partners continue to help customers build apps and streamline workflows.
Finally, industry solutions. Partners have depth on industries and are well positioned to leverage our platforms and tools to develop rich industry-specific solutions to meet customer needs. We see partners leveraging our industry cloud approach to speed their time to market and ability to create repeatable solutions.
In October 2020, Satya Nadella spoke at some length about the need to support inclusive economic opportunity whilst also committing to a sustainable future. In your opinion, where have those journeys taken Microsoft?
As Nadella mentioned, we have a responsibility to ensure the technology we build benefits everyone on the planet, and over the past year we’ve made strides to continue pushing this forward.
We have ambitious sustainability goals and are working closely with our customers and partners to drive change using technology such as Microsoft Azure, Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365, Power BI, Power Platform, data and AI. Of note, we announced Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability at Inspire this year, a new cloud offering that enables organisations to record, report and reduce their emissions on a path to net zero.
You may have also seen some of our incredible partner solutions that we’ve highlighted as part of our #BuildFor2030 initiative in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. We’ve showcased close to 200 solutions in our marketplace from partners leading the way, driving greater gender equality, accessibility, sustainability and empowering non-profits and communities. And we’re working on extending this effort with an upcoming #BuildFor2030 Hackathon to drive more awareness with our ecosystem and solution development for greater social and environmental impact.
Zeroing in on empowering communities specifically, we’ve launched the Microsoft Black and African American Partner Growth Initiative, which is designed to support Black and African American technology firms and entrepreneurs, as well as other programmes that support small businesses, which many of our partners fall into.
These are just a few examples of the extensive work going on behind the scenes. From our perspective at Microsoft, purpose builds trust and unlocks new opportunities for growth. I know we’ll be doubling down in the coming year to ensure we’re creating lasting impact.
Your LinkedIn profile describes you as an ‘avid cyclist, music nut and hockey coach’. How much time are you getting to spend out on your bike or on the ice right now, and what are your top tips for balancing work and home at a time when boundaries traditionally separating the two have become somewhat less well-defined?
I get as much time on my bike as possible! I like to ride in the morning before I start my working day as a way to clear my head and get my energy going. I make sure to take time off during the year to recharge. In fact, I’m just coming off a few weeks of vacation where I spent time with my family and logged lots of hours on my bike. As I mentioned earlier, the channel chief role has been in my sights for several years, so I’m thrilled to be in it and excited about the opportunity to drive growth with our partners. That too gives me lots of energy.
This article was originally published in the Autumn 2021 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.