Ex-Microsoft Canada boss Phil Sorgen to replace Jon Roskill as Microsoft channel chief

Phil Sorgen,
Worldwide Channel Chief

Microsoft has announced the appointment of Phil Sorgen as corporate vice president of the company’s Worldwide Partner Group – better known as the company’s worldwide channel chief. He will take over from Jon Roskill, who has had the job the past three years, on September 1.


Sorgen, a long-time Microsoft vet who joined the company in 1996 as an account rep and worked his way up the ranks, had run Microsoft’s U.S. Small and Midmarket Solutions and Partners (SMS&P) Group, since July 2009.  Before this position, he had been president of Microsoft Canada since late 2005.


“Phil’s rich leadership experience in working with our customers and partners in the United States and Canada makes him an ideal fit to help our partners drive new opportunities as Microsoft transforms into a company delivering devices and high-value cloud services,” said Vahe Torossian, corporate vice president of worldwide SMS&P, in a statement. Sorgen will report to Torossian in his new role.


No new role was immediately announced for Roskill, who had been channel chief for three years – and four WPCs. It’s common practice at Microsoft to rotate senior executives, and Roskill intimated in a blog posting Thursday that he is remaining with Microsoft.


“My plan is to return to my roots of product development and take all the great insights I gained from my time with our partners and use them to create even more partner opportunity,” Roskill posted.


When he took the channel chief job three years ago, Roskill had big shoes to fill. He had come from marketing and switched positions with Allison Watson, who had been channel chief for a long time, and had been very popular among partners. Roskill’s style was not as outgoing either. Still, he seemed to have won over most partners, who saw him as an effective voice on their behalf, even as Microsoft occasionally took less than channel-friendly paths to market with products like Office 365 (which was soon reversed) and Surface (stay tuned on that one). Under Roskill, the channel has done particularly well in climbing into the cloud with Microsoft.


Roskill was always very popular with the media – and for the same reasons that I think he appealed to partners. He was straightforward, relatively jargon-free, and if he didn’t know something you wanted, he did his best to find it out for you.


So what about the new guy? During his time at Microsoft Canada Sorgen was popular with partners, and the Canadian subsidiary did well in the years that he ran it. While other factors could certainly have played a role, things did not go as well after he left.  A  Microsoft blog posting in a Q&A format with Sorgen does not really provide much insight on what he might do. He emphasized the importance of the channel to Microsoft – but in this role, that’s table stakes. His job is to be a strong advocate for the channel.


Michelle Warren, Principal Analyst at Toronto-based MW Research & Consulting, is positive about the likelihood of  Sorgen being able to fulfill his new role effectively.


“His experience is largely on the North American markets, so he will need key market intelligence regarding international markets, as well as changes within the North American scene,” Warren said. “He will also have to harness the strength, skills and experience of Microsoft’s regional sales and partner managers.”


Warren thinks that that recent history of anti-channel moves is something that Sorgen needs to confront to be successful.


“A key challenge that he faces is delivering channel-friendly products and services,” she said. “I’m not sure how much success he’s going to have in doing that. But he has to take that to a new level, so that the company has more channel-friendly products and services.”


A persistent recent rumor is that Ballmer has been a prime advocate of Microsoft taking its new device products like Surface direct, so his imminent departure may – if the rumor is true – make Sorgen’s job easier.


“The timing of his new position coincides with the upcoming CEO change, so he might be fortunate,” Warren said. “My hope is that Microsoft continues to invest in their channel partners, not the least of which means delivering technology to help them reach their customers. A move such as extending the support of Windows XP would be helpful. So would a definitive compensation plan to help partners deliver and support technologies as Microsoft looks to the cloud and consumer devices.”

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