Partners Praise New Citrix CEO As Proven Channel Advocate

While partners were caught off-guard with this week's leadership shakeup at Citrix Systems, several told CRN any concerns of disruption were eased by the selection of David Henshall as the new CEO.

In elevating Henshall, the board of directors gave a ringing endorsement of maintaining Citrix' unique corporate culture at a time of tremendous product and channel transformation for the cloud era, they told CRN.

Partners view Henshall, who will replace Kirill Tatarinov at the helm of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based virtualization vendor, as a trusted old-guard executive with close ties to the company's channel.

[Related: Reports: Citrix May Be Up For Sale Again]

"We've always appreciated the work he has done," said Paul Kunze, vice president of sales and marketing at IntraSystems, a Citrix partner based in Braintree, Mass. "He's been involved with partners for many, many years, so I think this will be positive for us. He's been there so long, understands the commitment the channel has to them, the commitment they have to the channel. Glad to see he's been given the role."

"No one saw that change coming," said Nancy Pautsch, president of Envision IT, a partner based in Madison, Wis. "But Dave [Henshall] has been there as long as he has and in his previous capacity knows a lot about Citrix so that puts a lot of people at ease.

"They're bringing veterans in that seem to know the ins-and-outs," she added.

"He's pragmatic and understands the business of selling Citrix," said Carl Gersh, who worked with Henshall both as a Citrix employee and later in his current role of director of sales and marketing for Forthright Technology Partners, a Citrix partner based in Miramar, Fla.

Coupled with Craig Stilwell's ascension to channel chief at the end of last year, Citrix' channel organization is led by "some people who understand how we're going to make money selling Citrix," Gersh said. "Bringing in an outsider would have been very challenging with the path Citrix is on with Citrix Cloud."

Citrix Cloud, a hybrid cloud solution, was introduced before outgoing CEO Kirill Tatarinov's tenure, but advanced as a product during the year-and-a-half Tatarinov led the company.

"If we were going to get an outside CEO, it would have potentially called into question what their strategy was, and I think they have the right strategy," Gersh told CRN. Citrix Cloud is proving a "good business for Citrix, Citrix partners, and makes a lot of sense for Citrix customers."

The selection of Tatarinov surprised partners back in January of 2016, just as this week's announcement of his departure did, Gersh said.  

Tatarinov, a former Microsoft applications executive, was hired to replace Mark Templeton as CEO after a turbulent year that saw investor Elliott Management take an activist role on the company's board that eventually led to Templeton's ouster.

Templeton, who in many ways embodied the company and its culture for years before being replaced by Tatarinov, tweeted his support for the board's selection, calling the new CEO a "tremendous leader, executive & friend."

Scott Gorcester, CEO of VirtualQube, a Citrix partner based in Seattle, Wash., said he was a big fan of Templeton, having first met him back in the mid '90s. He said Templeton's endorsement of the new CEO on social media will be meaningful to Citrix partners, even if they aren't that familiar with Henshall, the former COO.

One analyst said that the leadership change signals that culture has trumped strategy at Citrix.

Kimberly Martin came in from outside of Citrix in September 2015, but was replaced as channel chief after roughly one year by Stilwell, a Citrix veteran, noted Geoff Woollacott, principal analyst at Technology Business Research. Martin, like Tatarinov, had spent some of her career at Microsoft.

"Citrix was late moving to the cloud. They had this year to capture the Microsoft conversions from on-prem to Azure in order to retain core parts of the install base. This required a cultural shift, as the strategy was clear," Woollacott told CRN. But Tatarinov's departure "suggests the culture ruled the day."

With the leadership change, Citrix' board also announced the formation of an Operations and Capital Committee to work with management and advise the board "on a comprehensive review of opportunities to drive margin expansion and return capital to shareholders."

Executive Chairman Robert Calderoni and Henshall will sit on the committee, along with two other directors.

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