Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Year of the Customer...

...just like every year before and after 2010.  Our Storage Practice Lead, Joe Kelly, summed it up:

"Thanks for..
  • Bringing us into your world of challenges and allowing us to develop a solution that is best for your business
  • Viewing us as a trusted advisor, knowing that we are there in your best interest. 
  • Being patient in situations where things might not have gone as planned. 
  • Allowing us to become an extension of your IT family"
To read Joe's full blog:

What a year.  Thank you.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Real Artists Ship

I just got into my hotel after my weekly 5-hour deer-dodging drive from VA to NC. The good thing about seeing all the deer chomping grass along the side of the road as I barrel down the highway at 65+MPH is that it keeps me awake. 

I haven't posted anything for a little while because I took a break last week and spent a bunch of time with the kids.  My wife went up to Boston for a wedding, so I was flying solo with our two kids from Wednesday to Saturday.  Man, what fun we had.  Being away from them four nights a week has been manageable, but just hanging for a period of time with the kids was much-needed.  Luckily, we are close to moving down to NC.  The picture below is being submitted into evidence for those at Varrow who have been wondering if we were really coming down:

My daughter, Grace, will be 4 yrs old later this month and she is a drawing, painting, play-dohing, pasting, coloring, tracing, and stickering machine.  The sheer output of product is intense. 

A typical scenario: "Hey Gracie, Auntie Colleen is coming to visit on Wednesday," Mom says.  "Ok, I will make her a picture."  15 minutes later, the picture is done and Gracie is slapping some stickers on it to add a little flair.  Boom.  Done.  "What should we call the picture?"  Dad says.  "Disney Pink."  Ok, got it.  Boom. Done. Next.

She is unencumbered by any internal resistance to creative expression.  She is not looking for any special accolades or recognition, although she enjoys recognition.  She does not fear judgment.  Her heart and soul are in the project at hand - perhaps drawing snakes on an empty paper towel roll that is now a telescope for dad -- and the motivation is the joy of the task and the opportunity to share the end-product with others.  She is producing little gifts every day.

I mention this observation about my daughter because it relates very much to a great book titled, Linchpin, by Seth Godin where he explores the role of Linchpins in organizations. Linchpins are those indispensable go-to folks who find art in their work, whatever their work may be.

This is a form of genius.  Godin contends (and I agree) that we are all able and have at some time in our lives — even if it hasn’t been since toddler-hood-- solved a problem in a way that no one had ever thought of before, done something remarkable (worth remarking about).  This is genius and is practiced frequently by those who are less encumbered by the internal resistance to genius inherent in our brain; psychologists and Godin call it the "lizard brain" - the amygdala. (See the video at the bottom of the blog for more on the "lizard brain" from Godin.)

The amygdala is where fear resides. It is the fight or flight trigger in our head - it appeals to the most base desire for survival.  But how do we respond to this portion of the brain when survival is not at stake?  When fear is unfounded or simply unproductive?  This is when we get in our own way; we impede and tamp down the genius we are capable of producing; we fear judgment and not fitting in; we resist risk and we are wary of the unkown.  We sabotage our own success by being overly critical of our work or over-analyzing it to the point of paralysis.  We don't do.  We don't create.  As Steve Jobs said: "Real artists ship." (source: Linchpin)

My daughter is young and innocent and still relatively unencumbered by many of the fears that come with growing up and, as a result, she is creating -- and shipping on time! -- every day.  She is my little genius. 

Linchpins are very much the same.  They overcome their own resistance associated with fear and they get things done.  They create products, ideas, efficiences, relationships, etc. and they produce results.  They exercise their genius.  They put themselves out there and voice their perspective when the "lizard brain" may be saying to do otherwise.  They don't sit down, and shut up.  They are not TGIFers.  They produce.  And they are indispensable.

More from Godin on the brain (also includes a topical reference to the dangers of deer!):

Friday, November 19, 2010

Effective Selling - Thought 1

There are lots of character traits and habits/behaviors that contribute to being a good Account Manager, but in this day and age there is one simple thing that all salespeople, regardless of talent, can do to separate themselves from the large majority of their competition: they can do what they say they're going to do.

We have been conditioned to almost expect people to not do what they say they are going to do, so when people actually do follow through on their commitments, when they actually do follow-up when they said they would follow-up, when they actually do complete the big -- and little -- tasks they said they would complete coming out of a meeting, it is like a refreshing surprise.

If I was a whiny, grumpy old man I could dedicate the next couple of paragraphs to shaking my fists at the world and asking "Why? Why has the bar been set so low? What is the world coming to? This isn't right!!!"

But I won't. Why would I? If I do what I say I'm going to do, and all the people on the Varrow sales team do what they say they're going to do, we will continue to surprise and please our customers without doing any more than we would expect of ourselves anyways. 

If this is the baseline from which we start, and then when we do all of the other things that go into being great account managers, we go from being a refreshing surprise to a truly valued and trusted business partner and friend.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Jimmy V

One of the guys on the team is an NC State alum. He sent me a link today to Jimmy Valvano's classic speech at the Espy awards, less than 2 months before he died of cancer. What an inspiration Jimmy V was, and what a great guy. You can't help but love him. Enjoy.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fun w/ VCE

Life is too short to take yourself too seriously. "Integrity" and "excellence" are two words that come to mind when I think of the people I work with at Varrow, but "fun" is definitely another one.

If you look at it on paper, there never really is time to have fun at work. You can do a cost/benefit analysis and justify not having fun every time. "Well the return on "fun" simply does not justify the investment. Now, where are those TPC reports?"

The team at Varrow is the hardest working group of people I know, but some folks got together earlier this week and made the investment in fun. Here is what came out of it:

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Should we sign Randy Moss?

Randy Moss is one of the most talented wide receivers in the league. He had 1,264 receiving yards last year and is 2nd all-time in receiving touchdowns. He was recently traded by the Patriots for a 3rd round draft pick, then dropped by the Vikings 4 games later, and was just picked up today by the Tennessee Titans after almost every other team in the NFL passed on the opportunity to add him to their team. Moss is considered a selfish player with a bad attitude - he gets individual results, but the negative impact to the team is considered too detrimental by many to justify bringing him on board.

There is really no great reason why I am including this video other than the fact that I like it. Cool compilation of various Moss quotes set to music.

I am currently reading a book a friend of mine at EMC recommended titled "Delivering Happiness," written by the CEO of, Tony Hsieh.

Zappos arguably has the best customer service in the world and is one of Fortune's Best Places to Work. They have gone from $0 to over $1b in revenue in less than 10 years.

The top priority at Zappos is their culture. Hsieh talks a lot about his hiring practices and the cost of making bad ones - he estimates bad hires have cost Zappos over $100m. A big part of the entire hiring process is identifying how the candidate would contribute to the culture of the company. They have passed on many a candidate who would have had a significant positive impact on the performance of the company, but were deemed too risky in terms of the possible negative impact to the company culture.

In this day and age, your company culture is your brand. Gone are the Madmen days when a company could spend a million dollars with some high-priced advertising firm to create a brand. Every person at your company is a walking, talking, blogging, tweeting, facebooking representation of your company and its brand. Companies can't hide behind some glossy well-funded advertising campaign. This is a good thing of course.

So, when considering bringing on the next rock star, dig in on how the person would contribute to your culture. Do they embody the brand you are trying to build or have already built? If not, pass, no matter how enticing they look on paper.

Find below an interview with Tony Hsieh for more on Zappos hiring practices and their general approach.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

People Power

I just found out yesterday that the company I work for - Varrow - was named EMC's Commercial Partner of the Year for the 2nd year in a row.  2200 companies are eligible for the award.  Unbelievable.  Varrow has grown 875% over the last few years, making it one of the fastest growing companies in the country - all in the face of arguably one of the most challenging economic periods in US history.  Humbling.

What is the trick?  How does a company enter a market where there are literally thousands of companies doing the same thing and realize this kind of success?

The simple answer: the people.  That may sound hokey or cheesy or something, but it's true.  People are the most important asset any company has...products, strategies, relationships, efficiencies - these things are all conceived, created, and managed by people. 

Knowing this, the question then becomes how much time do we spend on recruiting?  Do we treat finding the next great person the same way we treat working on a big customer project?  How much time and money are we willing to spend to bring on the next great person?  How much to keep the great people we have?  How much thought do we give to the culture within our organization and its contribution to the overall satisfaction and fulfillment of these great people? 

We've got an unbelievable group of people at Varrow...find below some photos of a handful of our people; these were from a team zipline thing we did, as well as the all-hands company meeting earlier this week.  We do the all-hands meeting every quarter at Natty Greene's in Greensboro.  It gives the management team an opportunity to review the previous quarter's results, give some insight into future direction, and recognize our great people for the work they've done.  Most importantly though, it's an opportunity to get together as a team.

The presentation of the ugly orange blazer is a new "Tradition like no other" that we started this past quarter for the top rep of the quarter.  Nice work Mark!

Monday, October 25, 2010


One of the account managers on my team is a Marine.  He was an officer in the Marines and served in Iraq.  He is fairly new to the technology industry and we often talk about what it takes to be successful and how to go about building his business.  I read -- and, more often, listen to in the car -- many books on business, leadership and sales.  He knew this and shared with me a publication every Marine is familiar with called Warfighting.

As stated in its preface, "Very simply, this publication describes the philosophy which distinguishes the U.S. Marine Corps. The thoughts contained here are not merely guidance for action in combat but a way of thinking."

As anyone who knows me can attest, I am probably the furthest thing from a Marine, so I did not know what to expect from Warfighting.  I tell you what, the Marine way of thinking about warfare is often applicable to the business world and life in general.

Warfighting is a philosophy articulated and, as such, it boils things down to their basest forms so that we may strive for better understanding on a day-to-day basis as complexities abound.  Find below some highlights from the publication that I found enlightening, affirming, or just plain interesting, along with some random thoughts:

Will - "In war the chief incalculable is the human will"

Speed - love this discussion in the book..."...we should take all measures to improve our own speed while degrading our enemies."

The speed or tempo or cadence to how we manage our business can greatly impact our success...Warfighting talks about a pattern developing: fast, slow, fast again. Part of our success is dictated by how much speed we can generate and sustain, as well as how short the breaks between "fast" and "fast again" are...which goes back to Will.

Focus - "recognizing when secondary tasks or unnecessary efforts are taking away from the objective"

Philosophy of command - "First and foremost, in order to generate the tempo of operations we desire and to best cope with the uncertainty, disorder, and fluidity of combat, command and control must be decentralized."

Autonomy.  People are more effective when they have it.  Check out the link on the right rail of this blog called "What motivates us?" for more on the subject.

As a manager, I strive to create an environment on the team where each person is a "subordinate commander" of his/her own business and must make decisions on his own initiative based on an understanding of my general intent and the intent of Varrow as a whole.

The "mission tactics" each person uses to get there are in large part up to them. I believe a part of my role is to give guidance, share tactics that have worked for me, share tactics that are working for others, but ultimately it is to empower each person on the team to employ his/her own approach to realize success.

Friction - "Friction is the force that resists all action and saps energy. It makes the simple difficult and the difficult seemingly impossible...Friction may be self-induced, caused by such factors as lack of a clearly defined goal, lack of coordination, unclear or complicated plans, complex task organizations or command relationships, or complicated technologies. Whatever form it takes, because war is a human enterprise, friction will always have a psychological as well as a physical impact."

How true.  Are we friction-reducing agents for our customers?  Do we understand our customers well enough to know where the friction lies and how to set about reducing it?  How much friction do we have in our own organization and what can we do to reduce? 

While we should attempt to minimize self-induced friction, the greater requirement is to fight effectively despite the existence of friction. One essential means to overcome friction is the will; we prevail over friction through persistent strength of mind and spirit."

Attrition warfare and Maneuver warfareWarfare by attrition pursues victory through the cumulative destruction of the enemy’s material assets by superior firepower...On the opposite end of the spectrum is warfare by maneuver which stems from a desire to circumvent a problem and attack it from a position of advantage.  Maneuver warfare seeks to shatter the enemy's cohesion through a variety of rapid, focused, and unexpected actions which create a turbulent and rapidly deteriorating situation with which the enemy cannot cope.  

At the risk of sounding too Machievellian, the approach we have taken at Varrow in building the business can be likened to maneuver warfare: we have less firepower than virtually all of the national competitors we go up against every day, but our focus, our speed, and our ability to generate a faster operating tempo than our competition gains us a temporal advantage. 

Of course, the most obvious and less militaristic differentiator is that we are passionate about helping our customers.  We love what we do.

I highly recommend Warfighting.  Thanks Ryan for turning me onto it!  Find here a link to the entire publication.  Read in one sitting if possible:

Friday, October 22, 2010

vBlock - Are customers buying?

Yes.  In fact, we just got signed documents for an order on one today.  This is a powerful solution and now with UIM v.2, the promise to our customers to be able to leverage this "private cloud" as an offering where they can provide compute, network and storage as a service to their internal customers is fast-becoming a reality.

The VCE initiative (VMware, Cisco, EMC) is the real deal and has caused quite a stir in the market.  The battle lines are being drawn.  Various solution "stacks" are being created.  You see HP trying to create their stack with 3Com, 3Par, etc. (note: HP likes to buy companies that have the number "3" in them - is Level 3 next? :), you see Oracle trying to acquire their stack with Sun servers and storage, and you have IBM creating a stack of sorts by playing nice with Juniper and selling rebranded NetApp and a hodge podge of other storage arrays.  Not sure what Dell is doing, but that is another blog.

What I like about the VCE (aka "vBlock") solution:

1) It's comprised of technology-focused companies - these companies are not looking to become consulting companies, or outsourcing companies.  They aren't abandoning hardware for SW & Services.  Each player is focused on its technology and puts its R&D into the technology represented in the vBlock stack.

2) it's open - one of the biggest complaints I hear from Oracle customers is they feel that they are locked into their SW and really have little-to-no leverage in negotiating price...why add hardware to this angst by buying Exadata (Oracle's version of vBlock, but only supports Oracle stuff)

3) The integration is real, not marketing - EMC PowerPath V/E provides VMware with multi-pathing capabilities it doesn't offer on it's own, the Cisco Nexus 1000v is a virtual switch that doesn't exist without VMware, EMC storage looks all the way up into the VM's in VMware and vice-versa, and UIM is the coup de grace in terms of integration across the various components of the vBlock. 

4) One line of support -- the ding on best-of-breed has always been that there is not one line of accountability.  VCE has done away with this by coming together and offering one phone line with one point of accountability for customer support across all components in the vBlock

Varrow is one of the few vBlock certified partners in the world and we are enjoying helping our customers build these data centers of the future one vBlock at a time.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

I'm in.

Alright, I now have a blog.  I have a blog, a facebook account, and a linkedin account.  If and when I get a Twitter account, you might as well call me Neo and jam a thick cable into the back of my head cause I will be totally hooked in.  I am going to make every effort to post regularly. 

Despite the name of the blog, I'm guessing I will blog about whatever comes to mind, but a couple of interesting dynamics going on with me right now are as follows:

  • I left a good career of 10 years in the warm, stable, reassuring bosom of a 40,000+ employee company called EMC to come to a 35-person company called Varrow.  I will likely touch on the differences and my experiences in this regard often - for a while at least.

  • Varrow is the 7th fastest-growing IT services company in the country and the 2nd fastest-growing VAR in the country.  Growth without compromising quality is the consistent theme for us and I'm guessing I will talk some about how we grow and maintain our quality, culture, etc.

  • Varrow is known for having some of the best engineers around.  I was hired to help build a world-class sales organization on par with the engineering talent at Varrow.  I'm guessing I will discuss.

  • I currently commute from VA, where I managed a sales district for EMC, to North Carolina where Varrow is based and where I used to be a sales rep for EMC.  It is a 5+ hour commute.  I leave for NC Sunday nights and come home Thursday nights.  We have been doing this for 6 months and will move down to NC early next year.  I'm guessing I will whine about this every once in a while.

Until next time - my wife is in Boston so I am flying solo with the kids.  Setting off to take the kids to Pumpkinville, then lunch, then nap, then dinner at the house with one of my old reps and his daughter.  Got the plan, now I just need to execute while avoiding any major injuries along the way.