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Five-minute interview: Mike Sheppard, Panasas 

MicroScope gets the chance to find out a bit more about Mike Sheppard, director of channels and alliances at Panasas 

Morning, Mike, tell us what you do for a living. 

I’m Mike Sheppard, director of channels and alliances at Panasas. I recruit and onboard partners in the high-performance storage space, and I fortify relationships with our existing resellers, distributors, and alliance partners.  

Why are you the right person for this job? 

I have a wide range of experience in this realm. I spent about four years at Intel in a similar role with a different context. After Intel acquired Whamcloud in 2012, we built out an ecosystem of partners to sell the software-defined Lustre product and integrate it with their respective hardware solutions. At Panasas, the situation is different: we have a tried-and-true appliance already built here, so we are really selling a product as opposed to a project. I’ve only been with Panasas for about four months, but I expect that this is going to be a slightly easier path to market. 

What gets you up in the morning? 

It’s the fun factor! I truly enjoy working with our partners and seeing them succeed. I enjoy helping them support their customers. And this means positioning them in such a way that they can go out and win more business by offering a solution that is not only easy to sell, but also easy for customers to manage once the deal is done.

Who helped you get to where you are today? 

That would probably be Bret Costelow (executive of global sales at Panasas), who I’ve known and worked with on and off for the better part of 30 years. He was the one who reached out to me when he had a role open at Intel, and now we work together at Panasas again. There are also many people on the technical side who have been essential throughout my career. I’ve always leaned on solution architects and technical engineers to really understand what I’m selling.  

What is the best or worst business advice you have received and from whom? 

Before I joined Intel, I worked in the copier industry. My sales leader at the time told me that I was making the worst decision of my sales career, and of course it actually turned out to be the best. 

What advice would you give to someone starting out today in IT? 

Coming from a sales perspective, the most important thing that a lot of people fail to do – and this isn’t necessarily limited to IT – is just listen. You need to become an expert at listening to your customers, understanding the environment, and reading the room.

Coming from a sales perspective, the most important thing that a lot of people fail to do is just listen
Mike Sheppard, Panasas

The more information that you can gather, the better you can position the solution you are selling. So many people today, especially in IT, are so focused on presenting the speeds and feeds and datasheets that they don’t really take the time to listen to the problems the customer is trying to solve. 

Is it possible to get through an industry conversation without mentioning ‘digital transformation’? 

Digital transformation is definitely the buzzword today. But, ultimately, that really is what everybody is trying to do, especially since the pandemic. I don’t necessarily think you need to always label it as “digital transformation”; it’s more of an evolutionary process of leveraging technology to improve whatever operations you have in place. 

What does the next five years hold for the channel? 

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are the hot technologies right now, and they will be very exciting areas for the channel over the next five years. As organisations integrate AI/ML into their environments, they’ll need to make smart infrastructure decisions to support those emerging workflows. For example, they’ll have to avoid the costly mistakes of overbuilding or bottlenecking in any single part of the broader system. The channel is perfectly positioned to be the trusted adviser on those matters. 

Tell us something most people do not know about you 

I’m an avid golfer and a huge sports fan. I watch college football, baseball, and pretty much every other sport. I played sports growing up and it remains a big part of my life – that’s probably where I get my competitiveness.

Have you learnt anything new – guitar, painting, etc –  during the pandemic? 

Can I say video conferencing? Like most people, I’ve had to learn how to interact over a computer as opposed to face to face. 

What goal do you have to achieve before you die, and why? 

The Masters golf tournament in Georgia, playing golf in Scotland (the Old Course at St Andrews), and a NASCAR event are on my bucket list. But on a more personal and deeper level, I would have to say seeing my kids be happy and successful. 

What is the best book you’ve ever read? 

Probably The Boys in the boat by Daniel James Brown. It’s about the 1936 University of Washington rowing team who won the Olympics in Berlin. It’s an inspiring book that follows a group of working-class boys who bond together and accomplish the incredible feat of winning an Olympic gold medal. It tugs at the heartstrings, and I’m not just saying this because it’s a story about my alma mater. 

And the worst film you’ve ever seen? 

Gosh, worst film. Most likely one that my wife made me watch and I have since forgotten! 

What would be your Desert Island MP3s? 

I would go for three albums: Pearl Jam Ten, Dave Matthews Band Live at the Gorge, and U2 The best of U2

What temptation can you not resist? 

A good IPA or a Kentucky bourbon. 

What was your first car and how does it compare with what you drive now? 

My first car was a 1982 Chevy Cavalier. The car that I drive now is much, much nicer. 

Who would you least like to be stuck in a lift with? Why, what did they do? 

This is going to sound really crass, but that would be Barbara Hedges, who was our athletic director at the University of Washington and put us on probation back in 1992. 

If you could be any animal for a day, what would you be and why? 

That’s an interesting one. Maybe a bear, because I could work hard at foraging and feeding myself and then take around three months off to sleep – and nobody messes with you! 

If you were facing awesome peril and impossible odds, which real or fictional person would you most want on your side and why? 

Probably Jason Bourne – that guy can get out of just about every situation imaginable. 

And finally, a grizzly bear and a silverback gorilla are getting ready for a no-holds-barred rumble. Who is your money on and why? 

I’d probably say the grizzly bear because of their sheer strength, size, and determination. 

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