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Five minute interview: Neill Burton, F5

The latest channel figure to share some details of his life and career is director of channels and alliances for F5 in the UK and Ireland, Neill Burton

Morning, Neill. Tell us what you do for a living.

Hello! I’m director of channels and alliances for F5 in the UK and Ireland, and I’m responsible for growing the joint business of F5 and its local partners.

Why are you the right person for this job?

I’ve spent the past 20 years working in the channel, mostly as a salesperson for a partner. I believe my experience in selling and running business units as a partner, and having gained a clear understanding of what is important, has helped me to develop meaningful programmes and initiatives for our partners at F5.

During my time running channel sales for vendors, I’ve always challenged the partnering principles and programmes that involve a lot of words but little action.

What gets you up in the morning?

Well, I can’t say the last year has exactly been a lie-in! I’ve probably worked harder and longer than I’ve ever done before, driven in part by the increased demand for secure remote infrastructure as a result of the pandemic. In addition, I’ve been getting to grips with three major F5 acquisitions.

But to answer the question, we bought a golden Labrador puppy last September, and she wants to play at 6am and doesn’t take no for an answer.

Who helped you get to where you are today?

That’s a difficult question. I have worked with so many brilliant people and I’ve learned valuable lessons from them all. I’m a great believer that those people who approach life and business with integrity and openness, with curiosity and energy, provide me with the template for success that I need.

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

In 1985, someone told me to buy some stock in this little company called Apple, as one day they would be bigger than Microsoft. Well, I ignored that. That’s why I’m still working.

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

Be human. Be a nice person. Be curious and energetic about your customers and be honest about how your company can help. Don’t focus on the money. Success, and all the rewards that come from it, is a consequence of doing the right thing. In this industry, where you can go from zero to hero and back again in the space of a quarter, it’s important to operate with integrity and compassion.

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

Absolutely. Yes, digital transformation is one of the most sought-after outcomes for organisations and has become even more so during the pandemic. Getting there successfully could be the difference between staying afloat and going under for many businesses. However, if people can’t articulate the concept without using buzzwords, then they’re just playing bingo.

The way I look at it, if I can’t explain it to my mum in a way she understands, then I’m failing.

What does the next five years hold for the channel?

Five years is a long time over which to hypothesise. If you had asked me the same question a year ago, pre-Covid, the answer would have been very different.

“I’m a great believer that those people who approach life and business with integrity and openness, with curiosity and energy, provide me with the template for success that I need”

Neill Burton, F5

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that those organisations that “serve” not “sell” will be successful. Those that just want to sell the new shiny thing will struggle.

I believe the channel will pivot its customer relationship to be one that revolves around “adopt and consume” technology, rather than “sell and support” technology. Hopefully the channel will finally find the Holy Grail of operating in a consumption-driven world and not in a capital expenditure-driven one. And the vendors have a responsibility to flex their programmes and licencing schemes, so they are profitable enough to do so.

Tell us something most people do not know about you

As an East End boy, I’m very proud of my Cockney heritage and was once a registered Pearly King.

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

I thought it was a good idea to get chickens during lockdown. I renovated a disused chicken run and coop that I discovered in the front garden and became the proud owner of Maria, Lulu and Whitney. Although a fox got Whitney, so I can’t say I learnt chicken husbandry very well.

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

I would like to own a cocktail bar or restaurant. I feel that a role in the channel has given me unrivalled experience that would help me manage and run such a business.

What is the best book you’ve ever read?

I tend to only read when I am on holiday, and those opportunities have been few and far between. Special ops books to cater for my inner spy. A great book that has always resonated with me is Mahan Khalsa’s Let’s get real or let’s not play: The demise of dysfunctional selling and the advent of helping clients succeed. It includes brilliant lessons on sales qualification and building lasting client relationships.

And the worst film you’ve ever seen?

I am a big movie fan, but Tenet – Christopher Nolan’s recent film – had to be my biggest disappointment. I had no idea what was going on.

What would be your Desert Island MP3s?

Does anyone play MP3s anymore? I’m a deep house fan, so anything that is mixed like that is my thing.

What temptation can you not resist?

Chocolate…or is it that I cannot resist helping people achieve their full potential? No...definitely chocolate.

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

My first car was an MKI Ford Escort Mexico. An absolute classic for anyone over 50 reading this. I drive three vehicles now. A 911, a Range Rover and a Ducati Panigale, all of which share similarities with the Mexico.

  • Like the Mexico, the Porsche is beautiful but constantly breaks down.
  • The Range Rover handles like a boat, very much like the Mexico.
  • And the Ducati, like the Mexico, will spin you off into the bushes if you let your concentration wander for just a second.

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

Anyone with halitosis.

“As an East End boy, I’m very proud of my Cockney heritage and was once a registered Pearly King”
Neill Burton, F5

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

A giraffe. I am 5ft 9, so I would love to look down from above just for one day.

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

Ironman. Super smart with technology – and talk about self-confidence.

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?

Well, I hope this scenario never happens. But in the spirit of the question, and having watched a lot of David Attenborough documentaries, my money would be on the bear. Grizzlies are immensely strong and famously bad tempered, whereas gorillas are very placid and not really built for fighting. And providing you aren’t pitching in King Kong against poor old Baloo, then a grizzly is twice the size of a fully-grown gorilla. £100 on Baloo!

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