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By Steven Burke and Mark Haranas Jan 11,2017 on CRN.com

Dominic Orr, the fiercely competitive leader who as president has driven robust sales growth at Aruba Networks for the last decade, is retiring at the end of the month, according to an internal Hewlett Packard Enterprise memo obtained by CRN.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise Executive Group Executive Vice President Antonio Neri said it is with “mixed emotions” that he was announcing the retirement of Orr, the passionate and ever vocal sales leader who has directed the constant, no holds barred battle to capture share against networking market leader Cisco.

Orr, 66, who will continue as an advisor to Aruba, will officially step down on Jan. 31.

“Dom has been an important part of my leadership team since HPE’s acquisition of Aruba Networks in 2015, and has constantly shown an energy, passion, and commitment to our customers that is truly second-to-none,” said Neri in the memo. “On a personal note, his counsel and friendship have meant a great deal to me, and I know he will be deeply missed by not only the Aruba team, but all of our employees, customers, and partners.”

Orr’s decision to retire comes 22 months after HPE announced that it was acquiring Aruba in a $3 billion deal that has resulted in astronomical networking sales growth for HPE.

“Delivering six quarters of strong performance, Dom has co-led the HPE Aruba business with Keerti Melkote (Aruba founder and CTO), focusing on go to market strategy and sales execution,” said Neri. “With Dom’s departure, there will be no change to the charter or operating model of the HPE Aruba Group.”

Effective Feb. 1, the Aruba sales organization, including marketing, business operations, customer advocacy, operations and supply chain, will report to Melkote, who previously was only responsible for Aruba’s technology strategy.

In an interview with CRN, Melkote, who sees Orr as a “big brother” of sorts that has always been there for him and Aruba, said he was ready to carry the Aruba sales torch forward- stepping into a more prominent customer and partner facing role.

“I will be more outbound now that I am one in a box,” he said. “I’ll be meeting more with customers and partners. And Dom is not going away. I am going to continue to leverage my relationship with him.”

Melkote said he plans to become more vocal with regard to rallying partners to grab share from Cisco. “That is part of the (Aruba) DNA,” he said. “We’ll pick the fight to go beat Cisco. That’s the rallying cry for the organization. It always has been and it always will be.”

Orr’s decision to retire was not sudden but rather was something that was discussed for some time and came to a head a few months ago, said Melkote. He said Orr has expressed a desire to spend more time on family and charities rather than work.

“There’s never a good time, to be honest with you, to lose someone as legendary and as visionary as Dom, but we feel that we are well positioned,” said Melkote. “He’s positioned the organization very well to succeed.”

In fact, Melkote said the “customer first” culture that Orr shaped and nurtured remains a steadfast part of the company’s DNA. “The culture and values that Dom has driven inside the organization is something that we hold dear and will carry forward- one of keeping our customers and partners as our first priority,” said Melkote. “We call that ‘Customer first, Customer last’ as a cultural statement that is in the DNA of the company. Every employee knows what that means and every partner knows what that means. That’s not going to change.”

Melkote said he has strong relationships with the sales team – including Vice President of World Wide Sales Alain Carpentier, Asia Pacific Vice President Steve Wood, EMEA Sales Vice President Morten Illum and Vice President of Worldwide Distribution Donna Grothjan. “They all know how to keep the torch lit and burning, moving forward,” said Melkote.

Neri and HPE CEO Meg Whitman have reiterated the commitment to keep Aruba and the networking business as an independent organization within HPE, said Melkote.

“We have an end to end organization that owns, not only R&D and support and operations, but the sales and go to market engine in the channel – so we will continue that,” said Melkote.

“Instead of two in a box, with me and Dom leading the organization, it will be one in a box. I’ll definitely feel a bit lonely without him. But he has trained me and the rest of my leadership team. We’ll continue to take care of our customers, partners and employees.”

Aruba partners said they were sorry to see Orr retire, but said they were heartened that founder Melkote is stepping in to lead the sales charge and that the company will remain an independent unit within HPE.

Chris Atha, senior vice president of Advantel Networks, a San Jose, Calif. based Aruba partner, ranked No. 271 on the CRN Solution Provider 500 list, said he views Orr and Melkote as “like minded” making for a smooth transition for Aruba and its partners.

“Dominic and Keerti have both been partners for so long that the DNA is kind of the same from our perspective,” he said. “I don’t see a lot changing. Keerti has been there all along, He is the technology visionary. The company is his brainchild. Dominic has been the out front sales leader. Keerti is strong on the technology side and he’ll continue to be strong there, and when he needs help on the sales or organizational side, he can get it from HPE.”

Atha said he couldn’t be more bullish about the Aruba business prospects going forward. Advantel’s Aruba business was up 30 percent in 2016 – the fifth consecutive year of double digit sales growth.

“We are very optimistic about the future with Aruba,” said Atha.”The Clearpass security software platform has been a game changer for us. Customers are wildly excited about it because it allows them to get their arms around the completely mobile enterprise.”

[highlight type=”one”]Bob Venero, CEO of Holbrook, N.Y.-based solution provider Future Tech, an Aruba an HPE partner, No. 187 on the CRN SP500, said he was glad that founder Melkote is taking the sales reins for Aruba rather than an outsider.[/highlight]

[highlight type=”one”]”Melkote has the domain knowledge associated with all the innovation that has come from Aruba,” said Venero. “It’s very important to the channel and the market that they have the right person in that job because there are definitely kinks in Cisco’s armor that are being exploited by companies like Aruba. It is important to continue to have someone like Melkote pursuing it with the same drive and dedication that Dominic had.”[/highlight]

John Barker, CEO and co-founder of Versatile Communications, a Marlborough, Mass.-based solution provider and top Aruba partner, said he was “surprised” that Orr was retiring, but praised HPE’s decision to select founder Melkote to lead the networking company.

“Keerti is a lot of the brains behind the operation there, so it will give [the channel] some comfort,” said Barker. “People can feel a little better that he’s the leader.” And even with Orr out of the picture, Barker said he still expects his company’s Aruba business to grow 30 percent this year.

Before his retirement, Orr wanted to oversee the integration of the Aruba wireless networking business and the HPE wired networking business which are now fully integrated together under a single partner program, said Melkote. “Dom wanted to make sure that we had a combined organization that came together culturally in a single organization,” said Melkote.”That job is accomplished.”

Melkote said he will continue to rely on Orr for counsel and advice going forward. “Dom’s not taking another job,” said Melkote. “He’s going to continue to be an advisor to the company. He’s still taking meetings with customers post his last day. We are hosting customers at his home. So I think the relationship with the market will continue through Dom and we’ll definitely leverage that moving forward.”