Matthew Szulik resigns as Red Hat CEO, is replaced by an airline COO
December 21, 2007 1 Comment
Matthew Szulik has somewhat abruptly announced his departure as CEO of Red Hat. He will remain on as chairman of the board. It’s extremely sad to see this is a result of family illness (which is sometimes a euphemism in CEO departures, but in this case is legitimate from what I understand). From his recent post:
After almost a decade of leading Red Hat, I have decided to transition my CEO and President role for the personal reasons I have already discussed. It’s my privilege to continue serving this great company in the role of Chairman of the Board. Red Hat will be in the capable hands of a world-class executive team under the leadership of Jim Whitehurst as President and CEO.
My early days at Red Hat were sitting in small office with no door in Durham, NC, across from the free soda machine. People by the hour would stop and punch their selection for Mountain Dew or Coke. My challenge was that I was tasked to go and raise venture money for this free software company. And over the phone, in the middle of my sales pitch, corporate types at Dell, IBM and HP and others would hear the constant banging of soda cans dropping in the soda machine and would ask if there were fights going on outside my office. So, after a while, I told the prospective investors that YES there were fights going on. And yes, these fights happened frequently. It’s how people at Red Hat settled technical issues likes software bugs and features in new releases. Red Hat was a real tough place to work. Dell, HP and IBM became investors because they liked the fighting spirit of Red Hat.
I wish Matthew and his family the best in what must be extremely trying times. This is also going to be a huge transition for RHT. Szulik epitomized the fighting spirit and disruptive nature that embodied Red Hat. The choice of an airline COO as the next CEO is one that will surely draw both fans and critics. The airline industry isn’t really known for its transparency, which is absolutely key in an Open Source company… and truth be told, Delta is not exactly known for great customer service (which would be the responsibility of the COO). That being said Jim Whitehurst does seem to have some technical chops and it’s even been confirmed that he’s a Fedora user, which should ease the some of the fear that Red Hat employees have to be feeling right now. It also seems that through the entire interview process Jim has impressed. He has huge shoes to fill as Matthew was not only one of the most successful Open Source CEO’s to date, but a CEO that was liked by his company. Going outside the tech industry for a CEO has had mixed results in the past. It was a nightmare when a PepsiCo CEO took over the reigns at Apple, but worked out well when a RJR Nabisco CEO took over at IBM. How it works out in the case remains to be seen. The implications not only for Red Hat, but for Open Source, will be huge. You can bet many eyes will be watching closely.