RealTime IT News

Q&A: Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat CEO and President

Jim Whitehurst2008 marked not just the beginning of a new year for Linux vendor Red Hat, but also a new beginning for its new CEO Jim Whitehurst.

Whitehurst takes over the CEO job from Matthew Szulik, who held the post until the end of 2007. Szulik joined Red Hat in 1998 and led the company through its blockbuster IPO in 1999. Szulik remains with Red Hat as chairman.

Whitehurst comes to Red Hat after formerly being the COO at Delta Airlines. He holds a Harvard MBA and before joining Delta had been vice president and director at Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

It's a challenging time for Red Hat and its new CEO certainly has his work cut out for him. On one side, Oracle is aiming to grab share with its Oracle Unbreakable Linux offering. On the other side Microsoft is ramping up its big Windows Server 2008 release and rattling its patent sword. In between those two, Red Hat has to continue to grow its customer base and continue to expand the value it delivers to the Open Source community.

It's a tall order indeed, but one that Whitehurst is ready to tackle.

Though he's new to the management in the Linux industry, business is business and Whitehurst is confident that the skills he has will serve him well.

In a wide ranging interview with InternetNews.com, Whitehurst discussed why the Linux business is different, why he's not getting into the database business, where Microsoft fits into his plans and what his biggest challenges are in moving Red Hat forward.

Q: You've been on the job for 30 odd days at this point. Any surprises so far or has it gone much as you would have expected?

In general I've been quite pleasantly surprised. I knew Red Hat was in good shape but I expected to find a few skeletons in the closet. So far I haven't found any.

I report to the Board of Directors in total so I don't report directly to Matthew Szulik but he has allot of context or history and I do chat with him quite often. He's a valuable resource.

[cob:Related_Articles]Q: What are the biggest differences between Red Hat's business and the airline business? Or is business business and this is just a different vertical?

In terms of direction and strategy it's obviously fundamentally different as we're selling a different type of thing. Open Source is a very different business model. Therefore, thinking about strategy and partnerships and how to invest in those things are different.

Seventy-five percent of business is executing on what you've decided to do. I'd rather have a less good strategy that is executed flawlessly than a flawless strategy that is executed haphazardly. Execution is execution.

It's all about ensuring that the right people are in the right jobs with the right capabilities for the thing that we want to do and there is clear accountability, milestones and incentives to make sure things happen. Those things are common.

To some extent, my first few weeks at Red Hat have not been dissimilar to what I did at Delta. Go out and talk to our people, our customer and partners and really understand what they are looking for, what the problems are and fix those problems. That's common to any business that is out there.

So while the strategy is different the execution of making sure the right people, measures, metrics and milestones are in place is similar.

Q: Inside of your first 30 days on the job, Sun has purchased MySQL for $1 billion. Red Hat tried its own entry into the database market in the past, but execution was an issue. Any chance you'll try your hand at the database market or are you content with partnering?

I'm 32 days in, so it's hard for me to make a final judgment call on anything. But I would be very surprised if we went into the database business. I look at the core infrastructure businesses we're in, that business globally is worth nearly $100 billion dollars. We're a $500 million company and still have a lot of room to grow in our core businesses

Given that I know I've got a business that is very profitable that we know quite well why we would want to go and invest in something different. Once we fully nail operating systems and middleware and at that point we're a $10 billion company, we can dream about doing all kinds of things. But that would be a long way off, we really need to focus on the things that we're doing well now. I'm a big believer in focus, focus, focus.

Databases don't hold a lot of interest to me. That said, we do play in the space in that we do have full stack and do level 1 and level 2 support for MySQL and have a great relationship with MySQL. You gotta wish them well. I'm very happy for them they got quite a nice valuation and we'll continue to partner with them as we go forward.