Paul Cormier takes over as Red Hat CEO cites DEC as an inspiration

Red Hat finally said goodbye to longtime CEO Jim Whitehurst today, and announced erstwhile product supremo Paul Cormier as his replacement.

Whitehurst had long been scheduled to take up his new role as president of IBM as of today, reporting to Arvind Krishna who took over the Big Blue CEO spot from Ginni Rometty at the end of January.

Cormier was named as Whitehurst’s successor this morning, though the fact he was highlighted alongside Whitehurst and Krishna in the wake of IBM’s tortuous takeover of the open source powerhouse last year was probably a strong indicator he’d take over the top job in time.

In a public email to Red Hatters today, Cormier emphasised the firm’s open source heritage, and its commitment to the cloud.

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“I recall being on stage at Red Hat Summit in 2007 talking about the idea of any application, anywhere, anytime, which very quickly led to open hybrid cloud. No one, and I mean no one, was talking about it at that time,” he wrote.

“There’s an immense feeling of pride that each and every Red Hatter should feel knowing that the technology industry wouldn’t be what it is today and open source wouldn’t be as dominant without Red Hat. We are all a part of that history.”

Cormier unsurprisingly sought to assuage ongoing fears about Red Hat being borged into Big Blue, saying Whitehurst would remain a strong ally for Red Hat, while “Arvind has been a powerful advocate for Red Hat’s independence and a champion for this both inside IBM and externally…IBM knows that the best way for us to continue to lead the industry is to allow us to stay on our mission while helping us scale. 

Cormier’s own history perhaps gives him more insight than most into the dangers of companies being wrong-footed by both industry developments, and by the vagaries of acquisition. 

In a potted Q/A from Red Hat Cormier cites his inspiration for entering the tech industry as Digital Equipment Corp – his father was facilities manager at the mini computer giant’s Massachusetts manufacturing plant.

Cormier worked summers and weekends at the company right through college, and eventually joined DEC, adding that his first programming language was Pascal, though he also worked in Fortran, BASIC and Cobol. He also recalled competing for the chance to run DEC’s first internet group, and name checked his mentor at the firm, Rose Ann Giordano.

Hopefully DEC’s fate will serve as a lesson for IBM and Red Hat. The firm was wrong-footed by the 90s PC revolution and was eventually subsumed by Compaq, at the time, the biggest ever deal in the tech industry. A few years after that, Compaq was itself absorbed by HP, the largest every hardware deal. Even so, DEC kit continues to pop up in the most unexpected places.

IBM’s Red Hat deal was the largest ever software deal. Hopefully, all concerned have learned enough from the history of tech mergers, not to repeat it.

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