Three Minutes with Red Hat's Chief

New CEO brings passion and an eclectic background to help him chart a new course for the Linux vendor.

IDGNS: Red Hat is currently in a great position as leader of the Linux market and has been doing well financially, but the company has been called upon by Wall Street to grow and possibly diversify the business. When you look at the company, what are its biggest challenges right now?

Whitehurst: Let me start off by saying I've only been here a few weeks. The first month [has basically been] going out on the road with customers, employees, with investors, with analysts, with our partners-slash-competitors and really trying to get a sense of the business, what's working well and what's not. The good news is, most things are working well – from the standpoint of being a very healthy business growing rapidly with healthy financials.

I think you're right there are certainly areas where we can do a better job. First off, I would just say the general organizational focus. We actually do a lot of different things, support a lot of different projects. We have to be careful that we're focusing on the right things and putting our investment dollars where they'll have the most impact. I'm still going through the details of what we do and what we don't do, so stay tuned on that.

A second area where there's still a lot of opportunity for Red Hat would be basically [in] processes and systems, including IT systems and governance, especially for a company that's grown so rapidly. A lot of those processes and systems and ways of doing business are different for a company like Red Hat that's [US]$500 million on its way to a multibillion-dollar company than they are for a small company. Some time and attention on basic execution to make sure we have the processes and systems in place to grow, and grow healthily, are another area where I plan to spend a fair amount of time.

IDGNS: And what about your experience makes you well-suited to help meet those challenges and diversify Red Hat's products beyond Linux into more of a full open-source software provider?

Whitehurst: For starters, I am an operator. I am pretty good at getting a company to focus, and focus on a few things. We certainly did that at Delta and did that well in the turnaround. Obviously, having come from a larger company and having run a larger company, I have a good sense of the processes and systems we need to make sure governance [and] processes work well.

About whether we need to diversify or not: People are asking, "Well, should we have bought [open-source database company] MySQL?" [Editor's note: Sun Microsystems said last month it is buying MySQL for about $1 billion.] We are still a very small-share player in the server OS market and a small-share player in middleware [with JBoss]. If you look at the quality of our technology, it's the best. We feel very good about that. We still have basic execution to do to reach our full potential in the markets we're in. So I don't feel the need to diversify until we nail the product and are fully [satisfied] with our existing products. I'm not sure we want to divert our time and attention to other things.

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Elizabeth Montalbano

IDG News Service

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