Apr
27
2021
--

Red Hat CEO looks to maintain double-digit growth in second year at helm

Red Hat CEO Paul Cormier runs the centerpiece of IBM’s transformation hopes. When Big Blue paid $34 billion for his company in 2018, it was because it believed it could be the linchpin of the organization’s shift to a focus on hybrid computing.

In its most recent earnings report, IBM posted positive revenue growth for only the second time in 8 quarters, and it was Red Hat’s 15% growth that led the way. Cormier recognizes the role his company plays for IBM, and he doesn’t shy away from it.

As he told me in an interview this week ahead of the company’s Red Hat Summit, a lot, a lot of cloud technology is based on Linux, and as the company that originally made its name selling Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), he says that is a technology his organization is very comfortable working with. He sees the two companies working well together with Red Hat benefitting from having IBM sell his company’s software, while remaining neutral technologically, something that benefits customers and pushes the overall IBM vision.

Quite a first year

Even though Cormier has been with Red Hat for 20 years, he took over as its CEO after Arvind Krishna replaced Ginni Rometty as IBM’s chief executive, and long-time Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst moved over to a role at IBM last April. Cormier stepped in as leader just as the pandemic hit the U.S. with its full force.

“Going into my first year of a pandemic, no one knew what the business was going to look like, and not that we’re completely out of the woods yet, but we have weathered that pretty well,” he said.

Part of the reason for that is because like many software companies, he has seen his customers shifting to the cloud much faster than anyone thought previously. While the pandemic acted as a forcing event for digital transformation, it has left many companies to manage a hybrid on-prem and cloud environment, a place where Red Hat can help.

“Having a hybrid architecture brings a lot of value […], but it’s complex. It just doesn’t happen by magic, and I think we helped a lot of customers, and it accelerated a lot of things by years of what was going to happen anyways,” Cormier told me.

In terms of the workforce moving to work from home, Red Hat had 25% of its workforce doing that even before the pandemic, so the transition wasn’t as hard as you might think for a company of its size. “Most every meeting at Red Hat had someone on remotely [before the pandemic]. And so we just sort of flipped into that mode overnight. I think we had an easier time than others for that reason,” he said.

Acting as IBM’s growth engine

Red Hat’s 15% growth was a big reason for IBM showing modest revenue growth last quarter, something that has been hard to come by for the last seven years. At IBM’s earnings call with analysts, CEO Krishna and CFO Jim Kavanaugh both saw Red Hat maintaining that double digit growth as key to driving the company towards more stable positive revenue in the coming years.

Cormier says that he anticipates the same things that IBM expects — and that Red Hat is up to the task ahead of it. “We see that growth continuing to happen as it’s a huge market, and this is the way it’s really playing out. We share the optimism,” he explained.

While he understands that Red Hat must remain neutral and work with multiple cloud partners, IBM is free to push Red Hat, and having that kind of sales clout behind it is also helping drive Red Hat revenue. “What IBM does for us is they open the door for us in many more places. They are in many more countries than we were [prior to the acquisition], and they have a lot of high level relationships where they can open the door for us,” he said.

In fact, Cormier points out that IBM salespeople have quotas to push Red Hat in their biggest accounts. “IBM sales is very incentivized to bring Red Hat in to help solve customer problems with Red Hat products,” he said.

No pressure or anything

When you’re being billed as a savior of sorts for a company as storied as IBM, it wouldn’t be surprising for Cormier to feel the weight of those expectations. But if he is he doesn’t seem to show it. While he acknowledges that there is pressure, he argues that it’s no different from being a public company, only the stakeholders have changed.

“Sure it’s pressure, but prior to [being acquired] we were a public company. I look at Arvind as the chairman of the board and IBM as our shareholders. Our shareholders put a lot of pressure on us too [when we were public]. So I don’t feel any more pressure with IBM and with Arvind than we had with our shareholders,” he said.

Although they represent only 5% of IBM’s revenue at present, Cormier knows it isn’t really about that number, per se. It’s about what his team does and how that fits in with IBM’s transformation strategy overall.

Being under pressure to deliver quarter after quarter is the job of any CEO, especially one that’s in the position of running a company like Red Hat under a corporation like IBM, but Cormier as always appears to be comfortable in his own skin and confident in his company’s ability to continue chugging along as it has been with that double-digit growth. The market potential is definitely there. It’s up to Red and Hat and IBM to take advantage.

Apr
30
2020
--

New Red Hat CEO Paul Cormier faces a slew of challenges in the midst of pandemic

When former Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst moved on to become president at parent company IBM earlier this month, the logical person to take his place was long-time executive Paul Cormier. As he takes over in the most turbulent of times, he still sees a company that is in the right place to help customers modernize their approach to development as they move more workloads to the cloud.

We spoke to Cormier yesterday via video conference, and he appeared to be a man comfortable in his new position. We talked about the changes his new role has brought him personally, how he his helping his company navigate the current situation and how his relationship with IBM works.

One thing he stressed was that even as part of the IBM family, his company is running completely independently, and that includes no special treatment for IBM. It’s just another customer, an approach he says is absolutely essential.

Taking over

He says that he felt fully prepared for the role having run the gamut of jobs over the years, from engineering to business units to CTO. The big difference for him as CEO is that in all of his previous roles he could be the technical guy speaking a certain engineering language with his colleagues. As CEO, things have changed, especially during a time when communication has become paramount.

This has been an even bigger challenge in the midst of the pandemic. Instead of traveling to offices for meetings, chatting over informal coffees and having more serendipitous encounters, he has had to be much more deliberate in his communication to make sure his employees feel in the loop, even when they are out of the office.

“I have a company-wide meeting every two weeks. You can’t over communicate right now because it just doesn’t happen [naturally in the course of work]. I’ve got to consciously do it now, and that’s probably the biggest thing,” he said.

Go-to-market challenges

While Cormier sees little change on the engineering side, where many folks have been working remotely for some time, the go-to-market team could face more serious hurdles as they try to engage with customers.

“The go-to-market and sales side is going to be the challenge because we don’t know how our customers will come out of this. Everybody’s going to have different strategies on how they’re coming out of this, and that will drive a lot,” he said.

This week was Cormier’s first Red Hat Summit as CEO, one that like so many conferences had to pivot from a live event to virtual fairly quickly. Customers have been nervous, and this was the first chance to really reconnect with them since things have shut down. He says that he was pleasantly surprised how well it worked, even allowing more people to attend than might pay to travel to a live event.

Conferences are a place for the sales team to really shine and lay the groundwork for future sales. Not being there in person had to be a big change for them, but he says this week went better than he expected, and they learned a ton about running virtual events that they will carry forth into the future.

“We all miss the face-to-face for sure, but I think we’ve learned new things, and I think our team did an amazing job in pulling this off,” he said.

No favorites for IBM

As he navigates his role inside the IBM family, he says that new CEO Arvind Krishna has effectively become his board of directors, now that the company has gone private. When IBM paid $34 billion for Red Hat in 2018, it was looking for a way to modernize the company and to become a real player in the hybrid cloud market.

Hybrid involves finding a way to manage infrastructure that lives on premises as well as in the cloud without having to use two sets of tools. While IBM is all-in on Red Hat, Cormier says it’s absolutely essential to their relationship with customers that they don’t show them any favoritism, and that includes no special pricing deals.

Not only that, he says that he has the freedom to run the company the way he sees fit. “IBM doesn’t set our product strategy. They don’t set our priorities. They know that over time our open-source products could eat into what they are doing with their proprietary products, and they are okay with that. They understand that,” he said.

He says that doing it any other way could begin to erode the reason that IBM spent all that money in the first place, and it’s up to Cormier to make sure that they continue to do what they were doing and keep customers comfortable with that. So far, the company seems to be heading in the same upward trajectory it was on as a public company.

In the most recent earnings report in January, IBM reported Red Hat income of $1.07 billion, up from $863 million the previous year when it was still a private company. That’s a run rate of over $4 billion, putting it well within reach of the $5 billion goal Whitehurst set a few years ago.

Now it’s Cormier’s job to get them there and beyond. The pandemic certainly makes it more challenging, but he’s ready to lead the company to that next level, all while walking the line as the CEO of a company that lives under the IBM family umbrella and all that entails.

Powered by WordPress | Theme: Aeros 2.0 by TheBuckmaker.com