Everything Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst would say about the IBM deal

Everything Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst would say about the IBM deal

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst discusses what he can regarding the IBM-Red Hat acquisition, which has just this week been approved by the US Department of Justice

Jim Whitehurst (Red Hat)

Jim Whitehurst (Red Hat)

Credit: Red Hat

So I think we have a better capability as part of IBM to be able to deliver against our aspirations for open source than we could as a private company.

But you know, I'm not sure what concrete steps we can take, beyond that, other than I think we are in a place where we will grow faster and therefore be able to do more open source."

On working with IBM in enterprise hybrid cloud

"Unfortunately, without regulatory approval, we have to be very careful what we can talk about. I will say broadly, I think IBM and Red Hat share the same vision of hybrid multi cloud.

And I'm really excited that with their breadth and scale, and our infrastructure stack and what we're doing in open source communities, that we can provide a tremendous, tremendous value to enterprise customers as they're looking to move from traditional to hybrid and multi cloud."

On Red Hat culture surviving and thriving

"That is one of the things that keeps me up at night as much as anything else. And just a little bit of quick background to digress just for a second.

If you think about software companies, it's hard to define what is a sustainable source of advantage from a software company.

Think about industrial companies, sustainable advantage often comes from scale, I make more units of something I can make it cheaper than others - it's why you'll have a lot of new automakers popping up because there becomes a scale associated with those things.

Then secondly, it's so individual in terms of developers and developers can be hired away, then it's unclear you can build a capabilities-based advantage. And bluntly, if you look at software companies, there are not a lot of software companies that have had four or five hit products, right.

I mean, not to pick on people, you know, the ones who work on the database, and then they basically bought everything else that's in their portfolio. And, you know, CA had their original management tool, and they bought a lot of stuff.

A lot of companies have one great product, and then they buy a lot of stuff, but there are not a lot of companies that have a serial of great products. I think the simple reason is, it's hard to come up with a source of advantage that makes you better at coming up with the next new thing, than some startup or someone else.

As the CEO of a software company, and I think of myself as a bit of a strategist, I've obsessed over that for years, right? I truly believe that Red Hat does have a sustainable source of competitive advantage and around our capability to work with upstream communities and catalyse that and turn it into enterprise products.

And the reason it is different than most software companies is that most software companies, again, you can go hire 10 developers and pull the right knowledge you need.

You can hire 10 people in Red Hat and that matters because it's not knowledge, it's culture that drives our ability to engage in upstream communities, and how we engage with customers, how we create products, so we really do have a culture-based source of advantage. And, you know, we went from leader in Linux to leader in OpenStack, to leader in containers.

The reason we can do that is because we can catalyse communities across those things. And so you have very few companies that have ever been able to do that, and I would argue will be able to do in other categories in the future, but only if we can maintain the culture.

So our culture and our source of advantage are inextricably linked. And so, as I think about us going forward, we spent a lot of time even as an independent entity, it's okay, how do we bring people in and bring them into our culture?

And so we spent a lot of time saying, how do we make sure we hire people based on references from other Red Hatters? How do we do our onboarding program? Our big focus this year is trying to better define manager behaviours that we expect from our managers that we think are most accretive to culture.

Because behaviours, what people say they do, how they spend their time, are the soft cues that reinforce culture.

So we want to be even more directive for our managers to say: 'hey, here are the things that are both most accretive to helping support our culture'. A big project going on right now is to work to define those. It's a big cross-functional team.

And again, as part of IBM, I believe we will grow faster, we as Red Hat will grow faster in the IBM portfolio, because with their size and scale we'll grow faster, which means we're going to be hiring more Red Hatters faster.

And so getting even crisper about defining the cultural components that are important and importantly what leaders and others need to do to help inculcate reinforcement culture of the people here, and to bring people in and get them passionate about the culture is going to be critical to our success."

But specifically?

"Well, innovation requires constructive conflict. So part of it is how do you build a culture of - a lot of people come around and say, you guys are all happy and you're growing so fast, and they come in and they first say, 'man, that's really harsh'.

We've had this lovely little bit with IBM, where we'll have these meetings, and they're all so nice and light and we'll be like, 'that sucks', or 'that's ridiculous'. And we're just used to operating that way.

We don't mean it in a bad way. We assume positive intent. We coach on positive intent. We really try to drive passion around the mission and purpose around open source, but we really do try to encourage this kind of creative abrasion.

Which a lot of people feel is really, really harsh. But we really think that's how the best ideas emerge. It's really, really focused hard around that side as well, so we want to get passionate people in, if they're not passionate about open source, we'll get them passionate about open source.

So we look for cues, and we hire people about what they've been passionate about the past, what gets them really energised. And can we direct that towards our mission? And then it gives this comfort with ambiguity, but also because when you're innovating you have got to be comfortable with ambiguity, but also, frankly, a relatively thick skin.

Because, we do praise a lot when things go well, but if people disagree, they're very happy to say that's a really bad idea. And that takes some getting used to, but it's such a core part of our culture."

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