Paul Cormier Replaces Jim Whitehurst as Red Hat CEO

As Red Hat's CEO for the past 12 years moves to take on the role of IBM president, a 19-year Red Hat veteran is promoted to president and CEO of the open source company.

ITPro Today

April 8, 2020

4 Min Read
Red Hat CEO Paul Cormier
Paul Cormier, Red Hat's newly appointed CEO.Red Hat

There's a new person holding the reins at Red Hat.

Effective immediately, Paul Cormier, who has been the Raleigh, North Carolina-based open source company's president of products and technologies, is filling the shoes left behind by former Red Hat CEO and president Jim Whitehurst. (This week, Whitehurst became president of Red Hat's parent company, IBM). Although not necessarily a surprise, the announcement wasn't completely expected. It was widely believed that Whitehurst was expected to remain at the helm of Red Hat indefinitely, even after taking the presidency role at Big Blue.

A 19-year Red Hat veteran, Cormier joined the company in 2001 as executive VP of engineering, then took on responsibility for products and technology in 2008 when Whitehurst came on board as the new Red Hat CEO. Cormier has indicated that despite the expansion of scope to his title, his job at Red Hat has remained essentially the same over the years.

"You may have heard me say that for 19 years I’ve had the same job, but that’s not entirely true," he said in an email that went out Monday to Red Hat associates. "The last 19 years have not been a job, they’ve been an adventure! But even more importantly, Red Hat’s journey has been my journey. I’m excited to lead Red Hat in a new capacity and continue the journey."

It's not difficult to understand why Cormier was picked for the job of Red Hat CEO. The company credits him with being the prime mover behind the company's move in 2003 to get out of the consumer-focused desktop Linux business in order to put its efforts behind server focused Red Hat Enterprise Linux. As part of that move, Cormier developed the support subscription model as a way to market what was essentially a free product – a model that continues to account for the bulk of the company's income.

"At the time we didn't even realize the long shot we were taking," Cormier said in an interview published by Red Hat. "The people who were here during that period sometimes forget the leap we took and there’s a lot of people who are at Red Hat now who don’t understand what a big moment that was in our history. We literally stopped our product line. We were a publicly traded company and we said, 'We're not going to sell anymore retail, we're going to stop Red Hat Linux.'"

According to Red Hat, Cormier also instigated more than 25 acquisitions over the years that helped transform Red Hat from a narrowly focused Linux company to one delivering a full open source stack able to fully address enterprise needs. In addition, he was an early champion of hybrid cloud, which led to Red Hat's involvement with the cloud platform OpenStack, and its development of the Kubernetes platform OpenShift.

However, Whitehurst has left behind a large pair of shoes to fill.

During Whitehurst's tenure at Red Hat, the company prospered, going from $500 million in annual revenue in 2008 to $3 billion by the time it was bought by IBM in 2018, a six-fold increase in revenue. For the current fiscal year (and before the Covid-19 economic downturn), the company had been expected to take in at least $1 billion quarterly. Although IBM bought the company more for its cloud expertise than its income, these revenue numbers have been a big plus for IBM, which reversed five quarters of falling revenue in Q4 2019 mostly due to Red Hat's added income.

Whitehurst has also rewritten the book on how technology companies should be managed, expanding the open source development model by applying its principles to corporate structure. Under Whitehurst, decision making has been spread throughout the organization instead of being focused at the top, an approach he says spurs innovation.

Cormier's understanding of Whitehurst's management style will doubtlessly be useful as Whitehurst works to bring his open management style to IBM, which both former CEO Ginni Rometty and new CEO Arvind Krishna have indicated is part of his mandate in his new role as IBM president.

"I can confidently say that Paul was the natural choice to lead Red Hat," Whitehurst said in a statement. "Having been the driving force behind Red Hat’s product strategy for nearly two decades, he’s been intimately involved in setting the company’s direction and uniquely understands how to help customers and partners make the most out of their cloud strategy."

Cormier also seems to come to his new role as Red Hat CEO with the support of Krishna, who was evidently behind the promotion.

"Red Hat is synonymous with open source and hybrid cloud – two of the biggest driving forces in our industry," said Krishna. "Paul’s deep engineering skills, product expertise and industry vision make him the right leader to capitalize on this opportunity and fuel Red Hat’s continued technology innovation and accelerated growth."

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