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Of the people, by the people, for the people...

Yesterday afternoon, Red Hat, Inc. announced that James Whitehurst would be taking over for Matthew Szulik as chief executive. This is important open source news because Red Hat is by far the largest company practicing open source as its primary business. (Disclaimer: I am a Red Hat executive.) Already the press has characterized Jim as "an airline guy", and I'd like to make a point that these other reporters refuse to acknowledge: Jim was an open source guy before he was an airline guy. I met Jim this morning (he doesn't start until January 2008), and I asked him point blank: "were you really running Fedora Core 6 when you were first contacted about the CEO position?" Jim shot back with a list of all the different releases he's running at home, and started giving me an inventory of all the versions of Red Hat Linux he ran before the Fedora project came into existence. And this made me realize something really amazing and encouraging: just when I began to worry that open source suffers from a legacy of famous "old" people like myself (writing code and evangelizing since 1987--one of the many "usual suspects" of the open source world), that from among the millions of estimated people managing Linux systems, the tens of millions managing Apache servers, the hundreds of millions using Firefox, all of whom have made a choice to embrace the future, that every one in this community can legitimately aspire to be the next CEO of the world's biggest open source software company. The conventional press has never understood open source--its value, its culture, its passion. But I'm going to show my Red Hat bias on this blog and say that Red Hat has understood open source in terms of all these attributes (and then some), as evidenced by its consistent financial, operational, and brand performance (not to mention #1 value ranking for the past four years). The candidate selected to lead Red Hat does understand these values, as a user, as a coder, as a manager, as a customer, and as an executive. In my opinion he should be marked up, not down, for having had experience beyond just open source. But that's just because I have met hundreds of executives around the world representing every major industry and more than a few governments, and I've always been most impressed by those who tell me about the open source software they run at home and why. What a tragedy it would be to discount all that experience, all that knowledge, all that energy because the executive in question has a day job running a petrochemical company, a manufacturing company, a logistics company, a trading company, a bank, or a national government! It is impossible to predict what the future will hold, but I am pleased to see that the open source community--and I do mean all of us in the world of Open Source--has produced a candidate to lead one of the great open source companies, a promotion from within. How many more great CEOs will come from this vast and diverse talent pool? One thing is certain: given our size, we have a lot of choice!