RALEIGH – Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst isn’t about to change his management style anytime soon – even with a new boss in charge.
At least, that was the impression he gave when he appeared as the keynote speaker at the Raleigh Chamber’s annual meeting on Friday.
A little more than two months after the open source firm merged with IBM in a $34 billion deal, he hinted at an existing clash of culture between the two tech giants, albeit in jest.=
“Not to pick on my new employer, but it’s funny. I’ll say we should start to do this in front of someone from IBM, and they’re off doing it. And then I’ll say it at Red Hat, and [they’ll say] he was just off his rocker that day,” he told the 700-strong crowd gathered in the main ballroom of the Raleigh Convention Center.
He only referenced Red Hat’s new owners twice during his 40-minute talk, and only once by name. However, he remained resolute. Shunning the “top-down organization model,” he said his job is “to catalyze, not direct.”
“I tell this to my new employer all the time, my job is to create the context to do their best work. Most of the conversation has to be, how can I help you?
“We’re optimized for innovation,” he continued. “We’re not necessarily optimized for efficiency.”
Since it was first announced last year that the two firms would merge, many insiders expressed fears that Big Blue would dismantle Red Hat’s unique brand that made it successful in the first place.
Whitehurst seemed eager to put those worries to bed – for good.
“I can’t tell you how many CEOs I talk to who sit there and complain, ‘My culture is just not innovative.’ I want to come back to all of them and say, ‘Culture is an output of your management system and leadership style, and the messages you’re sending. Culture is not an input; culture is an output.
“If you want a different level of agility, you have to fundamentally change how you operate.”
As far as he sees it, it’s the only way forward.
“If you look at the top ten most valuable companies, and look at where value is being cerated in society, the majority now is around innovation, not around flawless execution and cost efficiency.
“As that world is tipping, our management styles have to tip.”
He added humbly: “I don’t do much. I just stay out of their way.”