Open Source- more than a business model, it is a culture driven by the CEO.
by Peter High, published on Forbes.com
Jim Whitehurst, the President and CEO of Red Hat has had an interesting career to date. He was a consultant for a number of years, joined Delta Air Lines right around September 11, 2001, and played a big role in securing the future of that company as its Chief Operating Officer, and now is the President and CEO of Red Hat (NYSE: RHT), the world’s first billion dollar open source company. Whitehurst and I recently spoke as part of my Forum on World Class IT podcast series, and hearing him compare his time at Delta to his current role at Red Hat struck me as an interesting case example in how older generation businesses and newer technology firms differ in terms of culture, hierarchy, collaboration, and the like.
When Whitehurst worked at Delta, a company in an industry that has deep ties to the military, he was literally saluted at times by colleagues of his. He would help formulate the strategy for the divisions under his control, and when those plans were finalized, entire teams were mobilized to see that they were enacted effectively. Airlines require a great deal of planning, given the complexities of managing planes (both flights and maintenance), crews (pilots and flight attendants), and customers. Time is of the essence, but more important still is safety. Add to this the irregularities caused by issues of weather or planes that require unplanned maintenance, and one can understand the need for everyone to be operating together in order to make the operation work effectively.
Red Hat, by contrast, is an open source company. It operates under the assumption that the best ideas require developing a solid kernel of an idea, and then freeing employees, customers, and external partners to help make it better, to prove the value of the idea, and possibly to identify value that was not planned at the outset. Red Hat refers to itself as a “catalyst of communities.”
(In the interest of full disclosure Red Hat is a partner of my Forum on World Class IT podcast series.)