Is there a shortage of good open source CEOs? [UPDATE]

Mozilla looked outside but then picked an inside guy for its CEO. Was there no one outside?

Mozilla picked its COO, John Lilly, to take the helm of Mozilla as its CEO. I don't know John but trust Mitchell's judgment and assume this was a good move. Even so, it makes me wonder if the field of applicants was so thin that Mozilla had no choice but to look inside for its next chief executive.

After all, Mozilla spent months looking for a CEO executive director [See update below]. I received emails from its board members on several occasions as they scoured the industry for referrals to good people who could take the job. Evidently the board never found the right person outside the organization.

Is the talent pool for open source really that thin?

Perhaps. It's instructive that Red Hat ultimately went outside the software industry altogether to find its new CEO, Jim Whitehurst, just as the company has now done on several occasions. Red Hat, in particular, has been loathe to transplant industry veterans to open-source leadership because open source requires a different way of viewing customers, partners, and value. Though I initially complained about its choice of an airline industry executive, imagine if it had chosen someone with 15 years at a proprietary software company with all that baggage?

Not a pleasant picture.

In the long run, of course, the open-source industry will raise its own leaders. But in the short term, this is a problem. We need a deeper leadership talent pool. We need more people who are prepared to think differently than the proprietary pack and innovate new ways of serving customers.

I have no doubt that John Lilly is the right person for Mozilla right now. I just wish Mozilla would have had a wider pool from which to choose. We need to grow more open-source leaders. Any ideas as to how?


Update: Mozilla's PR team contacted me and let me know I made a mistake. I confused Mozilla's executive director search (what I was referring to above) with its CEO search. As Mozilla told me, "[John] Lilly has always been the only candidate considered for the Mozilla Corporation CEO position."

My sincere apologies and sorry for the confusion. And though Mozilla didn't ask about this, I do want to make it 100% clear that I was in no way implying that John Lilly isn't qualified to be the CEO. I have no reason to believe that he's anything other than an excellent fit in that post.

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About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.

     

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