Matthew Szulik resigns as Red Hat CEO, is replaced by an airline COO (???)

Red Hat just made a big mistake.

Wow. If there was ever an industry that has little to nothing to teach the software industry, it's the airline industry. And yet that is precisely what Red Hat has done: Matthew Szulik, its long-time CEO, has resigned to be replaced by Jim Whitehurst, former COO of Delta Airlines, the paragon of disruptive and agile thinking.

This change heavily shakes my faith in Red Hat. Szulik was Red Hat. His competitive, sometimes combative spirit. His take-no-prisoners approach to competitors while treating customers with kid gloves. His obvious passion for open source.

Larry Dignan at ZDNet suggests that maybe Szulik will be the Linux ambassador to the world while Whitehurst focuses on operations. Possible, but isn't that what a COO is supposed to do? Why bring in airline dead-weight to manage something as disruptive as Red Hat? Did Red Hat really need a boring, old school CEO to manage its 21st Century software business? I don't think so.

Matthew Szulik was one of the primary reasons that I believed in Red Hat, even when it made mistakes. With him gone, Red Hat won't be the same. No airline COO can replace him. Whitehurst may have helped Delta negotiate the murky waters of bankruptcy, but Red Hat's issue is not how to avoid going out of business. It's how to navigate an incredible, growing business.

Red Hat now needs to be acquired by Oracle. Larry Ellison has his problems, but aggression and competitiveness aren't among them. He has those in spades. As did Matthew.

Having said this, I know that Matthew's family (specifically his wife, I believe) has had significant health problems for some time. Matthew just said on the earnings call that his family pushed him to make the decision to step down as CEO. I completely respect this. I just wish that Red Hat could have found a real open-source CEO to replace Matthew.

The open-source world needs a successful Red Hat. I worry that this change in leadership could result in the following:

I hope I'm wrong.

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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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