VMware Has Had the Leaders it Needs

Like his forerunners, Pat Gelsinger is the right leader at the right time.

Last month, there was a lot of buzz about whether VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger was going to be leaving after the Dell acquisition of VMware parent company EMC was complete. Keith Ward, editor of Virtualization Review, wrote an article about it in which he challenged the legitimacy of the rumor. This got me thinking about VMware's leadership history and how it's evolved over the years.

The Adventurer: Diane Greene
Diane Greene was one of the founders of VMware and CEO from its inception in 1998 until 2008. She is now senior vice president for Google's cloud businesses and sits on Google's board of directors. At 19, Greene organized the first Windsurfing World Championship. That same year she also earned her bachelor's in mechanical engineering from the University of Vermont. She then earned a master's degree from MIT in naval architecture. When she was 33, she earned a second master's degree in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley.  

Her next adventure was as the computer expert on a treasure hunt to find a sunken Spanish galleon off Saipan in the western Pacific Ocean. When she was 42, she founded her first technology company, a streaming-media startup called Vxtreme. It was sold to Microsoft in 1997 for about $75 million.

Then in 1998, she and four others founded VMware. VMware grew like wildfire, and was a $100 million company by 2003. That same year it was acquired by EMC for $625 million. At the time of the acquisition, VMware had 300 employees.

EMC CEO Joseph M. Tucci fired Greene five years later, in 2008. VMware stock tanked 24 percent that day. At the time Greene was let go, the company had 3,000 employees and more than $1 billion in revenue, but the 50 percent year-over-year growth was starting to slow down. VMware was starting to expand into other products, but it was still essentially a one-product (hypervisor) company. During her time at VMware, Greene proved to be a great entrepreneur, with an adventurous spirit. She was respected and admired by VMware employees, and was without doubt the right person to make  VMware a billion-dollar company.

The Computer Whiz: Paul Maritz
Paul Maritz was chosen to replace Greene. Maritz was born and raised in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa, and cut his teeth working on the technical side of large corporations, including stints with Burroughs Corporation and Intel, before joining Microsoft in 1986.

Maritz is a nuts and bolts corporate guy who garnered as much respect for his leadership as his technical acumen. Bill Gates stated that "Paul's vision and technological insight has had a major impact not only on Microsoft but on the entire computer industry."

Maritz led VMware from 2008 to 2012, and under his tenure VMware branched out in new directions and became less reliant on vSphere. As a computer scientist and software executive, Maritz was a great choice to succeed Greene and help VMware grow into a $4.6 billion company with a diversified product line by the time he left.

Until this point, VMware had an entrepreneur that brought the company up to $1 billion in revenue on basically a single product, and a computer scientist that branched the company out to into a mature, $4.6 billion enterprise. What VMware need next was someone to lead this mature company as the established IT enterprise it had become.

The Steady Hand: Pat Gelsinger
VMware reached out to Pat Gelsinger, a steady hand that at the time had spent almost his entire working life at Intel. At Intel, he was the architect of the original 80486 processor, and a design engineer on the 80386 and 80286 processor design teams. Through hard work and long hours, Gelsinger rose through the management ranks to become the first chief technology officer (CTO) of Intel Corporation and the senior vice-president and general manager of the Digital Enterprise Group. Gelsinger, in the best way possible, is the stereotypical steady-handed and calm-headed boss; he's proven capable of leading this mature company.

Now that Dell has announced that it will be acquiring EMC, and VMware along with it, will a new type of leader be required to navigate the company through the merger? I think not. VMware has always had a huge amount of autonomy; now, especially since many other long-time VMware executives have left the company, stability in the ranks is needed more than someone who has previously managed a merger of this magnitude. As long as VMware remains a profitable, growth-oriented large enterprise, I predict that Gelsinger will remain as VMware's leader as long as he desires.

About the Author

Tom Fenton has a wealth of hands-on IT experience gained over the past 30 years in a variety of technologies, with the past 20 years focusing on virtualization and storage. He currently works as a Technical Marketing Manager for ControlUp. He previously worked at VMware in Staff and Senior level positions. He has also worked as a Senior Validation Engineer with The Taneja Group, where he headed the Validation Service Lab and was instrumental in starting up its vSphere Virtual Volumes practice. He's on X @vDoppler.


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