Mental Ward

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VMware's Maritz Passes the Test

Paul Maritz hasn't had any easy job transition. A month ago he was a small part of the vast VMware empire; a few months before that, the head of his own small startup. Now he's the head of the virtualization industry flagship company, and is captaining a boat in rocky waters.

First came the dismissal of Diane Greene, in a manner that I still consider to be bush league. The bloodless coup that resulted in Greene being kicked to the curb was handled horribly. But that certainly isn't Maritz' fault; he just had the unenviable job of replacing a virtualization legend.

Then came last month's earnings call, in which he had to announce VMware's tanking performance. Again, Maritz had nothing to do with that, being a company newbie. But he still was the bearer of very bad news.

Now comes another P.R. (and, in many cases, IT) disaster: the already infamous ESX/ESXi "Update 2" debacle. Here's yet another situation Maritz has to face, that he had no hand in making. Some bloggers are making the case for how incredibly stupid and egregious this is; I mean, beta code that wasn't removed? The reality, though, is that these types of mistakes happen with every large software developer. Yeah, someone inside VMware (several someones, likely) was asleep at the switch, and those who downloaded the update and have to wait 36 hours for a patch are justified in their outrage.

Again, though, this wasn't Maritz' fault. He just has to suffer the slings and arrows. His response to this outrageous fortune, however, encourages me. The day after it happened, he issued a Web site mea culpa. Writes Maritz:

"We failed in two areas:

* Not disabling the code in the final release of Update 2; and

* Not catching it in our quality assurance process."

He explains that the company will be reviewing its processes, and ends humbly:

"Your confidence in VMware is extremely important to us, and we are committed to restoring that confidence fully and quickly."

There is no passing the buck here, no justification for this screwup, no pointing fingers -- not even at Microsoft! What there is is an admission of guilt and a promise to make changes. That is what's known as owning up to your problems.

One small, but I think significant, aspect of this statement is the fact that Maritz' picture accompanies it. He's saying This is my company now. And this egg is on my face. His picture -- almost a mugshot, given the circumstances -- is attached to this apology. That deflects blame from others and puts it on him, even though it really doesn't belong there. In some ways, it's like a quarterback who plays well in a loss and says "This loss is on me." He takes the pressure off his teammates, and his teammates love him for it.

Well played, Mr. Maritz. Your company is having its difficulties, but lack of a strong (if new) leader at the top doesn't seem to be one of them.

Posted by Keith Ward on 08/13/2008 at 12:48 PM


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