What’s next for Jim Whitehurst?

Jim Whitehurst, best known as the former CEO of Red Hat, is on the job market, but it has to be a big job.

There’s something about former Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst that inspires confidence. When he was at Red Hat, he was at ease discussing almost anything about his company and its technologies, and also brought an informality to the role uncommon among chief executives. This, of course, had much to do with the open and inclusive culture at Red Hat, and, as he says in his book The Open Organisation, allowing ideas to come from anywhere and anyone. It’s this promotion of dialogue and debate that allows the best idea to win, he wrote, but it can also be infuriating. “As a leader, it challenges your ego; having people question every decision you make is not fun. So why do it? The simple answer is because it leads to better decisions, better engagement, better execution and, ultimately, better results.”

IBM bought Red Hat for $34 billion in 2018, and Whitehurst moved into IBM’s senior management team, reporting to then-CEO Gini Rometty. Some months after the deal closed in mid-2019, the company named him as president, but said 30- year IBM veteran Arvind Krishna would be taking the top spot. That was probably the moment when Whitehurst decided to move on, but he still stuck around to make sure the integration took hold. He had been at the company for only 14 months. In an interview with the Barron’s publication in early July this year, he said he wanted another chance to be a CEO, and that he (54) and Krishna (59) are too close in age for that to happen anytime soon. Before Red Hat, Whitehurst was COO at Delta Airlines, and left abruptly after he was passed over for promotion to the top spot. His decision to join the open source company was a fortuitous one, and he presided over the rise in its fortunes.

Spoilt for choice

Jim Whitehurst, VMware Jim Whitehurst, VMware
IBM has not yet announced who will fill his position, but its shares dropped 5% on the news of his departure, showing just how much value he brought to the company. It also didn’t give any reason for his departure, but Krishna did say Whitehurst had been ‘instrumental in articulating IBM’s strategy’ as well as ensuring the two companies worked well together. Whitehurst will now be a senior advisor to IBM, and is also a special advisor to Silver Lake. Still, Whitehurst has done quite well from his 14-month tenure at IBM, getting a compensation package of $27.2 million in the 2020 fiscal year, of which $22.4 were stock awards.

He will probably also be spoilt for choice in his next role, and told Barron’s he’s taken plenty of calls over the last couple of years from industrial companies searching for a leader with a tech background.

Whitehurst clearly now wants a shot as head of a large company, but which one? These jobs are in short supply, at least at the moment.

I just wonder if he’ll ever write a book about his time at IBM. I’d buy that.
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