Paul Cormier has seen a lot of change in the world of open source and Linux since joining Red Hat in 2001.
In his 19 years at Red Hat, Paul Cormier is always focused on channel partner relationships. And now, as CEO since April 6, Cormier stresses that the channel continues to fuel Red Hat’s steady growth.
Cormier arrived as the company’s VP of engineering 19 years ago, and later became president of products and technologies. He has watched the company transform from a startup into a goliath in the world of open source software. And in many steps of that path, Cormier has had a leadership role in making things happen. The company has grown dramatically from its start as a Linux vendor to offering a wide range of enterprise applications. Today that includes platforms for cloud, Kubernetes, storage, middleware, virtualization and more. The company’s $34 billion acquisition by IBM in July 2019 has been a huge boost as well.
In a Q&A with Channel Futures, Cormier speaks about his new roles as CEO and president and about what he sees in the future for Red Hat, its partners and customers. Cormier succeeds Jim Whitehurst as Red Hat’s CEO. Whitehurst left Red Hat in April to become the CEO at IBM. Cormier was employee No. 120 at Red Hat when he arrived 19 years ago.
Channel Futures: You’ve been working for the company since the days of the early LinuxWorld conferences back in 2001. What’s this journey been like for you? Did you expect to be CEO one day?
Paul Cormier: When Jim Whitehurst came in 12 years ago as CEO of Red Hat, we talked about it. Jim was coming from Delta Airlines, an airline guy. Jim and I forged a really good partnership. He brought things to the table that he was better at and I brought things to the table that I was better at. And look where it got us. But this time, for this change, IBM has been incredible in terms of understanding why we need to be independent and how to be independent. Especially Arvind Krishna, IBM’s new CEO. Arvind was really the architect of the deal. And he and I worked on it really early. So, at this point in time to make the change, to make sure that it really gets solidified inside IBM, it had to be a Red Hatter to [succeed Whitehurst as CEO].
CF: Red Hat has been a huge partner with the channel for a long time. What is your approach to channel partner relationships?
PC: The channel is what made Red Hat. The key to the success of the company was Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). When I first started, we had a retail Linux product we sold in bookstores. Bob Young started the company by selling Linux CDs out of his trunk and his flea market. I’m not kidding. And when I came in, the banks on Wall Street were starting to use Red Hat Linux. I went and talked to them, and some of the feedback I got was that it’s great, but there are no ISVs and no partners who know how to do service or who can help configure, install and architect it. They said they didn’t know where it was going, that there was no life cycle. We later solved all those problems when we introduced RHEL.
CF: What helped move things forward?
PC: One of the biggest problems was building an ecosystem around it. And that ecosystem is what made us successful. The first channels were the OEM partners: Dell, HP, IBM. All the OEM partners were really the first channel partners. Then we started to get smaller channel partners that could actually build …
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