​Red Hat leaders praise IBM acquisition, but employees are worried

Linux, open-source, and cloud power Red Hat's executives love the IBM deal, but the company's workers are nervous.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

When Bloomberg broke the news that IBM was acquiring Red Hat, Red Hat's corporate leadership already had all its ducks in a row. The company's worker-bees, though, were blindsided. Many of them are worried sick about Big Blue's acquisition of the world's largest Linux and open-source power.

Paul Cormier, Red Hat's president of Products and Technologies, proclaimed, "Today is a banner day for open source. The largest software transaction in history and it's an open source company. Let that sink in for a minute. We just made history."

After reflecting on Red Hat's history, Cormier concluded, "From IBM's first billion dollar investment in open source, to Red Hat's contributions in open source communities and efforts to bring open source into the enterprise, and now, with IBM making a $34 billion investment in Red Hat and the open hybrid cloud - if there was ever any doubt that open source was here to stay, I think this announcement can officially put that argument to rest. And we're just getting started."

Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst also praised the deal in an e-mail to all Red Hat employees. "We have barely scratched the surface of the opportunity that is ahead of us. Open source is the future of enterprise IT." He continued:

Powered by IBM, we can dramatically scale and accelerate what we are doing today. Imagine Red Hat with greater resources to grow into the opportunity ahead of us. Imagine Red Hat with the ability to invest even more and faster to accelerate open source innovation in emerging areas. Imagine Red Hat reaching all corners of the world, with even deeper customer and partner relationships than we have today. Imagine us helping even more customers benefit from the choice and flexibility afforded by hybrid and multi-cloud. Joining forces with IBM offers all of that, years ahead of when we could have achieved it alone. Together we can become *the* leading hybrid cloud solutions provider.

Moving on, Whitehurst emphasised,

"Red Hat is still Red Hat. When the transaction closes, as I noted above, we will be a distinct unit within IBM and I will report directly to Ginni. Our unwavering commitment to open source innovation remains unchanged. The independence IBM has committed to will allow Red Hat to continue building the broad ecosystem that enables customer choice and has been integral to open source's success in the enterprise. IBM is acquiring Red Hat for our amazing people and our incredibly special culture and approach to making better software. They understand and value how and why we are different and they are committed to allowing us to remain Red Hat while scaling and accelerating all that makes us great with their resources."

It's that last part which has Red Hat staffers worried. Can Red Hat still be Red Hat under IBM? Many Red Hat employees fear it can't be.

In the first hours since the news broke, I've been told by Red Hat staffers:

"I can't imagine a bigger culture clash."

"I'll be looking for a job with an open-source company."


"As a Red Hat employee, almost everyone here would prefer it if we were bought out by Microsoft."

Why all the fear?

First: The news, which had been scheduled to be released early next week, broke early. None of Red Hat's rank and file knew this was coming. Red Hat's leadership had no chance to let them know in a timely manner to comfort the blow.

Second: While IBM has a long, distinguished history of supporting open source, in recent years they've been perceived as a company falling behind the times and is hamstrung with red tape and bureaucracy. This is the opposite of the Red Hat's open organization leadership style.

Whitehurst, aware of his crew's nerves, promises Red Hat will continue "to focus on growing our culture as part of a new organization. Specifically, Red Hat's "Collaboration, transparency, participation, and meritocracy--these values make us Red Hat and they are not changing. In fact, I hope we will help bring this culture across all of IBM. Together we can."

If Whitehurst can deliver on these promises, Red Hat employees will have nothing to worry about. Indeed, they can look forward to even greater success.


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