Chip maker Intel announced this month that it will make Pat Gelsinger, a longtime Intel veteran, its new CEO next month. But Gelsinger has been running software vendor VMware for eight years, and so his departure will leave a major gap at that company.
VMware said it has begun a search for Gelsinger's replacement, with the company's chief financial officer, Zane Rowe, taking over temporarily.
Taking over a twenty-two-year-old company with over 30,000 employees and $12 billion in annual revenue would be a challenge any day of the week. But the search has an added twist to it.
VMware is 81% owned by Dell Technologies, and Michael Dell is chairman of the board of VMware. That means Dell has a big say in who comes on board next. And it also means that the corporate future of VMware may be in flux.
Wall Street is pondering the prospect that Dell will sell off that majority stake, spinning VMware as a private company. (VMware, founded in 1998, was bought by EMC in 2004, EMC was bought by Dell in 2016.)
Stock analyst Robert Muller of RBC Capital Markets on January 25th wrote that he considers a public spin of VMware "the most likely scenario" for the company. Muller sees a spin achieving two important things: "reduce corporate complexity" for VMware, which would "drive a valuation re-rating for both entities," and, two, "right-size Dell's balance sheet while keeping VMware's leverage at a reasonable level."
Hence, anyone appointed by Dell to run VMware this year might be presiding over a stock-market event, which adds a little complexity and challenge to the job.
Fortunately, there's lots of terrific talent in and around Silicon Valley. ZDNet has reviewed several potential VMware chiefs. While not an exhaustive list by any means, the twenty-three individuals listed in the table below show there are lots of great potential options that come quickly to mind.
The most obvious logical candidate is Jim Whitehurst, who presided over the sale of Red Hat to IBM in 2019. Whitehurst currently serves as president of IBM, running the Cloud and Cognitive Software organization and also helping to direct corporate strategy.
Red Hat is an excellent parallel to VMware in terms of running a software company, and by all accounts, Whitehurst did an excellent job in his dozen years at the company. Big company experience as COO of Delta Airlines before that is also an excellent part of his portfolio to bring to an established company such as VMware.
But Whitehurst might prefer to stay for the chance to run IBM itself some day. And so, looking over the other potential candidates, a lot comes down to what Michael Dell might seek in a Gelsinger replacement.
The search for candidates internally would obviously find great talent, including VMware's COO, Sanjay Poonen, who demonstrates a real passion for all the details of VMware's business. VMware CTO Greg Lavender certainly has the technical acumen and the corporate experience to run the ship, but he's relatively new to VMware, having only arrived a little over two years ago.
Outside VMware, there are executives who would bring a diverse set of skills to the company. Some are already known to Michael Dell. They include Jeremy Burton, currently running the startup Observe, Inc., who worked at EMC and Dell collectively for eight years. Another Dell vet is Alvina Antar, currently chief information officer of security software vendor Okta, who worked at Dell for almost seventeen years. Her experience as CIO might afford an interesting take on the importance of VMware's software.
Of course, Dell could look to bring in a very heavy-hitting cloud executive, such as Amazon's AWS leader, Andy Jassy, or Google Cloud's CEO, Thomas Kurian, or Microsoft's Cloud EVP, Scott Guthrie. The fact that VMware co-founder Diane Greene held the same job at Google Cloud, after leaving VMware, shows the parallels between the two roles.
It's an interesting question if running an infrastructure software vendor would be enticing enough to lure Jassy or Kurian or Guthrie away from such vaunted positions of importance.
Of course, Greene herself could, perhaps, be lured back, or another former CEO of VMware, Paul Maritz. Probably, they're more interested in taking on new and different challenges.