In 2001, it was anyone's guess who would be the dominant business Linux company. Yes, Red Hat was in the running, but so was Caldera, SUSE, and TurboLinux. And, there was still a reasonable chance that Sun with Solaris could fend off Linux from datacenters. Then, Red Hat realized that rather than competing with the others with do-it-all developer-oriented Linux distros, it should go after big business with Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL).
The person who directed this fundamental change? Red Hat's new CEO and President Paul Cormier.
With 20-20 hindsight, this move made perfect sense. But, then, people hated it. They screamed, "Red Hat has betrayed Linux" and "Red Hat wants to be the next Microsoft!" Many people within Red Hat didn't like the idea one bit either.
"The people who were here during that period sometimes forget the leap we took and there's a lot of people who are at Red Hat now who don't understand what a big moment that was in our history. We literally stopped our product line. We were a publicly traded company and we said, "We're not going to sell anymore retail, we're going to stop Red Hat Linux."
Needless to say, Cornier added:
"At the time it wasn't an easy sell. It was during my first year with Red Hat and I remember talking to our then CEO and essentially asking him to bet our approach on RHEL. I asked him to give me 90 days to get 8,000 subscriptions. I told him that if we did 7,999, I would leave the company. That's pretty much putting your job on the line. We did 32,000, by the way."
Since then Cormier, who most recently held the job of Red Hat's president of Products and Technologies, has been at the heart of the many acquisitions that transformed Red Hat first into arguably the most important Linux company and a major hybrid-cloud power. This included Red Hat's acquisition of Qumranet, which led to Red Hat Virtualization, as well as eNovance, which expanded Red Hat Consulting and brought Red Hat into the OpenStack cloud world.
Cormier also championed Red Hat's vision of the open hybrid cloud. This led, after a few false starts, to Red Hat's Kubernetes-powered Red Hat OpenShift. He also forged Red Hat's once-unthinkable partnership with Microsoft, which brought OpenShift to Microsoft's Azure cloud.
He also had a leading role in the difficult job of first bringing IBM and Red Hat together in the largest, $34 billion Linux and open-source acquisition ever. Last, but in no way least, Cormier also managed to help bring the two companies together while preserving Red Hat's unique culture.
In short, the modern Red Hat owes a lot to Cormier's leadership and business dealing skills. Red Hat has been blessed with great CEOs starting with Bob Young, then Matthew Szulik, and most recently James Whitehurst, who led the company to become the first billion-dollar pure open-source play company and then its acquisition by IBM.
Looking ahead, Red Hat's in good hands with Cormier.