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When IBM acquired Linux vendor Red Hat for $34 billion in 2019, Paul Cormier took the reins as Red Hat CEO. After three years, Cormier is now handing those reins over to a new leader.

Yesterday, Red Hat announced that long-time engineering leader at the company, Matt Hicks, will now be the company’s president and CEO. Cormier will move to the chairman role, where he will continue to be an active participant in the company’s activities. 

In an interview with VentureBeat, both Cormier and Hicks emphasized that now is the right time for a CEO transition.

“When IBM acquired us three years ago, I thought for me personally, I’ve been here 21 years, maybe that was the right time, but there was a lot of unfinished business for me to complete,” Cormier said.

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The “unfinished business” was establishing Red Hat as a standalone operating entity within IBM, while continuing to grow the business. As chairman, Cormier will remain active as he helps lead a strategic customer advisory board and looks at potential acquisition opportunities. 

During his tenure at Red Hat, Cormier helped oversee over 20 acquisitions and he expects more in the future, as the company continues to build out its application development, security and hybrid cloud capabilities.

Red Hat’s new CEO is technical to the core

While Cormier has long had a product focus, Matt Hicks joined Red Hat in 2005 as an engineer.

“I’m a long-term, open source believer,” Hick told VentureBeat. “I got started in my career on Linux.”

Hicks rose to prominence at Red Hat in 2012 as the director of OpenShift Engineering. Red Hat acquired a platform as a service vendor called Makara in 2010 and had rebranded the technology as OpenShift. The original Makara code didn’t quite work out, and Red Hat rebuilt and refocused OpenShift as a container and Kubernetes-based system. OpenShift is now at the core of Red Hat’s overall strategy, to enable hybrid and multicloud application workloads for enterprises.

Hicks explained that Red Hat Enterprise Linux, a product that Cormier helped to bring to market nearly two decades ago, created that foundational platform for enterprises to run applications. With OpenShift, which runs on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, the platform becomes broader, supporting distributed workloads that can run on-premises and across multiple cloud providers.

“Red Hat Enterprise Linux brings a ton of value for single machines and customers have done an amazing job of building complex architectures with it,” Hicks said. “OpenShift lets you take hundreds or thousands of those machines and make them act as one thing for distributed computing.”

While Hicks will now be responsible for the overall performance of Red Hat as the company’s CEO, he is hopeful that he won’t stray far from his engineering roots. Over the last three years he noted that he has taken on an increasing business role as executive vice president for products and technologies, which is a role that Cormier held before he became CEO.

“I’ve got a few years of practice with the shift to really focusing on the business and the nice part is I can fall back on my intuition for engineering for open source because I’ve done that for a long time,” Hicks said.

Red Hat’s roadmap lead to the Edge and more AI

Red Hat faces no shortage of competition across multiple market segments.

In the core Linux market, Red Hat competes against Suse Linux, Canonical and its Ubuntu Linux. There are also multiple vendors that have Linux distributions based on Red Hat, including Oracle, Rocky Linux and Alma Linux. On the OpenShift side, Red Hat competes against VMware, Docker and Mirantis among other vendors that all provide Kubernetes container orchestration capabilities.

While Hicks is well aware of the competition, he noted that in his view the challenge is in enabling a wide set of capabilities from the hybrid cloud out to the edge and supporting those technologies for the long term. Hicks pointed to Red Hat’s recent announcement with General Motors, which will see Red Hat technologies embedded into cars, as a prime example of his company’s value proposition.

“The lifecycle of a car is a really long time and when they look for a partner to collaborate with it’s a 10-year bet for that,” Hicks said. “That’s something we’ve shown we can do in the data center.”

Looking forward, a key area of innovation for Red Hat will be in the AI space as organizations of all sizes look to benefit from machine learning.

“We’re investing a lot in the MLops space because our role has always been about how we help you get code from a developer’s fingertips to production,” Hicks said.

Matt Hicks, president and CEO of Red Hat. Image credit: Red Hat.

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