In a surprise announcement today, IBM announced that Jim Whitehurst, who came over in the Red Hat deal, would be stepping down as company president just 14 months after taking over in that role.
IBM didn't give a lot of details as to why he was stepping away, but acknowledged his key role in helping bring the 2018 $34 billion Red Hat deal to fruition and helping bring the two companies together after the deal closed. "Jim has been instrumental in articulating IBM’s strategy, but also, in ensuring that IBM and Red Hat work well together and that our technology platforms and innovations provide more value to our clients," the company stated.
He will stay on as a senior adviser to Krishna, but it begs the question why he is leaving after such a short time in the role, and what he plans to do next. Oftentimes after a deal of this magnitude closes, there is an agreement as to how long key executives will stay. It could be simply that the period has expired and Whitehurst wants to move on, but some saw him as the heir apparent to Krishna and the move comes as a surprise when looked at in that context.
"I am surprised because I always thought Jim would be next in line as IBM CEO. I also liked the pairing between a lifer IBMer and an outsider," Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insight & Strategies told TechCrunch.
Regardless, it leaves a big hole in Krishna's leadership team as he works to transform the company into one that is primarily focused on hybrid cloud. Whitehurst was undoubtedly in a position to help drive that change through his depth of industry knowledge and his credibility with the open source community from his time at Red Hat. He is not someone who would be easily replaced and the announcement didn't mention anyone filling his role.
When IBM bought Red Hat in 2018 for $34 billion, it led to a cascading set of changes at both companies. First Ginni Rometty stepped down as CEO at IBM and Arvind Krishna took over. At the same time, Jim Whitehurst, who had been Red Hat CEO moved to IBM as president and long-time employee Paul Cormier moved into his role.
At the same time, the company also announced some other changes including that long-time IBM executive Bridget van Kralingen announced she too was stepping away, leaving her role as senior vice president of global markets. Rob Thomas, who had been senior vice president of IBM cloud and data platform, will step in to replace Van Kraligen.