The Changing of the Guard at VMware

Brain Drain at VMware?

Over the last couple of months, there seems to have been a brain drain at VMware; executives are leaving in swarms. (Is that the collective noun for a group of execs? I don’t know.)

The past month has seen the departure of Jonathan Chadwick, the highly respected chief finance officer; Martin Casado, the general manager of the Networking and Security Business Unit and creator of NSX; and finally, last week, longtime Chief Operating Officer Carl Eschenbach.

Is this an issue? Not really. People join, get promoted, and leave all the time. Is this evidence of an issue in VMware senior management to get worried about? Only if you look at it in isolation. All three of these executives were longtime VMware employees. Jonathan had more than three years at VMware, Martin had almost four years there and five years previously at Nicira, and Carl had more than twelve years.

Now, a lot of people have taken the negative position that this is evidence of VMware’s becoming moribund and heading for obscurity. But the fact is that not every executive is the right fit for each stage in a company’s evolution. Also, each of those people mentioned effectively had nowhere further to go within VMware. This was particularly the case for Carl: he was effectively number two at the company, second only to Pat Gelsinger.

The three executives are heading in different directions. Jonathan is moving on to further his advisory role in other companies; Martin and Carl are becoming VCs for Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital, respectively. Of course, is not as though VMware were struggling to attract new talent. Martin is being replaced by industry veteran Rajiv Ramaswami, formerly of Broadcom and Cisco. Jonathan was replaced by Zane Rowe, formerly EMC’s CFO. Carls position of chief operating officer is being split between several other executives: Maurizio Carli has been promoted to executive vice president, worldwide sales, in which role he is responsible for the Americas, APJ, and EMEA, together with pre- and post-sales engineering and all worldwide channels; Peter McKay, who joined VMware as a part of the Desktone acquisition in 2013, will lead the Americas field organization; Ray OFarrell has been promoted to executive vice president and is expanding his role as chief technology officer and chief development officer to include responsibility for global services and customer advocacy; and Sanjay Poonen, executive vice president and general manager, End-User Computing, will expand his role to also lead the companys worldwide marketing and communications functions.

All of these changes are planned, and although they may appear worrying at first glance, they are expected from a business perspective. EMC, and VMware by virtue of being owned by EMC, are about to become part of the Dell megacompany. Michael Dell has already announced the first slew of post-merger executives. A large number of EMC Federation executives are named in that sec report. Jonathan, Martin, and Carl have come to the natural end of their VMware journey and can move on with a clear conscious and satisfaction in a job done well. They are moving on to the next chapters in their careers. This is not a VMware brain drain: it is an evolution. VMware is entering the third age of a company. The pioneers (Diane, Mendel, etc.) have left, and now it is time for the settlers to leave for new pastures as the town planners arrive to civilize.

As my good friend John Troyer stated, “I’m frankly more worried when the smart techies leave than when the execs leave.” With this, I am in full agreement.

I think that the new executive replacements will do sterling work for VMware. Brain drain? Nah. Brain train more like.

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