Citrix: Out with MarkT, In with Elliott Management

Citrix announced late yesterday that Mark Templeton will be retiring and that its board of directors is searching for a new CEO. Is this deja vu or real? While this isn’t the first time that Mark Templeton has announced his retirement, it appears that this time he is indeed imminently retiring.

MarkT, as he is known to many, is the epitome of a CEO who lives and breathes his company and loves its technology. He’s the kind of CEO who doesn’t read off the prompters about his own technology because he knows it so well. While he has earned many millions of dollars from his tenure in the corner office, it has always been quite clear that MarkT “feels” Citrix. Unlike many high-tech CEOs, it’s readily apparent that MarkT has had an agenda that hasn’t been about money or power; he truly loves Citrix and believes in it. It’s doubtful that any future Citrix CEO will love Citrix and its technologies as much as MarkT.

But now we start a new era, one in which Wall Street investment firm Elliott Management takes a seat on the board of directors. Jesse Cohn, signatory to the June 11 letter to the Citrix board that called for sweeping changes within the company, will now be part of the board. Sad to say, but Citrix has announced a “cooperation agreement” with Elliott Management. How will this impact Citrix technologies?

Unsurprisingly, the GoTo product line will be sold off. Although the GoTo products are great tools, they never quite fit in with the rest of the Citrix offerings, and there never seemed to be a solid integration strategy. Elliott also stated in its letter last month that NetScaler may be considered as part of the paring efforts. This would largely be a mistake because of the close NetScaler Gateway integration, unless a Secure Gateway–like appliance were to be made available.

Along with yesterday’s announcements, there’s a brief statement that “a comprehensive operational review focusing on improving Citrix’s margins, profitability and capital structure” will be undertaken. From a technical standpoint, this means that functionality that doesn’t yield a profit may be on the chopping block.

Unfortunately, this comprehensive operational review will likely incite short-term thinking and profits at the expense of long-term investments in technology. The virtualization industry is extremely competitive, and short-term views could be toxic, because people and product investments are the bread and butter for tomorrow. The core products—i.e., XenDesktop/XenApp—may in fact receive a boost in investment because of long-term profitability and leadership in an established industry; however, up-and-coming technologies and investments are questionable.

Elliott Management has a longstanding reputation for dissecting technology companies. Citrix is a strong company and will indeed survive, but it’s likely that the technology giant we know it to be today will not look the same a year or two from now. While few would dispute that Citrix seemed to be heading in multiple directions and that more focus was necessary, a gentle change of direction does not appear to be the intention of Elliott Management.

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