The open organization▶ Watch the video
Igniting passion and performance
Our culture is evolving towards openness
We share on social media. We institute sunshine laws for those that govern us. And our businesses are no longer able to obscure how they operate.
For many organizational leaders, this change is a challenge—learning to lead while everyone is watching.Electronic Frontier Foundation.
"In my view, Whitehurst also writes like a man who, having been given fire, is anxious to spread that fire. Red Hat, whose market value is up 300% under his leadership, also seems ready for bigger things."
Seeking Alpha - May 18, 2015
"'For me to come into an organization like this and be able to learn first-hand, it's an extraordinary gift. That's one of the reasons I wrote the book is to share that.'"
The News and Observer - May 30, 2015
"[...]I have interviewed him twice and have gained the impression of a modest, self-effacing man, quick to laugh at the occasional absurdities of the IT industry. This is unusual enough in a sector where egomania, arrogance and the beating of macho chests is common currency among company leaders."
IDG Connect - May 27, 2015
"Rather than management dictating what the peons must do, open organizations largely self-organize. As he writes, 'Projects of all kinds, beyond just software, naturally emerge throughout Red Hat until it's obvious to everyone that someone needs to work on it full-time.'"
InfoWorld - May 28, 2015
"This is a great read for anyone hoping to lead and succeed in a society being redefined by expectations of transparency, authenticity, access—and yes, in a word, openness."Michael Dell, Chairman and CEO, Dell
"With The Open Organization, Whitehurst takes us where all leaders need to be if we want to succeed in the future—outside of our traditional comfort zones."John Chambers, Chairman and CEO, Cisco
"Whitehurst speaks from personal experience about what works—and what doesn't—to foster openness and speed. If you have even an inkling of a desire to lead an innovative, fast-moving, and engaged organization, this book is for you."Charlene Li, founder and CEO, Altimeter Group; author, The Engaged Leader and Open Leadership
"Jim Whitehurst's interesting tale of his own reinvention as a leader, with lessons from other leaders in companies such as Whole Foods, Pixar, Zappos, and others, finally provides the blueprint that leaders have been seeking."Chris Anderson, cofounder and CEO, 3D Robotics; former Editor in Chief, Wired magazine
Successful organizations need open leadership
The world has changed. Companies that want to grow (and succeed) can't operate in the past.
The Open Organization is for leaders who want to create business environments that can respond quickly in today's fast-paced world. It's for those who want to encourage the best ideas, hear honest advice, and attract (and retain) the brightest talent.
Red Hat is an open organization
Red Hat exists because Linus Torvalds created an operating system that was open to all. We can successfully share, support, and sell Red Hat Enterprise Linux—and many other open source cloud, storage, and middleware technologies—because of a foundation built on transparency, participation, and community.
But this book isn't really about Red Hat. It tells some of our stories, but also shares lessons learned at other open organizations like Whole Foods, Pixar, Zappos, Starbucks, and W. L. Gore.
About Jim Whitehurst
Jim Whitehurst is the CEO of Red Hat, the largest open source software company in the world. When Jim joined the company, he became enamored with how open source was disrupting the world of traditional proprietary software. In his time here, he has become more than just a believer in the power of open source software. Now, he's an outspoken advocate for opening up nonproprietary data and technology of all kinds.
The Open Organization takes the transformative effects of openness from the community, through the technology, and into the organization at the deepest and highest levels. Jim believes openness must be pervasive to be effective.
Before joining Red Hat, Jim held various positions at Delta Air Lines, most recently as chief operating officer. Prior to joining Delta, Whitehurst served as a partner at The Boston Consulting Group (BCG).
Read more from Jim
Before I arrived at Red Hat, I had spent most of my professional career devoted to studying businesses. As a partner with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), where I worked for ten years (with a two-year stint attending Harvard Business School), I saw the inner workings of literally hundreds of companies. My job was simple: identify and solve problems. I was there to help companies recognize their limitations and figure out ways to overcome them. Similarly, as chief operating officer at Delta Air Lines, I was chief problem solver and took a lead role in Delta's restructuring. I learned a lot over my six years there, as well as during my time at BCG. I thought I knew how well-performing organizations should operate. I thought I knew what it took to manage people and get work done. But the techniques I had learned, the traditional beliefs I held for management and how people are taught to run companies and lead organizations, were to be challenged when I entered the world of Red Hat and open source.
Red Hat has shown me alternatives to the traditional approach to leadership and management—ones better suited to the fast-paced environment of business. The conventional approach to business management was not designed to foster innovation, address the needs and expectations of the current workforce that demands more of jobs (hello, Millennials), or operate at the accelerated speed of business. I came to realize, in other words, that the conventional way of running companies had major limitations that are now becoming more acute.
My change in thinking began in 2007. I had just left Delta after helping the company through a successful turnaround. A new CEO had come in and I felt it was the right time for me to move on and find my next opportunity. Because Delta was such a high-profile company and the turnaround was considered successful, I received dozens of calls from recruiters offering opportunities—especially more chances to turn around companies—at a wide variety of companies, from private equity firms to Fortune 500 giants. I'll admit that, after years of hard work, it was nice to be wined and dined and courted by such big names.
Then I received a call from a recruiter for Red Hat. Being somewhat of a computer person myself—my undergraduate degree at Rice University was in computer science—I knew about Red Hat's core Linux product and had been using the desktop version for some time. But I didn't know much about the company itself or the true extent of how pervasive open source development had become. After doing some research, I was intrigued. Part of the appeal came from the fact that I was wary of taking on any other turnaround opportunities after my time at Delta. I had been in charge of laying off tens of thousands of people. As someone who cared deeply about the people with whom I worked, I found the process extremely painful for my associates and myself. Many of the other companies courting me wanted more of the same. I just couldn't do it. I hated laying people off. Red Hat, on the other hand, offered something very different.
It was growing. It offered me a chance to help create something new while also getting back to my tech roots. I found it extraordinary how a company could make so much money selling software that, in theory, anyone could download off the internet for free.
After telling the recruiter I was interested in the interview, he asked if I would mind flying to Red Hat's headquarters in Raleigh, North Carolina, on a Sunday. I thought to myself that Sunday was a strange day to schedule a meeting. But I was headed up to New York on Monday anyway, so I could stop on the way, and I agreed to the interview. I hopped a plane from Atlanta to the Raleigh-Durham airport. My cab dropped me off in front of the Red Hat building, then on the campus of North Carolina State University. It was 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, and there was no one in sight. The lights were off, and, after a check, I found the doors were locked. Was this a gag? I wondered. As I turned to get back in the cab, I noticed the driver had already pulled away. Just about that same time, it started raining. I had no umbrella.
As I started to walk somewhere to hail a cab, Matthew Szulik, then Red Hat's chairman and CEO, rolled up in his car. "Hi there," he said. "Want to go grab some coffee?" While this seemed like a strange start to an interview, I knew I could certainly use some coffee. At the very least, I figured I'd be closer to getting a cab back to the airport.
In North Carolina, Sunday mornings are pretty quiet. It took us a while to even find a coffee shop that was open before noon. The shop wasn't the best in town or the cleanest, but it was open and had freshly brewed coffee. We grabbed a booth and began to chat.
After thirty minutes or so, I was feeling good about the way things were going. The interview wasn't traditional, but the conversation was great. Rather than dig into the nuts and bolts of Red Hat's corporate strategy or its image on Wall Street—things I had done homework on—Szulik asked me more about my hopes, dreams, and aspirations. It seems clear to me now that Szulik was gauging whether I was going to be a good fit for Red Hat's unique culture and management style.
After we finished, Szulik mentioned he wanted me to meet Michael Cunningham, the company's general counsel, and suggested maybe that I could have an early lunch with him. I agreed, so we started to get up to leave. As he grabbed for his wallet, Szulik realized he didn't have it. "Oops," he said. "I don't have any money. Do you?"
This kind of caught me off guard, but I told him I had some money and didn't mind springing for the coffee. A few minutes later, Szulik dropped me off at a little Mexican eatery where I met up with Cunningham. Again, this was not a traditional interview or setting by any means, but another great conversation. As Cunningham and I were getting ready to settle the bill, we were informed that the restaurant's credit card machine was broken.
They could only take cash. Cunningham turned to me and asked if I could cover it because he had no cash. Since I was on my way to New York City, I had a good amount of cash so I paid for lunch.
Cunningham offered to give me a lift to the airport and we headed off in his car. Within minutes, he asked, "Do you mind if I stop and get some gas? We're running on fumes." "No problem," I replied. As soon as I heard the rhythmic thump of the pump begin, there was a tapping on my window. It was Cunningham. "Hey, they don't take credit cards here," he said. "Could I borrow some cash?" I was starting to wonder whether this was really an interview or some kind of scam.
While in New York the next day, I was talking to my wife about the interview with Red Hat. I told her the conversation had been great, but I wasn't sure whether they were serious about hiring me or if they just wanted some free food and gas. When I look back at that meeting now, I realize that Szulik and Cunningham were just being open and treating me like any other person they may have had coffee or lunch with or got gas with. Yes, it was ironic and funny that they both had no cash. But, for them, it wasn't about the money.
They, like the open source world, didn't believe in rolling out red carpets for anyone or trying to make sure everything was perfect. They just wanted to get to know me rather than try to impress or court me. They wanted to know who I was.
That first interview with Red Hat showed me that working here would be different. There wasn't a traditional hierarchy and special treatment for leaders, at least not the kind that you might find at most other companies. In time, I also learned that Red Hat believed in the open source principle of meritocracy; that the best idea wins regardless of whether the idea comes from the top executive or a summer intern. Put another way, my early experiences with Red Hat introduced me to what the future of leadership looks like.
When you write a book about transparency, how it's written is as important as what you say. Take a behind-the-scenes look at the making of The Open Organization, and hear from some of the people who helped make it happen. Watch the full, 7-minute video to get the whole story.Watch the video
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Go beyond the book, and hear from Jim and others like him who are leading successful businesses the open way. Discuss management and motivation in the digital and social era on Opensource.com.Learn more