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VMware Names COO Raghu Raghuram Its New CEO

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In somewhat of a surprise to many IT business observers, VMware on May 12 announced Raghu Raghuram, a 17-year veteran of the Palo Alto, Calif.-based IT giant, is now serving as its new Chief Executive Officer. He replaced the company’s longtime CEO, Pat Gelsinger, who worked wonders at VMware but left to take Intel’s CEO job on Feb. 15.

VMware Chief Financial Officer Zane Rowe had been serving as VMware’s CEO in the interim.

Raghuram, the company’s COO of Cloud Services and who had been executive vice president and general manager of VMware’s Software-Defined Data Center Division, was the company’s leader in transforming its architectures and applications into cloud services and bringing them successfully to markets. He has been a key part of a VMware leadership team that has built the company into an $11 billion-plus enterprise over the last several years.

Because Chief Operating Officer Sanjay Poonen had been the most visible VMware executive outside of Gelsinger the past few years, a healthy number of analysts and others thought he might be the natural choice for the job, which is one of the most influential in the IT world. VMware is known to have at least one application, cloud service, toolset or other product in about 95 percent of the world’s data centers–led by its hypervisors and a long list of other products and services.

He has the ‘technical chops’

“This is an interesting hire; certainly Raghuram has the technical chops to run VMware,” said industry analyst Zeus Kerravala of ZK Research. “He has been instrumental in transforming VMware into a company that’s relevant to the growth of cloud. I think that was in question a while ago, but he has made VMware core to cloud.”

Raghuram told Fortune that he has “no intention” to follow in the style of Gelsinger, who during his eight-and-a-half-year tenure as CEO was known to speak out on behalf of the IT industry as a whole on topics such as green IT and cryptocurrencies. Raghuram said he sees himself as more of a “technology-centric leader” and will eschew his predecessor’s approach.

“Fundamentally, I’ll be spending most of my time on what’s good for VMware, customers and associated industry technologies,” Raghuram said.

Kerravala wondered if that’s the best way to proceed here in socially conscious 2021 and beyond.

“I think that’s a mistake, particularly with VMware spinning out (from its Dell Technologies mothership),” Kerravala said. “More and more, customers are looking for the tech companies, particularly the big brands, to set the tone for societal change. Gelsinger was very active in this area, as are many of his peers, such as Chuck Robbins (Cisco Systems), Marc Benioff (Salesforce), Antonio Neri (HPE) and Michael Dell.

“Not addressing these issues will be viewed as a negative by some customers. If he isn’t going to be active in these areas, someone at VMware will need to fill that role. Tech vendors don’t just sell tech; they provide examples of how technologies can be used to change the world,” Kerravala said.

What other analysts are saying

Other analysts offered their own takes on the move.

“VMware has always been a technologically-driven company which is reflected in its leadership, including past CEOs like Pat Gelsinger and Paul Maritz,” PUND-IT principal analyst Charles King told eWEEK. “Raghuram clearly fits that mold and has also led or been in the senior leadership teams on some of the company’s most strategically important businesses, including its cloud organization. His 17+ years with VMware means he has an intimate understanding of the company’s structure and culture. Altogether, he should be an excellent CEO.”

Enderle Group principal analyst Rob Enderle said that “Raghu is a low-drama, low-risk choice, indicating that Dell is generally happy with the company’s direction and wants someone that can take the leadership role with the least disruption. Raghu knows the company and its capabilities very well and has enough executive experience to understand the operational aspects of the job. He’ll get help from Dell on the statesmanlike components that will be new to him (things like managing investors and company image).

“If and when they spin VMware out, Raghu should, by then, be able to stand alone fully, and investors will appreciate his experience and pedigree. In short, he’ll show well. I don’t know him, but on paper, he appears to be the ideal choice,” Enderle said.

Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy told eWEEK that “Raghu Raghuram brings heavy-duty product and engineering skills to the table in addition to nearly 20 years at VMware. I am hoping he surrounds himself with customer and marketing types to balance out the equation. The company wants to be seen more as a cloud tech company, and one way to help do that is to put a technologist at the top.”

Raghuram is a 1996 graduate of The Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania and of the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai, India. He has served in nine executive positions at VMware since he joined the company in 2003.

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