IBM announced today that the board of directors has elected IBM senior vice president for Cloud and Cognitive Software Arvind Krishna to replace current CEO Ginni Rometty. He will take over on April 6th after a couple of months of transition. Rometty will remain with the company as chairman of the board.
Krishna reportedly drove the massive $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat at the end of 2018, and there was some speculation at the time that Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst was the heir apparent, but the board went with a more seasoned IBM insider for the job, while naming Whitehurst as president.
In a statement Rometty called Krishna the right man for the job, as she steps back after more than eight years on the job. "Through his multiple experiences running businesses in IBM, Arvind has built an outstanding track record of bold transformations and proven business results, and is an authentic, values-driven leader. He is well-positioned to lead IBM and its clients into the cloud and cognitive era," she said in a statement.
She added that in choosing Krishna and Whitehurst, the board chose a technically and business savvy team to lead the company moving forward. It's clear that the board went with two men who have a deep understanding of cloud and cognitive computing technologies, two areas that are obviously going to be front and center of technology for the foreseeable future, and areas where IBM needs to thrive.
Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, sees the CEO-president model as a sound approach. "It's and inside-outside model. To truly understand IBM, you have to come from the inside [like Krishna], but to truly innovate you need someone on the outside [like Whitehurst] and that CEO-president model is helping," he said.
Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategies, says that he was surprised by the timing of the announcement, which seemed to come out of nowhere. "I am a bit surprised at the speed of this announcement as I don't believe there was a formal succession plan with a named successor. IBM has always had these and it was always apparent who the next CEO would be," he said. That was not the case this time.
But like Wang, Moorhead likes the approach of having an "outsider" and long-time IBMer working in tandem. "Krishna spearheaded many of the next-generation IBM initiatives like the Red Hat acquisition, blockchain and quantum. I am also very pleased to see Whitehurst appointed president as now there's an outsider and a long-time IBMer running the company in the number one and two spots," he said.
Wang believes the new leaders have to honestly assess the company's strengths and weaknesses and find ways to compete with today's cloud companies for the hearts and minds of the enterprise customers.
"Today IBM is in an interesting position where the world has changed, and people go to Amazon or Salesforce or they go to Google or Workday or Microsoft. Companies still have a lot of IBM, they still trust IBM, but the new leadership team needs to figure out where the technology gaps are, which ones they need to build, which ones they need to partner, and in some cases say, this is not our market," he said.