When Red Hat’s new top strategy woman, Jackie Yeaney, joined the company six months ago, she hit culture shock.Red Hat is nothing like the military where she served as is an Air Force captain, she says. So it’s not like the military structures of most big corporations where the bosses rule and the employees follow orders or find the door.
Because Red Hat is a pure open source company, its culture is something between a democracy and a commune. This comes from the nature of open source, where writing software is always a collaboration.
With that kind of culture “you might be arrogant in believing that open source is the way to go,” she says, but this prevents people from becoming arrogant themselves — including executives.
“If you believe in open source, you know you don’t know best. There’s all these other people around that can provide input and make it better,” Yeaney says.
When she first joined Red Hat in the role of executive vice president of Strategy and Corporate Marketing, she planned on business as usual. Her background is in engineering, but she’s been the top marketeer at Delta Airlines (where she met Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst), Earthlink, and HomeBanc Mortgage. She did time as a consultant, too.
“In my past marketing roles, I would hire a branding firm, interview some influencers, come up with where I think we should be going and then start engaging the employees in the company. At Red Hat you can’t do that … no one would listen,” she laughs.
Instead she spent months polling employees in depth. She’s got a team of seven people who in turn work with a team of another 30 employees. She interviewed another 50 beyond that. Then they put the best ideas in a room (called a “mirror gallery”) and collected even more employee feedback.
“It’s not that people think they are going to take a vote, or that all of their ideas will get in. But they want to be part of the process and be heard,” she says. “You have to build credibility and respect at a place like Red Hat, and it really doesn’t matter what your title says. It’s more what you say and do who is going with you.”
“It’s one of the only places I know where the CEO can say ‘I’d like XYZ to happen’ and it may or not happen,” she jokes.
This type of work environment is coming to every company, too, Yeaney is convinced.
“A lot of what Red Hat faced because of the open source culture all companies are starting to face because of millennials in the workplace and social media. Companies are becoming more open whether they like it or not,” she says.
After all that employee kumbaya, what is the grand strategy that Red Hat will implement in 2012 and beyond? Yeaney says:
- Grow customers for its VMware competitor, a virtualization technology known as KVM.
- Do all things cloud but keep it’s OpenShift cloud free. OpenShift is a “platform as a service” cloud where developers can store applications written in certain languages (Java, Ruby, PHP, Perl, Python). It allows Red Hat to identify early stage projects hat the company may want to support.
- Stitch together its core products (Linux, JBoss, virtualization, etc.) into packages that address specific problems (or in marketing-speak “solutions”).
- Continue to grow customers for its core Red Hat Enterprise Linux subscriptions, which is still the company’s bread-and-butter, she says.
NOW WATCH: Tech Insider videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.