How Can You Create an Open Company?

Jim Whitehurst, CEO of the billion dollar company Red Hat, shares his perspective on the non-traditional approach required to create an open company. His big idea? Instead of working through hierarchy, catalyse a community to self-organise and solve the problems. Why would you? And how?

Here are some extracts from Jim Whitehurst describing how a leader operates in the new generation companies. …

Who is Red Hat? Anyone in a decent size company, your pay (system).. is running on our software. (It’s) like Windows, but it never crashes! We’re.. in 90% of the Fortune 500 companies. We work with.. tens of thousands of incredibly bright, accomplished people in communities from academia or (other) companies.

These Open Source communities self-organize to solve problems. People are doing their own things, nobody controls it — we work to catalyze those directions that are ultimately good for our investment. Stated simply, for leaders to be truly effective, they’re going to have to operate as catalysts… it’s incredibly important.

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The worst is silence! You’ve got to get it started at the top. At Delta, walking through one of the hangars, this guy stopped me — he had a suggestion but never heard anything back. I gave him my email address, and then I started publishing my email address: my commitment was, it might take a while, but I’ll get back to you. Build a culture in your organization where all suggestions get feedback.

How could you move, from relying on hierarchy, to catalysing a community across companies to self-organise and solve the problems?


  • The interview took place at Marbles Big Idea Forum in October 2012. Transcript here.
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