In a mobile environment, it’s not often you find yourself working with the same core team for 15 years. A foursome at Red Hat is bucking that trend, making strides in business — and enjoying themselves in the process.
“What makes this team so incredibly great and synergistic is that we almost could almost finish one another’s sentences, we challenge one another, we can beg to differ and yet at the end of the day, we cherish and respect one another’s opinions and ideas,” said Lynne Chamberlain, vice president of business development of public sector at Red Hat.
She was referring to her work with Paul Smith, senior vice president and general manager of public sector; Nathan Jones, vice president of federal; and Michael Byrd, vice president of U.S. public sector channel sales.
Since 2004, the four have worked together at Red Hat. They communicate at least weekly, often daily. They hang out after work. They go on double or triple dates with each other’s spouses. They attend each other’s children’s weddings. Occasionally, they’ve gone on vacations with one another. It’s a camaraderie hard to replace — and it’s one they say helps them both on and off the job.
Much of their time together has been smooth sailing, but they’ve also endured some of the controversies that strengthen relationships.
“Early impressions were that (Paul, Lynne and Nathan) were smart, hard workers, but tough and demanding,” Byrd recalled. “Nathan was a sales representative, and Paul was our manager. I was the channel guy, but I wore a lot of additional hats where we had gaps — sales operations, field sales where we had no reps, etc. We had some challenges early on that helped us learn about each other and how we worked. When you’re a small company and everyone is wearing multiple hats, you need to go through that sort of conflict in order to iron out how you’re going to work together over the long haul.”
Prior to coming to Red Hat, Chamberlain and Smith were competitors, with Smith working at Veritas and Chamberlain at NetApp. Jones came to work for Smith when the public sector business unit was still in its infancy. Byrd was Smith’s first hire in standing up the new unit.
“I was in my fifth year with Veritas Software at the time, after having stood up their very first public sector unit in the year 2000 and having built it to about $200 million in sales from a baseline of about $20 million,” Smith said of his transition to Red Hat. “Alex Pinchev, then executive vice president for worldwide sales and services, hooked me on the phone with this line: ‘How would you like to do that again?’
“Lynne and I knew each other from around the Beltway as she had an outstanding reputation for building federal practices including the first vice president for NetApp. She was brought in to Red Hat at about the same time to kickstart our commercial organization. Nathan and I met on an interview I requested before joining Red Hat to meet some of the veterans. At the time, he was a young professional and was the sales representative for intelligence and civilian agencies. In fact, he was the only sales rep for all of those agencies! I was lucky to find Mike to head our channel. He was my first hire at Red Hat in 2005. That worked out well for us!”
Chamberlain agreed Pinchev seemed to select a team of individuals who all had the same core values and passion for the mission of Red Hat. Before coming to the company, she had already heard good things about Byrd and Smith from her other industry connections.
Jones said he had met Chamberlain as a business partner, “and thought highly of her.” He had also met Byrd during the interview process and thought he would be “a great fit.”
“In the early days, we had so much momentum that I was happy to get ‘help’ executing on the customer’s mission,” Jones recalled. “I knew we had assembled a competent team under Paul Smith, but I would have never guessed we’d work together for so long and build the ‘family’ relationship we have today.”
While the business has grown and changed every year, Red Hat has ridden the curve of open source while adding more solutions every year, Jones said.
“The ability to go back to very happy customers with more tools to solve problems,” he said, “makes Red Hat a very meaningful career.”
Smith says the company has been “as good to us as we have been to Red Hat.”
“Our senior leaders, from Arun Oberoi, executive vice president [of]global sales and services, to Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat CEO, both take a genuine interest in not only the business but our personal wellbeing and growth.”
Byrd calls it “the tightest team I have ever been a part of,” and Chamberlain said their relationships are further strengthened in the knowledge they don’t have to question one another’s loyalty.
“We know and respect one another from years of service and supporting one another,” she said. “This is so critical and has been a key to the success of the North America Public Sector and the four of us. I would add that having a leader in Paul who inspires us, supports us, and continually gives us constructive feedback, is our glue. Textbook success.”