New IBM CEO Arvind Krishna says hybrid cloud will be bigger than mainframes, services, middleware

First day letter to staff calls for ‘maniacal focus’, OpenShift dominance and client love


IBM’s new CEO Arvind Krishna has revealed the letter he sent to staff on his first day in the job, and it’s big on hybrid cloud as a new platform for IBM’s future.

Krishna was anointed as IBM CEO in January 2020, when the company’s board made a surprise announcement that Virginia Rometty would become as executive chairman of the board until her retirement at the end of the year.

The new CEO assumed his post as planned on Monday, April, and IBM quickly pointed to a LinkedIn post titled, “My first day as CEO - our journey together,” and billed as “the letter I shared with IBMers today about the public health crisis, IBM’s essential role in the world, and my commitments as the new CEO of IBM.”

The missive kicks off with best wishes to all during the coronavirus crisis, admiration for IBM’s response, and his belief the pandemic shows how important Big Blue technology is in its role of keeping commerce and healthcare running.

Then it swings into visionary gear: “I believe we can make IBM the most trusted technology partner of the 21st century,” Krishna wrote. “For this to happen, we have to ensure that IBM continues to innovate and lead in the transformational journeys our clients are on. Hybrid cloud and AI are two dominant forces driving change for our clients and must have the maniacal focus of the entire company.”

“IBM has already built enduring platforms in mainframe, services, and middleware. All three continue to serve our clients. I believe now is the time to build a fourth platform in hybrid cloud. An essential, ubiquitous hybrid cloud platform our clients will rely on to do their most critical work in this century. A platform that can last even longer than the others.”

Krishna also explained what he thinks are the three most important actions IBM needs to take, namely:

  1. Deepen our understanding of IBM’s two strategic battles: the journey to hybrid cloud and AI. We all need to understand and leverage IBM’s sources of competitive advantage. Namely, our open source and security leadership, our deep expertise and trust, and the fact that we enable clients to build mission-critical applications once and run them anywhere.
  2. Win the architectural battle in cloud. There’s a unique window of opportunity for IBM and Red Hat to establish Linux, containers and Kubernetes as the new standard. We can make Red Hat OpenShift the default choice for hybrid cloud in the same way that Red Hat Enterprise Linux is the default choice for the operating system.
  3. We all must be obsessed with continually delighting our clients. At every interaction, we must strive to offer them the best experience and value. The only way to lead in today’s ever-changing marketplace is to constantly innovate according to what our clients want and need.

To get there, Krishna has shuffled his executive deck.

Jim Whitehurst is now company president and will head IBM Strategy as well as the Cloud and Cognitive Software unit. Bridget van Kralingen will become senior veep of global markets, taking over from Martin Schroeter who has decided to retire but will continue to lead global industries and integrated accounts. Van Kralingen has been charged with “simplifying our go-to-market strategies across all business units as well as strengthening IBM’s client-centric culture.”

As we’ve detailed here, Paul Cormier will become the CEO of Red Hat. New hire Howard Boville will clamber aboard in May to take on the role of senior veep of IBM’s Cloud Platform, in which he will oversee the IBM Cloud.

All of which sounds great. But IBM’s cloud is consistently rated as solid but less mature than its hyperscale rivals, while OpenShift already has plenty of competition.

Krishna knows that tech alone won’t win. His post calls for IBM to develop a culture informed by a growth mindset.

“Few companies have the trust, credibility and cumulative wisdom to change the fabric of society through technology the way that IBM can,” Krishna wrote.

“I love this company. In my 30+ years with IBM, I have seen first-hand the tremendous talent and dedication that IBMers possess. For all these reasons, I'm truly honored and humbled to be your CEO and to lead an iconic, storied and innovative company like IBM.” ®

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