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EMC CEO's ego has cost investors billions

Whacks Greene when VMware needed her most

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Comment By firing VMware chief Diane Greene, EMC's top dog Joe Tucci has sent a message to investors that his personal likes and dislikes come before their broader interests. That's not exactly what you want to see from an executive who has already done so very little for investors over the past five years.

We've written more than any other publication about the tension that existed between Tucci and Greene. Such bad blood seemed inevitable once EMC decided to offer part of VMware up in an initial public offering. You've got the stodgy parent company trudging along with a crepe-flat share price, while the young upstart soars into the stratosphere. In fact, at one point not long after the IPO, it looked as if VMware's market capitalization would shoot past that of EMC.

Since it still held more than 85 per cent of VMware, EMC benefited from its virtualization arm's gains. Its share price finally started moving up after years of languishing. Thing is, it was Greene's team and not Tucci's that was to thank for the surge.

EMC came to look like a hindrance. It was the boring disk seller trying to hold onto to a piece of the future with all its might.

Tucci must have hated being put in that position. He'd driven EMC to consistent double-digit growth, but no one cared. And then here comes this hippie wind-surfer from California who receives all of the accolades and pats on the back for her business acumen.

People often underestimate Greene. This is understandable to a degree. She's rather short. She's not a bombastic type in public. She comes off as much more of an engineer than a ruthless capitalist. She's a nerd who happened to end up running a company.

Those inside of VMware know a much different Greene. She's a hard-driving perfectionist who loves nothing more than to get her way. Employees have talked to us about going into meetings with Greene and crawling into their foxholes, hoping to avoid being struck by criticism or worse, a tirade.

We suspect that Tucci became less enamored with Greene's style as VMware's fortunes rose. He would have very little leverage over the firebrand in Palo Alto. She was responsible for making him look good. She wanted too much control of this VMware gem. She caused too many headaches. People kept thinking maybe she should have the EMC CEO post. Ultimately, she had to go.

Lucky for Tucci, investors, as they are wont to do, set unrealistic expectations for VMware. The company had doubled revenue every year since its birth. Why expect that party to end just because VMware's revenue had swelled past $1bn? Why think that Microsoft entering the market with a server virtualization product tied to Windows would harm VMware's fortunes?

So, with VMware failing to meet these insane goals, Tucci found the opportunity to justify Greene's dismissal as a business decision when it's anything but.

Greene always knew what was coming. That's why she drove her team so hard to build out an incredible number of management products over the past few years. It's these products that surround VMware's core hypervisor and which should provide the revenue for VMware in the future.

VMware may have grown a bit full of it itself after the IPO, but it never turned complacent. The software maker continued to pump out product after product and to use its new found wealth for acquisitions and finding talent.

We suspect VMware will lose some of that focus now that Microsoft ex Paul Maritz has tumbled into the CEO post. Not because Maritz is an underwhelming leader but because VMware will have lost that spark and singular passion that only CEO/founders are usually able to provide. (VMware's chief scientist Mendel Rosenblum, also Greene's husband and company co-founder, can't be long for the company either.)

It's nothing less than shocking that Tucci would push to remove Greene just as VMware needed her most. Here comes Microsoft with Hyper-V finally ready, and you're going to rattle the whole ship because of a personality conflict?

Er, VMware may have tweaked its revenue forecast for 2008 to be "modestly below" previous guidance of 50 per cent growth. Few executives of multi-billion dollar companies usually get fired for 49 per cent growth, especially with an imploding worldwide economy in the background.

But why let such ideas get in the way, Joe? Let's just wave Greene, 30 per cent of VMware's share price and 10 per cent of EMC's share price away because the short lady was kinda hard to get along with sometimes. ®

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