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Pliant puts shiny new CEO to work

Hot swap at the top for flash start-up

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Enterprise flash drive start-up Pliant has brought in Richard Wilmer to run the company, replacing former CEO Amyl Ahola.

Pliant makes single and multi-level cell, Lightning-branded solid state drives that can replace fast hard disks in enterprise storage arrays. It doesn't produce Fibre Channel interface drives though, and prefers SAS.

Pliant has picked up several OEMs, including Dell, LSI, and Terradata. Ahola has retired and stays on Pliant's board, and since he's in his 60s retirement wasn't unexpected; there's no guff about him leaving for new personal challenges.

Pliant chairman Jim McCoy tells us in a canned spiel: "Amyl's leadership, experience and innovative vision have enabled Pliant to grow tremendously over the past four years. The company is now in an ideal position to address the rapidly growing demand for more efficient storage solutions across the globe.

"Richard Wilmer's blue chip industry experience allows for a seamless transition of the CEO role. His positive management style, technical acumen and strategic wherewithal provides him with the skills necessary to continue to drive Pliant's rapid growth."

What do we know about Richard Wilmer? We're told that, prior to Pliant, he was COO and acting CFO for Santur Corporation, and previously its global operations VP. He has had experience at Aruba Networks, Seagate, Maxtor, 2Wire, Procket Networks, and Terastor.

This is his first CEO gig then, and Pliant's board has gone for a non-seasoned CEO to take over from Ahola. That might be construed as a trifle odd, especially with the strength and breadth of the competition Pliant faces.

Latterly SandForce, STEC, Intel, Fusion-io and Violin Memory have all enjoyed lots of marketing buzz around their SSD products, as did Seagate with its refreshed Pulsars just last week. Also, Violin Memory is pushing for an IPO or suspected acquisition. OCZ has just bought the Indilinx controller company. Western Digital is buying Hitachi GST and its Intel-based flash drive development. Anobit is making positive noises in the MLC space.

If we cynically assume it's not a straightforward appointment then we might conclude Pliant is feeling passed by. The competition is hotting up: the VCs want a profitable exit, and Pliant needs to up its game.

A second option is that start-up CEOs often get replaced by professional CEOs to take the company on after its first stage growth, and Richard Wilmer is that person.

A third possibility is that Pliant, with three funding rounds under its belt, needs more cash, and a CEO refresh will help persuade VCs to hand over the extra money.

A fourth possibility is that Ahola has simply retired and that Pliant has bought in a new CEO. End of. We're such a cynical bunch we don't necessarily believe that. Shame on us. ®

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