Inside the minds of storage CEOs

Who runs the storage vendors? Columnist Chris Mellor sketches storage CEOs he's met from Compellent, EMC, FalconStor, Pillar, Seagate and 3PAR.

The CEOs at storage companies tend to be a breed apart. They hold the professional futures of thousands of people in their hands, as well as the hopes and fears of investors. They're sometimes regarded with benevolent -- and sometimes malevolent -- interest by a company's board, depending on how well the organization's nest egg is doing.

Most of us only get glimpses of the corporate issues a storage company CEO faces. So while it's tricky to draw a picture of a whole elephant from looking at only a few parts, here's an attempt to draw an image of one of the biggest beasts in the corporate storage jungle: the man with the monogrammed shirts, bonuses and stock options we covet.

Compellent's Phil Soran has been there, done that and done it again. He's a master of the sure touch and makes it look easy. His company has a knack for coming up with truly great ideas for products, technology and the business, easily convincing people that it's just common sense extended a bit. It's like watching a skilled and oh-so-relaxed golfer whose shot just heads for the green as if that's what it wanted to do all its life. A class act.

Joe Tucci at EMC reminds me of a godfather, all well-behaved silver hair and bulletproof suits. This guy is a company plate-spinner of extraordinary ability who can motivate a team to do big, big things. Jonathan Huberman is busy turning Iomega (an EMC company) into a powerhouse, while Paul Maritz, an ex-big wheel from Microsoft, is happy running the cloud stuff at VMware, another EMC property. Tucci is a serial company restructurer who has found a great place to be in EMC. It's probably his last company, but what a way to sign off.

ReiJane Huai is the head honcho at FalconStor Software, and he comes across like a rocket scientist in an interview. His eyes watch you carefully through his spectacles, leaving you with the feeling that he's summed you up and found you wanting; he'll keep talking, but you get the sense that you don't know half of what's going on behind those spectacles. He hasn't sold FalconStor to a bigger competitor, preferring to stay independent when all of the companies around him are getting gobbled up. The guy's a total expert who can keep his footing crossing a turbulent river. I hope he keeps it up.

Mike Workman, CEO at Pillar Data Systems, was formed by long years at IBM. In the storage world, his feet are firmly on the ground, but he's multitalented and hyperactive. He makes some very big bangs with his custom fireworks business, breeds dachshunds, runs a respectable winery, takes underwater photographs and runs the Larry Ellison-funded Pillar Data. There's a picture of a dachshund painted on the roof of Pillar's San Jose, Calif., headquarters and Mike is a dogged kind of guy. Be careful. He's sharp, he's clever and he bites -- the door to the executive level has rotated often enough to demonstrate that.

Bill Watkins, the now ex-boss at Seagate Technology, was the briskest CEO of them all and not one to make an Armani-suited appearance. This emperor doesn't always wear the emperor's clothes. Being CEO is a tough job and he's good, or at least he thought he was. Watkins was a company commander kind of guy and got his men to take that hill, and that one, and that one, and on and on. "Gunny" Watkins is tough and you figure he could be a bruiser too. He's the Marvin Hagler of CEOs and can duke it out with anybody. Pity, though, that after a $5 million payoff there's no one to duke it out with anymore.

David Scott at 3PAR. has an iron hand in a velvet glove. He's a tech enthusiast who understands the business and is doing a polished job. He can turn on the charm, be smilingly dismissive of the competition -- EMC? It stands for Emit More Carbon, doesn't it? -- and dismiss execs who don't cut it. Scott has guided 3PAR to solid second storage tier supplier success and, unlike his Antarctic namesake, won't take 3PAR into the icy wastes.

Chris Mellor is storage editor with The Register

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