SUSE CEO out effective immediately, replacement CEO not available until later.
A failed IPO, political attacks, and purchased "awards" are the legacy of the departing CEO of the oldest Linux company.
In abrupt — but not entirely unexpected — news, Melissa di Donato (the CEO of SUSE for the last 3+ years)… is no longer the CEO of SUSE.
SUSE — the oldest Linux company in the world — announced, via a press release on Tuesday, March 22nd, that CEO Melissa di Donato was out, and will be replaced by Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen.
Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen has been around the UNIX & Linux world for a good long time. He was in sales for SCO, then for BSDI and Walnut Creek. All important names in the 1990’s UNIX world. Eventually finding his way to Red Hat, where he’s been for many years.
But Dirk doesn’t start as the new CEO right away.
In fact, the current Chief Financial Officer of SUSE is going to be assuming the role as “Interim CEO” until Dirk becomes available in about a month and a half. Because di Donato is out… without absolutely no notice.
This is a bit wild and highly irregular. If a CEO leaves a company in good standing it is standard procedure to have both a) notice and b) preferably some amount of overlap to transition knowledge and duties to the new CEO.
In this case, the outgoing CEO (di Donato), is out immediately. Which suggests (rather strongly) that she is not leaving the company on good terms.
That suggestion is backed up by this statement from the SUSE press release:
“Melissa Di Donato, the current CEO, has decided to step down as she embarks on the next chapter of her career.”
While that may read as somewhat bland at first blush, everyone in Public Relations can read between those lines. No specifics. “Next chapter of her career.” Uh-huh. That, right there, is code for “this is not a friendly break up.”
All of this follows a tenure as SUSE CEO that was, to put it mildly, highly embarrassing for the company.
Not only did she oversee an IPO (on the German stock exchange) that — while not a total disaster — was anything but successful. Then, under her direction, SUSE branding seemed to focus on putting their logo on the behinds of swimsuits. All while she made politically charged statements which seemed intended to ostracize a large portion of SUSE’s market.
As a cherry on top, di Donato followed that up by paying multiple companies to give her fake awards.
SUSE paid money to companies which immediately turned around and gave di Donato awards such as the “COVID 19 Hero” award — and SUSE even paid a company to declare her “Woman of the Year”. Not a joke. That really happened.
It was all incredibly cringe-worthy.
To recap, under the di Donato leadership, SUSE…
Had a terrible debut on the Berlin stock exchange.
Created some of the most embarrassing marketing and branding in Tech history (see the swimsuit above).
Paid multiple companies to give their CEO fake awards (a move that might even make Michael Scott on the Office cringe).
Ostracized potential and current customers by attacking them politically.
Add on top of that the fact that di Donato is out effective immediately with no replacement CEO ready to take the reigns for at least a month and a half… and it becomes pretty clear:
Either di Donato was leaving unexpectedly, for reasons she doesn’t want to talk about… or SUSE is forcing her to leave. And the company feels strongly that di Donato needs to not be there even one moment longer.
To be fair, not everything went wrong during di Donato’s 3 year tenure as the CEO of SUSE. The company saw solid revenue during that period. Though, considering the large contracts that were on deck before she assumed the role of CEO… that was almost a shoe-in. Those revenues were expected prior to her arrival. Thanks to the efforts of the rest of the company, and the existing contracts, SUSE could have remained profitable — at least for a few years — without a CEO at all.
So. The big question:
Did the SUSE board kick out di Donato?
… or …
Did di Donato decide to leave for some undisclosed reason?
Hard to say. Everyone, including those contacted by The Lunduke Journal, are either staying tight-lipped or are completely out of the loop. Either way, this appears to have been a bit of a surprise to most SUSE employees contacted.
Considering di Donato’s track record, my assumption is that SUSE gave her the boot.
That said, regardless of the exact circumstances surrounding di Donato’s departure… this looks to be a positive move for SUSE as a company. I have high hopes that the incoming CEO can right the ship and be the captain that SUSE deserves.
Full disclosure: Yours truly spent several years working in marketing for SUSE, as well as holding an election position to the openSUSE Board. SUSE is an important company to the Linux world with a deep and amazing history. But, for many years, I have had no direct relationship to the company.