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Shuttleworth Reboots Canonical Leadership

By Jack M. Germain
Dec 17, 2009 1:56 PM PT

Mark Shuttleworth, founder and CEO of Ubuntu commercial sponsor Canonical, announced on Thursday that he is stepping aside to develop cloud products and begin new partnerships. He named Chief Operating Officer Jane Silber to take his place as CEO of Canonical.

Shuttleworth Reboots Canonical Leadership

Mark Shuttleworth
Mark Shuttleworth

The change in management will begin immediately but will not be fully implemented until March 1, he said. The unexpected leadership change will not bring a change in the company's status or abruptly alter its focus, added Shuttleworth. He will retain his role as chair of the Ubuntu Community Council and the Ubuntu Technical Board.

The management change has been under review for the last few months, he explained. He first pondered and then rejected any consideration to bringing in a CEO from outside the company. Instead, he ultimately decided that Silber's background and skills along with her five years of experience with Canonical are what Canonical needs at this point.

"We will continue to expand the Ubuntu governance structures as the project and Ubuntu community grow, but I am not moving away or relinquishing any community role I hold," Shuttleworth said during a teleconference from London announcing the leadership change.

Switching Gears

No particular event -- nor the fact that the company is not profitable -- led Shuttleworth to his decision to step down as CEO, he said. Instead, the decision formed as a result of his personal belief that leadership within a company should be changed every five years or so.

"It's almost five years to the date that I started to work on Ubuntu. I have a concrete program in place to take leaders and stretch them in new directions," he said.

Silber, however, will bring a new discipline and a change of tactics to the company, he acknowledged. That shift, he insisted, is a natural business growth, but it will not represent a change in the company's direction.

"In her new role as CEO, she will have the authority to make decisions which may differ from those I would make. We are broadly aligned on our strategy and direction," he said.

New View

In her tenure with Canonical, Silber has been closely involved in the establishment and management of most Canonical functions, including Ubuntu One, OEM services, corporate services, marketing, finance, legal and others. She has a technical background as a software developer and previously held engineering and senior management positions at companies such as a health and wellness promotion start-up, a large technology and manufacturing company in Japan, and the U.S. defense contractor General Dynamics, she said.

What will change are some relationships with customers and partners, as well as how the company satisfies their demands, Silber said. Her focus will be on building the ecosystem between OEMs and enterprise customers.

Jane Silber
Jane Silber

"One thing this move will bring about is a clearer separation of the role of CEO of Canonical and the leader of the Ubuntu community. It will be two different people now, which I think will be helpful in both achieving their joint and individual goals more quickly," said Shuttleworth.

Between now and March 1, Silber will conduct an internal and external executive search to fill the key roles of COO and head of Ubuntu One.

Task Change

"It is critical now that we have a more commercial focus for the next five years. We are growing into markets that demand this focus," said Shuttleworth about Silber's challenge as CEO.

To that end, Silber aims to grow Ubuntu's enterprise business and work to push Canonical into a profitable status.

While Silver pursues those goals, Shuttleworth will follow up on his passions for product design and the company's cloud offerings. He will also work on developing stronger relationships with partners in Asia.

"I want Ubuntu to succeed as the open platform of choice for almost all use types, whether on netbook, notebook, desktop, server, embedded device or wherever people compute. That is an large undertaking," said Shuttleworth.

Bottom Line

Canonical is not currently profitable, Shuttleworth acknowledged. Yet the company continues to develop its three main revenue sources from OEMs, enterprise offerings and product support.

"It takes time to achieve a profitable status as a platform company," he said. The company has expanded to more than 300 employees, he added.

"Things are already changing within Canonical. As we grow, there will be an increased focus on the financial result. But that doesn't mean a change in direction," Silber concluded.


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