Red Hat, Wiley CEO's
talk about leadership

 

Elon University's Leadership Lecture Series continues during the January term of 2005 with appearances by major business and communications leaders. The chief executive officers/presidents of Red Hat Linux and John Wiley & Sons are offering illuminating lectures. Matthew Szulik of Red Hat spoke Jan. 12. Will Pesce of Wiley spoke Jan. 18. Both have children who attend Elon University.

Szulik, of the Raleigh-based software company Red Hat, has been a leading software executive for more than 20 years. He is a major proponent of the open-source movement, and positioned the Linux software provider to be a defining technology company of this era. He led Red Hat through its successful public stock offerings in 1999 and 2000, and he helped the company develop global partnerships with Oracle, Dell, IBM, Intel and HP to deliver open-source technology. His dynamic talk, "Leadership in the Technological Environment," electrified a full house in Whitley Auditorium Jan. 12. He was introduced by his daughter Kaitlin, an Elon freshman.

The open-source movement is the concept of distributing computer software in a way which makes the source code freely available for others to view, amend and adapt. Participants in the movement work for the greater good first and for profit as an auxiliary benefit - unlike most U.S. corporations' profit-first approach. Szulik recalled his early efforts in 1998 to raise money for the fledgling Red Hat and its novel concept of code sharing. "I got laughed out of more offices than I care to remember," he said.

Szulik said he has been driven by a core belief that software giant Microsoft is stifling creativity and shutting out a large portion of the world from technology. He says open-source code sharing enhances creativity and benefits the most people as an end result.

"We see this as an opportunity to do what Henry Ford did at the turn of the century, and that's make technology affordable for everybody," he said.

Szulik said business leaders must be true to their values and create a culture that encourages others to buy in to those values. He said many people told him he'd made a mistake by not selling out his share of Red Hat stock and walking away with a personal fortune. "I couldn't do that," Szulik said, "because if your goal is to change the world and improve society, then money is secondary."

He challenged Elon students to examine their values and their commitment to them. "Are you willing to remain sacrosanct to the core values your parents taught you, or are you willing to cash out?"

The second speaker on the leadership schedule, Pesce, the man at the helm of one of the nation's most prestigious publishing firms - John Wiley & Sons - has served the company as a leader since 1989. Wiley is a leading publisher of scientific and technical information, providing a great percentage of books used in higher education. Pesce helped engineer three of the largest and most successful acquisitions in Wiley's history. His talk was titled "Leading with Your Heart, Your Values and Your Mind." He was introduced by his daughter, Katie, an Elon junior.

He discussed the style that has given him a reputation as a leader who values his employees and treats them like family, and he said leaders are always responsible for what happens in their companies.

"The reality is, if something goes wrong I own it," Pesce said. "You cannot be the leader of an organization and not take responsibility for everything that goes on."

Since it is impossible for a president or CEO to know everything that is happening at a given time, it is imperative to create an environment of integrity and trust, where responsible people can be counted on to make wise decisions. He counts on all his employees to be leaders.

"Far too many people think they need fancy titles to lead," Pesce said. "One of the most important attributes is the ability to lead without authority."

Under Pesce's leadership, Wiley and Sons has been recognized as one of the "100 Best Companies for Working Mothers" by Working Mother Magazine and as one of the "World's Most Respected Companies" by Financial Times.

"Wiley is about treating people as human beings first and professionals second," Pesce said. He hosts an annual party for employees with at least 25 years of service to the company "to show that we value long-term relationships." Pesce also hosts a new-employee orientation six times a year and gets new workers comfortable with the idea that they should address him as "Will."

"I'm enormously grateful to be in a position to help human beings, and I'm inspired to do more," he said.

Pesce said he is disturbed when he hears today's students say they believe the only way to succeed in business is to sacrifice their values. "I'm here to tell you that you can succeed, as students and in life, by being a caring, ethical human being," Pesce said.

 

 

 

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Last Modified:  1/18/05
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