**DISCLAIMER – While I am a employee of Nutanix, I am writing this blog posting as a FORMER employee of both Dell and EMC. This article is in no way, shape or form endorsed or encouraged by Nutanix or any investor in Nutanix. These are my own thoughts on the merger announcement today.**
My wife has this wonderful machine called a Vitamix. If you have not heard of it let me tell you what it does. You can stick a mature oak tree in it (as well as a Chevy Impala) and all the greens you want, and it will turn it into a nice smoothy for your health and enjoyment. Not kidding…you can blend ANYTHING you want. She often makes me green smoothies for breakfast with it. When it comes to mixing two large companies like Dell and EMC, you might end up with something else entirely, and what it will taste like in the end…nobody really knows. Actually, it isn’t just two companies…you have to take into account RSA Security, VCE, Pivotal, VirtuStream and VMware as part of this mix…so actually, we are blending SEVEN companies. Will it end up being a nice smooth outcome, or will it be a little chunky? A true smoothie blends all of the ingredients into a single taste and product. When you don’t blend it enough, you end up with chunks that can be identified individually, and that often times makes the smoothie less palatable.
I remember being in Austin, TX the day that Dell purchased Compellent, and the subsequent “divorce” that happened between Dell and EMC. Just prior to the acquisition both companies had each said that the relationship was healthy, and that nobody had to worry about Dell and EMC “breaking up” despite the rumors in the media that there was trouble on the home front. Our customers could count on the two companies being strong partners in the storage space. We all see how long that lasted…about fifteen minutes. Not surprisingly though, Dell and EMC both managed to stay in business and enjoy the marketshare that each had. Not a lot changed…at least not from my perspective as a Dell employee at the time. We just focused on what was “on the truck” and that no longer included EMC. Fast forward a few years.
I landed at EMC in their Advanced Software Division and focused on “what was on the truck”. The culture was drastically different than I had experienced in my dealings with EMC in the past, and in fact, it was nothing at all like I expected. I supported a product that EMC had acquired from a foreign company, and got to witness the challenges of an International acquisition. Integrating the technology was easy. Integrating the culture and the decision-making method and product management were entirely different things. Each organization did their best, but it was still a challenge to make the transition a smooth process. When you look at the Dell / EMC merger, I think what we’ll all be talking about when the dust settles is a clash of cultures.
Michael Dell is an amazing CEO. He knows his people. He knows his products, and when you are in an EBC (Executive Briefing) with a customer and he is in the room, you better be on your A-game, because he knows everything about everything that is under the Dell umbrella. You need to know your product better than he does. Joe Tucci is also an amazing Executive has ran one of the most respected (love them or hate them) sales organizations in the tech industry. Having worked for both I can’t help but see two totally different styles. We all know Joe is going to retire. It was pretty much public knowledge fifteen months ago. At that time all of us at EMC wondered who would take over, and how would things change? Joe WAS, and is, EMC. So who will fill two VERY big shoes?
Looking back at history in the Tech field, when the founder (or at the very least a key executive) leaves the company, things tend to fall apart. What happened when Steve Jobs left Apple (the first time)? What happened when Scott McNealy left Sun? What happened when Bill Gates left Microsoft? What happened when Michael left Dell (the first time)? What happened when Joe Tucci announced his intention to retire? My dad told me once “Nobody can run your company like you can” and I think when you look back at the defining moments in the history of a major technology companies, I submit to you that my father was right…in a big way. Sun…it’s gone. Apple…it nearly died without Steve, and under Tim Cook, the jury is still out. Microsoft…never been the same. Dell…when Michael left the first time it floundered in a BIG way but eventually recovered. I think you see where I am going with this.
I am a student of cultures. My own ethnic heritage is a mixture of French and English. While I clearly identify as an American, I enjoy getting in touch with my European roots (which often clash with my American birth). National and Ethnic cultures have a lot in common with corporate cultures…mainly, how are we going to do things as one moving forward? Can you bring two (or more) cultures together and merge them into one happy family? When Continental Airlines and United merged, the employees put on a happy face, but you heard the conversations between flight attendants. As an Elite passenger I will tell you I noticed things working pretty well, and I appreciated not only the merger, but how the two companies managed to maintain the identity of both great companies into a killer airline with a SINGLE identity and culture (despite reports that the NEW United is sick). When American and US Air(ways) merged, you heard all sorts of things from employees or both, but neither was particularly happy about it. Slowly but surely though things have managed to smooth out. But these are companies that are designed to do ONE thing…get people from here, to there…safely, and hopefully at a profit. Companies like Dell and EMC, where we are talking about many different products and sales teams with different wants of doing things…I think this will be another story entirely.
As a former employee of Dell and EMC I will tell you the cultures were VERY different…and even within business units inside the various companies…each business unit had its own identity and way of doing business. While I am sure the fate of various products and sales teams has probably already been determined, I am literally scratching my head at how anyone will pull off merging the cultures of the EMC Federation and Dell. One is based in the Boston area, and one is based in the Austin area. If you have been to both cities, you know EXACTLY where I am going with this. When explorers reached the various islands in the Pacific and encountered the natives who were going about their day to day, naked as the day they were born without a care in the world other than how to provide for their families, the explorers decided these people needed to be civilized, and they put clothes on them and gave them religion. Who said the natives were unhappy or sinning because they were naked? When the US annexed Hawaii they Hawaiians didn’t say “awesome…I’m an American.” No..they STILL say they are Hawaiian to this very day. So my question is this…if history has proven over and over again that merging similar cultures is challenging enough because we as humans still want to hold on to our identities that we know and love, what make anyone think that this is a good idea?. Bringing so many different cultures into the mix…Dell, EMC, VCE, RSA, Pivotal, VirtuStream and VMware…I hope you have a really big Vitamix, because I think we’ll see that merger will either succeed or fail based not at all on the technology, but the cultures and the ability of everyone involved to grab ahold of the new reality and the new identity.