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The Mosquito and the Hurricane: Jim Whitehurst on the Past, Present, and Future of IBM

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Red Hat
Interviews

The modern consumer has taken a much more active role in corporate policy development and direction than in decades past. “Vote with your dollar” campaigns and boycott movements have gone from mosquitoes to hurricanes, forcing dramatic shifts in how investors and corporate executives navigate change and interact with their customers. While social and environmental issues were once considered both opaque and risky, they are now front and center in every conversation about our new digital economy’s future. Though many activist discussions used to be reserved for the camps of Occupy Wall Street, it is clear that a monumental shift has occurred. Impact investing has manifested itself as the logical market response to a rapidly growing cohort of consumers that expect higher ethical standards from the businesses and institutions they support.

After almost two decades of innovation, seemingly for innovation’s sake, the digitally transformed economy so many yearned for seems to be within reach. Activated like a bolt of lightning by the global pandemic, this transformation reaches further into citizens’ daily lives than anyone, save maybe Orwell, could have ever imagined. Whether or not this new digital economy will serve the best interests of humanity will be a question answered by the actions of citizens and corporations alike. It is no longer a debate; we are living through an era of enlightenment many futurists and forward-looking evangelists have spent decades preparing us for. It is essential to take a moment to recognize this prescience, take a step back, and examine how we got here.

There aren’t many people more qualified to help the world understand this historical trajectory than Jim Whitehurst, president of IBM, former CEO of Red Hat, and possibly most influential proponent of open-source computing in history. Whitehurst led Red Hat to become the first $1B open-source software company, seven years before being acquired by IBM in 2019 for $34B the single largest acquisition in IBM’s 110-year history.

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