M&A for HR

Last February, EMC made the curious purchase of a tiny Seattle-based information management startup, Pi Corp, which had yet to release a product. We scratched our heads over the acquisition, in no small part because the release announcing the deal spent as much time talking about Pi’s leader Paul Maritz as it did about the company itself. That shopping trip in Microsoft’s neighborhood makes a lot more sense now that we know Maritz is taking over at VMware. Call it M&A for HR.

A 14-year veteran of Microsoft, Maritz is replacing Diane Greene, the founder and undisputed queen of VMware. (A person who worked under Greene but moved on to another virtualization company recalled recently that she had a say in essentially every aspect of the firm, down to picking out the door handles at its headquarters.) An engineer, Greene built one of the fastest-growing software companies. Just nine short years after its founding, VMware was able to push revenue to more than $1bn, finishing 2007 at $1.3bn.

Greene managed that tremendous growth despite an often tense relationship between VMware and its parent EMC. About the only knock on Greene’s leadership was her decision to sell VMware to EMC for $625m – a transaction that allowed EMC to reap billions of dollars of value creation at VMware, while essentially leaving the latter to operate on its own. Maritz is now charged with navigating that relationship, as well as parrying ever-sharper competitive threats, principally from his old employer and its release of Hyper-V. In terms of compensation, we can only hope Maritz didn’t load up his contract with VMware options. Otherwise, the new CEO may well find himself underwater during his time in the corner office. VMware shares sunk to their lowest-ever level in midafternoon trading Tuesday, plummeting 27% to $38.75.