Winners and losers: lots of blogivators like to list losers and winners at the end of the year (for example, ‘Big Loser: Saddam Hussein’) but we sort of question the value of these compilations. We’d like to offer one or two, and here to lead of our list is a guy who probably qualifies as both a winner and a loser: Jim Whitehurst was number two to Jerry Grinstein at Delta, and was one of the two leading candidates to replace Grinstein, who came in with the stated intent of leaving as soon as Delta got out of bankruptcy. At one point Whitehurst, an architect of Delta’s European expansion and a chief rallier of the troops, told the media that he would probably stay at the Atlanta-based Delta even if he didn’t get asked to succeed Grinstein. And the other internal candidate, CFO Ed Bastian, said similar things. Well, neither won the job and Delta chose former Northwest Airlines chief executive Richard Anderson to follow Grinstein. Bastian stayed and was promoted to president as well as chief financial officer, while Whitehurst left. We know Jim wanted the job; he told us in August that he did. But rather than sulk in his tent, Whitehurst went out and found a new job. He will take over a well-known software developer on New Year’s Day.
The software firm, Red Hat, offers an interesting business model in that it is essentially a free product; the company takes its revenues from subscriptions for support services. In that sense, it’s somewhat like the airlines, which far too often do offer a free or nearly free product. Some tech-types are worried that it will not be easy for an airline guy to takeover, but Whitehurst, 40, was a software developer until, he joined the big consulting firm BCG (Boston Consulting Group). And when we heard him talk, he spoke in terms of network from a very high conceptual level. He was a big guy at Delta (see pix) although some of the airline’s disgruntled employees called him “a pointy-headed consultant”. We liked Whitehurst and are glad he’ll have a bright new cap to cover his head, whatever its shape.