IGEL Founding Father Heiko Gloge’s Legacy: A German Force In A U.S.-Dominated Technology Market
“I have always used the term ‘try to make the impossible possible,’” says IGEL founding father Heiko Gloge. “If you don’t try, it will not happen. That was always driving me forward.”
Heiko Gloge, who started his technology career as a software programmer, knew that when he was given the opportunity to build IGEL from the ground up as an independent company he wanted his own software development team.
In fact, Gloge (pictured above right) pleaded with Melchers, the 214-year-old German trading company that backed IGEL, to fund the software development effort. “I knew exactly what we had and how to do it,” he recalled.
Gloge and Melchers Managing Partner Nicolas Helms went to Augsburg to seal the deal to hire four hard-to-get software developers. “We met the developers and told them we are setting up a new IGEL GmbH, let’s build something great, something new, a modern operating system for the internet,” said Gloge. “I remember telling Nicolas that I believe in these people. I knew we could be successful.”
That decision 20 years ago to invest in those four talented developers has paid off handsomely for IGEL, now a rising star in a software business that is dominated by U.S. players. Microsoft, in fact, has singled out IGEL for its software prowess as the first Linux client validated for Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop.
IGEL itself has emerged as a leader with a next-generation Linux edge operating system. What’s more, three of the four original software developers—Klaus Lang, Frank Biermann and Martin Lechner—are still with the company helping shape the future of the next-generation Linux-based edge operating system.
That original four-member team, who insisted on remaining in Augsburg rather than moving to IGEL headquarters in Bremen, is now a team of more than 100—and IGEL is growing at a breakneck pace thanks to its software smarts.
Gloge, who started as an employee at Melchers 32 years ago, is now handing over the global CEO reins to Jed Ayres (pictured above left), effective April 1.
The passing of the torch has brought to mind Gloge’s considerable achievements as the founding father of IGEL. In fact, partners and colleagues say it is Gloge’s determination that made IGEL a global software powerhouse.
“I have always used the term ‘try to make the impossible possible,’” said Gloge. “If you don’t try, it will not happen. That was always driving me forward.”
That drive to “make the impossible possible” is what Gloge did when he finally—after several failed attempts to break into the U.S. market—firmly established IGEL as a global software powerhouse with a significant San Francisco presence.
“Heiko was always willing to roll the dice,” said IGEL Chief Customer Officer Simon Richards, who has worked with Gloge for 15 years.
Helms, the Melchers managing partner who worked hand in hand building the business, said Gloge had a vision from the outset for IGEL. “Heiko had a vision and still has a vision,” he said. “He saw what was possible.”
Both Gloge and Helms remained steadfastly committed to achieving that vision, even after those repeated failures in the U.S. market. “We made many mistakes,” said Helms. “We failed here in the U.S. big time and we stood up and did it again and again. First we were in Cincinnati, then Fort Lauderdale and now San Francisco. It took awhile. We trusted each other.”
Through all the ups and downs, Gloge said the “nucleus” of the company was always a commitment to software. “Think about how many companies went to the Philippines or India to offshore software development,” he said. “We have always had a clear definition of our software mission to focus on innovation.”
Ayres, for his part, said it was Gloge’s fierce determination in the face of one setback after another that paved the path for IGEL to succeed. “Heiko was someone that never, ever gave up or gave in,” said Ayres. “Heiko is a scrappy, humble, authentic entrepreneur.”
That entrepreneurial fire was fueled by a passion for listening closely to customers and then translating those customer demands into breakthrough product advances or operational improvements aimed at providing a better customer experience in the intensely competitive VDI market.
It was, in fact, a customer visit in 2010 convinced Gloge that the critical IGEL operating system needed to be opened up to run on any client, said Ayres. It took three years from the initial customer visit to the software breakthrough. “It took Heiko three years to figure it out, but he was impassioned by what he had been told by a customer,” said Ayres. “One of the things I have learned from Heiko is always listen to your customers and partners.”
Pete Downing, chief marketing technology officer (CMTO) of XenTegra, which just won IGEL’s Partner of the Year award, said Gloge’s genius was taking the old thin-client VDI model and making it all about the software.
“I give Heiko a lot of credit,” he said. “Heiko saw what this small German company could be. He took this old VDI concept and made it about the software. And then he brought in Jed and let Jed run with it—even though as the founder it was his baby. That must have been hard. It was Jed who was key to driving the software transformation.”
A Fierce Determination To Succeed
The seeds of Gloge’s steely determination to forge his own path was a result at least in part of losing his father when he was just 17. Gloge’s Dad, a construction worker, was injured on the job, breaking his arms and legs and then dying from internal injuries. “I was always driven,” Gloge said. “Maybe that was because my father died so early. I like to be independent in my decisions.”
Losing his father meant Gloge did not have the financial support to go to college. He spent six years as a social worker helping severely troubled children from the ages of 6 to 14. “I recognized that family could not be replaced by an institution,” he said in recalling that experience. Even then, Gloge was dating his now-wife, who was a nurse. Both of them were working 24-hour shifts. “I loved the job but I recognized that with my future wife also working long hours, communication was a problem,” he said. “Sometimes we communicated with notes on the refrigerator. I asked myself, 'What will this look like when I am 45 or 50?'”
After his social worker stint, Gloge spent a German government compulsory year working in a kindergarten class where he struck up a friendship with a parent who was also a surfer. “We went to Spain and surfed together,” recalls Gloge. “He told me, 'You should look at the IT industry.'”
Gloge took that advice to heart and ran with it. It was the dawn of the PC era and he studied at a German software programming institute. “I decided I wanted to be a software developer,” he said. “I made a decision to take an apprenticeship as a software developer. At this time, my future wife supported me financially. The normal apprenticeship at this time was three years. I was awarded my certificate in two years.”
The software programming skills gave Gloge an extraordinary ability to focus on overcoming problems or obstacles thrown in his path. At IGEL’s manager’s meeting, every executive has a single word to define success. For Gloge that word is focus. “I set my own targets on what is possible and I am always focused on reaching them,” he said. “When I took over the IGEL business in 1999, I drew up a business plan for Melchers. It was a new IGEL GmbH under the umbrella of the Melchers holding group.”
When Gloge started the new IGEL, he was invited to become a managing director and partner in the business. That meant he had to invest his own money to buy shares of the company. “That was a milestone for me,” he said. “It meant developing the company over many years. At the time, the company was increasing in value and it became more and more expensive to buy the shares. I bought the shares, but it was very tough at the time.”
Gloge, in fact, had to recapitalize his home and other assets to support his increasing stake in the company. He credits his wife, Regina, with supporting him through this period and for every turn in his career. “I remember sitting with my wife in the kitchen telling her, 'I can only do this job if you support me. I knew I would be fully engaged. With me driving the IGEL business she stepped back from her job to support me.' The risk was losing everything. I told her, if that happens we will start anew.”
Gloge said he always had faith at every turn in the course that he set for IGEL. “What I have learned is that every IT company—small, medium or large—is cooking with the same water,” he said. “I knew the tools, the market, the technology. I believed we could do this ourselves independently. I knew we could be a world-class software manufacturer. I just wanted us to be proud and do it.”
Gloge said he was also heavily influenced by the 200-plus-year-old history of Melchers, which placed a premium on long-lasting partnerships. “Over 200 years you can imagine the wars that happened over these two centuries,” he said. “There were times when they lost everything and had to start anew. One thing that could not be stolen by the communists or Nazis is the partnerships with people.”
The Passing Of The IGEL Torch
With the focus on the next-generation edge operating system, the time has come for Ayres to take the helm, said Gloge. “I stepped back in 2016 to give Jed space to grow this company,” he said. “I have absolute trust in how Jed sees the industry. He deserves to be the leader of IGEL. We have a vision, strategy and plan with great people that can execute it. We are the platform for the industry to come together around a next- generation operating system for the cloud workspace.”
Gloge said it was his wife who helped him come to grips with the passing of the torch. “This comes back to my wife,” he said. “She motivated me with the right timing.” It was over a glass of wine with his wife three years ago that he knew the time was right to prepare for the next chapter of his life.
At that time, Gloge asked his wife how she was able to support him through his entire career, starting with his training as a programmer and then through the IGEL journey. “I asked her how she was able to support me through all of this—stepping back from her job as a nurse and raising our two children and managing the household. All this time I was traveling around the world four months of the year. I asked her why she did it. She said she didn’t want to have a husband at home upset because he did not take the opportunities he had in front of him. She told me then: 'Isn’t it time that you came home?'”
Gloge said it was a pivotal moment for him. Now he is looking forward to spending time on a small island, Sylt, in the North of Germany, with his wife. “That is a place we love,” he said.
Of course, he will still be a managing partner and shareholder ready to advise Ayres. “I told Jed I will be there for him if he needs a mentor,” he said. “We have the same view of trust, integrity and partnership.”
Gloge, who has been with his wife for 43 years and married for 33 years, said he could not be happier about the road ahead. “I am looking forward to spending more time with her,” he said. “I don’t have an office at the company anymore. I need to get some emotional distance from it, which is quite difficult. It is no longer my baby. It is 20 years old now and can walk and run and it is filled with inspirational people.”