Sanjay Poonen On Leaving VMware And New CEO Raghuram

VMware’s COO Sanjay Poonen talks to CRN about leaving the company Friday, new VMware CEO Raghu Raghuram, his message to channel partners and what the future holds for the technology visionary.

Sanjay Poonen Talks Exiting VMware, His Future And CEO Raghu Raghuram

VMware’s highly respected chief operating officer, Sanjay Poonen, has big plans in store for the future as he gets set to officially depart VMware Aug. 6 after elevating the company’s end-user computing business, security presence and overall multi-cloud go-to-market strategy over the past eight years.

“At this stage of my life, I still have a lot of gas in my tank to run something operationally, whether it’s a small or big company,” Poonen told CRN in an interview.

As Poonen says farewell to VMware, the industry veteran and IT superstar talks to CRN about what the future holds for him, the three VMware accomplishments he’s “most proud of,” his message to channel partners and VMware’s new CEO, Raghu Raghuram.

“We were partners in crime on many projects,” said Poonen regarding his relationship with Raghuram. “He and I were really big advocates to make a true VMware multi-cloud. So I’m a big fan of his and as another Indian-American I’m cheering avidly for his success.”

Can you talk about leaving VMware and what’s next?

Over the last two months, I’ve been helping Raghu and the VMware team with whatever help they needed. I wrap up this Friday.

Going forward, I’ve got a few things brewing. I’m not ready to announce officially what I will do next, but I am going to join a Fortune 500 public company board that will be announced this fall. A few CEOs of some larger companies have reached out to me for my consulting help because with my background at SAP and VMware, I have a fair amount of expertise in both apps and infrastructure. Then I’m spending some time helping some younger entrepreneurs. I’ve always believed it’s more blessed to give than to receive. So it’s been a privilege to help a few entrepreneurs in a variety of industries. I’m talking outside core enterprise tech, I mean, B2C [business to consumer]. For example, I’ve got one entrepreneur that’s working on non-fungible tokens, which are based on blockchain technology. There are a few great ideas I am considering investing in too. So, the opportunity landscape is large.

At some point in time, I do expect to be in an operational role someplace, but I’m taking my time to figure out what I will do next and, of course, enjoying the extra time with my family and kids.

You said you think you’ll land in some operational role. Do you hope to be the CEO of a company, are there any plans for that?

I don’t have anything to announce at this point in time. There are a number of companies who are interested in talking to me, but I’m taking my time to really think through what I want to do next and be picky and choosy. Like I said, I will be joining a Fortune 500 public company board this fall. But I’m not going to just be a board member and investor. At this stage of my life, I still have a lot of gas in my tank to run something operationally, whether it’s a small or big company. I’m just being thoughtful about the best strategic opportunities. I expect to be in some operational role sometime in the near future, but I’m not going to make any announcements immediately.

Can you talk about leaving VMware and what marks you think you’ve left on the company?

I worked for eight years at SAP, then eight years at VMware, on either side of Hillview Avenue, in Palo Alto. So, for the first time in 16 years I will have to find a new street to hang out at. All jokes aside, it’s been a great last eight years at VMware. As I leave, I reflect on the three things that I’m most proud of that I was privileged to lead—and that we accomplished together as a team at VMware—because it’s always the team, you’re never doing these things alone.

No. 1 was leading the end-user computing team to put VMware on the map in EUC when I joined in 2013, especially after the acquisition of AirWatch.

No. 2 was really putting VMware on the map with all the multi-cloud partnerships. I was very privileged to lead the effort to cement the deals with AWS, Azure, Google, Oracle, IBM, Alibaba that has put VMware on the map as a true multi-cloud player. Each of those six partnerships took a lot of work to make happen one by one—they are all the key players on the Gartner’s Magic Quadrant. Raghu was a key partner of mine in that effort.

No. 3 was security, putting VMware in a more prominent place in the security market. There were organic investments we made in security, and the big inorganic one was Carbon Black. We articulated a compelling security strategy that VMware could build on now. So as I reflect on these three milestones at VMware, it’s been gratifying and a great run the last eight years.

What’s your message to VMware’s new CEO, Raghu Raghuram?

I love Raghu. Like I said in my tweet a few months ago, Raghu’s like an older brother to me. When I joined VMware, he helped me understand how VMware works, he taught me about our technology stack, as I was an apps guy who knew very little about infrastructure. At the time, Raghu was running the software-defined data center products I was running EUC products. So I have a lot of fond memories of Raghu.

Later on, we were partners in crime on many projects, especially the multi-cloud deals I did. He was enormously helpful in getting the Amazon deal done. He and I were really big advocates to make a true VMware multi-cloud. So I’m a big fan of his and as another Indian-American I’m cheering avidly for his success.

Let me say this, in the core data center infrastructure space, I would consider Raghu the smartest guy on the planet. If I’m doing anything in a related infrastructure area to VMware, the first person I would call is Raghu. I’m a friend of his 24/7. Whatever he ever needs, whenever he needs it, he can always call me. And he knows the same, vice versa. The bonds of friendship run very strong between both of us.

Many solution providers hail you as a channel champion. What’s your message to channel partners as you depart?

VMware is a great company. SAP is a great company. I’ve gotten to know many of these channel and ecosystem partners really well over the last 16 years as president of SAP and then COO of VMware. This thing you can be sure of: I will always be a friend of the channel.

Look, when I talked earlier about that second milestone that I am proud of—cracking those ecosystem deals with the six public cloud partners—partnerships are at the core of my DNA. Ecosystems and channels are what make the world go round.

Ultimately, I’ve always said, ‘You are a larger company when you can sit on the shoulders of partners. Whether it’s the big six cloud providers that I talked about, or system integrators, or value-added resellers, or ISVs or hardware vendors—whoever it is.’ At both SAP and VMware, I was a big supporter of our ecosystem and our channel. Many of these folks have been in my Rolodex for years, and I feel very fortunate to have gotten to know them better through my VMware journey.

Do you see yourself working with channel partners in your next job?

I’m going to help them in whatever role I do next. I mean, if you stay in the tech sector, you’re going to be intersecting with these same people over and over again. Some of them retire, or get promoted, and then you meet their successors. Whether it’s an Amazon or Accenture, or WWT and all the others— they’re all key players for the future of the tech industry.

I fully expect to be staying in touch with all of them. And remember, it’s all about helping them. Look, I’ve always believed the world is a better place when you’re a giver rather than a taker. And I’ve always wanted to live my life to help the channel be successful.