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Red Hat’s Ex, Jim Whitehurst, Is Now Temporary CEO at Unity Software

Three-and-a-half years after handing over the reins at Red Hat, Jim Whitehurst has the job he likes best again, although only temporarily.

Jim Whitehurst giving a keynote speech at All Things Open 2015.
Jim Whitehurst giving a keynote speech at All Things Open 2015. SOURCE: All Things Open

It’s been no secret that since Jim Whitehurst walked away from his position as president of IBM a couple of years back that he’s been hankering to find another company to run. Now he has one.

For the time being at least, Jim Whitehurst is again a CEO, this time at San Francisco-based Unity Software, the company behind the eponymous game engine that’s primarily used to create two- and three-dimensional games. It’s the game engine behind such popular games as Pokemon GO, Return of the Obra Dinn, Among Us, Slay the Spire, and Genshin Impact. It’s also used outside the gaming arena as well, in industries that includes film, automotive, architecture, engineering, and construction, as well as by the US Armed Forces.

The plan is that Whitehurst’s tenure at the helm of Unity will be temporary. He was appointed interim CEO, president, and board member early last week after the company’s CEO, president, and board chair, John Riccitiello, resigned under pressure after causing something of a customer revolt in September when he announced drastic changes to the way Unity would be priced going forward, which led to vocally unhappy customers and the company’s stock price plunging.

Although many but not all of the changes were quickly rescinded, customer relations remains a problem at the company, as do the financial issues the pricing changes were intended to fix.

For the time being, Whitehurst isn’t addressing any of those issues publicly, but is choosing to accent the positive.

“With the company‚Äôs experienced leadership and passionate employees, I am confident that Unity is well-positioned to continue enhancing its platform; strengthening its community of customers, developers, and partners; and focusing on its growth and profitability goals,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to working closely with the board and our talented global team to execute on our strategy, and I anticipate a seamless transition.”

Unity said that Riccitiello will continue to advise the company to ensure a smooth transition. It also said that its board will employ the services of an executive search firm to find a permanent CEO.

Why Whitehurst?

It’s almost a certainty that Whitehurst comes to this position from his role as a consultant, which has been a part of his resume since before the time he spent at Delta Air Lines as chief operating officer and at Red Hat as president and CEO. Before Delta, he spent 12 years as a partner at Boston Consulting Group, and after stepping down as IBM’s president in 2021, he’s taken on several consulting roles, including being on the supervisory board of the Germany-based software company Software AG, and as a “special advisor” at the Menlo Park, California-based private equity company, Silver Lake.

But being a CEO is the job he seems to relish most. At Delta, he quit his job as COO after being passed over for the CEO position shortly after he was instrumental in successfully pulling the company out of bankruptcy and staving off a hostile takeover bid by US Airways. Likewise, he resigned his position at IBM a little over a year after he was made president instead of CEO (he reportedly expected and wanted the latter) after Ginni Rometty stepped down.

At Red Hat, where he served as CEO for more than 12 years, he introduced an “open” management style that utilized open-source principles in a way that went beyond the development of software. In addition, he took the company from $76.7 million in annual income in 2007, the year before he became CEO, to $3.36 billion in 2019, the last full year he was in charge.

In announcing the change at the top at Unity Software, the company said that it will release third quarter 2023 financial results after the market closes on Thursday, November 9, with a webcast to follow at 5 p.m. EST.

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