With a global workforce of over 4,000 employees, Red Hat prides itself as being the “the biggest small company in the world.” This stems from the underlying belief that its brand and reputation far exceed its size. However, competing with companies that have many times more resources than it, Red Hat requires a passionate pool of employees who can deliver the goods.
In the IT world, the open source software model thrives on a spirit of collaboration and innovation, and naturally these are some of the core qualities that Red Hat desires from its potential employees. “We look for a certain type of personality. The people who work at Red Hat bring about an attitude to the work floor that is refreshing, and they are keen on making a difference,” says Dirk Peter van Leeuwen, Vice President and General Manager, Red Hat Asia Pacific. In the spirit of open source, Red Hat employees are also not afraid to share what they personally design, he adds. So employees who fiercely guard their ideas, for example, might not be a good fit for the organisation.
Getting the right talent
Red Hat pays a lot of attention to its recruitment process to ensure that it hires employees who fit well into the organisation. “One of the biggest challenges is finding good, reliable salespeople who understand the culture and business model of the company. They need to see the challenge in selling something different,” van Leeuwen says.
The company uses a variety of recruitment methods to reach out to potential candidates, such as LinkedIn, professional recruiters, and regular job advertisements. However, employee referrals are the best way to get quality candidates, he says. Current employees who make a successful recommendation are given an internal referral fee. “The easiest way to get like-minded people is through people who work for Red Hat and their networks.”
Shortlisted candidates undergo a very stringent hiring process that HR refers to as “Right for Red Hat.” Each candidate is interviewed by individual interviewers who each focus on specific areas such as technical job skills or soft skills. The interviewers will then convene and review their assessments of the candidate. “It is a powerful methodology as you are not just focusing on one individual competency but competencies across the board. Are they really right for Red Hat and are they showing the right personal traits?” says van Leeuwen.
All new employees joining Red Hat attend a sales boot camp. This intensive week-long programme aims to enlighten employees on the company culture, its business model as well as its main products and technologies. “Our business model is very different from other companies. Traditional software companies sell a licence, granting users access to their intellectual property. At Red Hat, we sell services like support, updates and legal protection for using software. Employees need to be aware of how to position this to a customer,” van Leeuwen explains.
Employees attending the boot camp undergo a daily examination to assess their understanding of the topics covered and the results are reported back to the Chief Executive Officer. “It enables the CEO to see if we are hiring the right people,” he says.
New employees are also given 90-day goals to better understand how they are settling into the organisation. “This is not meant to judge the employee but aims to get feedback from the employee on how the first 90 days went,” van Leeuwen says.
Red Hat also encourages its employees to undergo internal and external certification programmes to boost their skills sets. However, gaining these qualifications is not a walk in the park and often come with fairly rigorous exams. The Red Hat Certified Engineer certification, for example, is open to the public and often 50% of those enrolled do not make the mark, van Leeuwen says.
As a leader in the open source space, Red Hat strongly encourages employees to come up with their own ideas and contribute towards projects. “This allows people to focus on their strengths and make their careers bloom,” van Leeuwen says.
Red Hat does not always set its employees on a clear career path. Instead, the company expects them to take their own initiative. Quarterly and annual reviews enable employees to set their own career paths in collaboration with their managers, says van Leeuwen. “We use a ‘Compass’ system where we look at where the needle is pointing and ask employees if this is where they want to go,” he says. This allows the company to see if the employee’s current role is contributing towards its vision for the future. Training and educational programmes are then provided to prepare the employee for the next level.
Red Hat University is an internal training system that combines online and classroom lessons in areas such as leadership, personal development and product knowledge. “It is available at any time. It is also a very interactive system with live role-plays where employees can respond or ask questions,” van Leeuwen says.
Employees are given points for completing courses on the system. They must obtain a minimum number of points per year as part of their annual performance review. Under this system, employees attend at least a week’s worth of training each year, says van Leeuwen.
Developing leadership fundamentals among employees is another important item on the HR agenda at Red Hat. Taking on this responsibility is the company’s Leadership and Management College, a dedicated department in the US, which also has staff based in Singapore. The college provides a host of training programmes that cover the gamut of leadership challenges, from handling difficult situations to assessing and growing talent in the organisation.
High-potential employees are also sent for an intensive week-long leadership training programme in the US. It includes workshops conducted by professors from US universities. “Leadership development is a very important part of our business. As we are fast-growing, we have to build new leaders for the future,” van Leeuwen says.
According to van Leeuwen, succession planning goes hand in hand with leadership development. “We assess each individual employee and look at the potential they may have as a successor, as well as what risks we face if key leaders leave.” This process is carried out very diligently with fixed deadlines, he adds.
The open source nature of the industry spills over to the work environment and company culture at Red Hat, where communication channels are kept free and open. “We have email lists where everybody can freely communicate their thoughts and ideas without consequence. There are very lively discussions going on there. It gives people a platform to feel that they are really part of the success of an organisation,” says van Leeuwen.
A typical day for van Leeuwen starts on the plane, as he travels regularly to meet his regional teams and to join customer meetings. “When you get information from the food chain up, it is always information that people believe you want to hear. As one of my past bosses once said: ‘I want to know the good, the bad and the ugly. And I want to hear the ugly first’.”
Dirk-Peter van Leeuwen is Red Hat’s Vice President & General Manager for the Asia Pacific region. He is responsible for expanding Red Hat’s presence and oversees all Sales, Marketing, and Services throughout the region. Van Leeuwen first joined Red Hat in 2004 with the remit of establishing Red Hat’s operations in Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg (Benelux). By 2008, van Leeuwen’s portfolio included the Central and Eastern European (CEE) market operations, and he was promoted to Vice President for CEE, responsible for sales and general management of Red Hat’s business in the region. Under van Leeuwen’s leadership, the Central, Eastern European and Benelux region became Red Hat’s fastest growing territory in 2008 and saw a 15% increase of its customer base. Van Leeuwen has over 20 years’ experience in the IT industry and has a deep understanding of the enterprise software market and the channels in Europe.
+ I love: Interacting with people from all backgrounds and cultures
+ I dislike: Beating around the bush, vagueness
+ My inspiration: People who work their way up by proving their own skills, not just through paper qualifications
+ Strength: Quickly seeing opportunities and quickly removing obstacles
+ Weakness: Short attention span
+ Five years on: I hope that I still enjoy what I am doing. It’s the passion that makes success
+ Favourite quote: The most important thing that you can be in your life is yourself
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