Not your regular Joe

As he heads into what is likely to be his last year as chief executive officer of EMC, the charismatic businessman – whose ten years in charge have revolutionised not just the Hopkinton-based vendor

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Not your regular Joe Tucci was in Dubai to help promote the company's new education partnership programme. (ITP Images)
By  Ben Furfie Published  January 19, 2012

Exclusive: As he heads into what is likely to be his last year as chief executive officer of EMC, the charismatic businessman – whose ten years in charge have revolutionised not just the Hopkinton-based vendor, but also arguably IT as we know it today – sat down with Arabian Computer News to talk about the firm’s latest initiative aimed at helping turn the Middle East into a hub of information specialists.

Joe Tucci has a presence. It’s not the same type of presence that other high profile American technology CEOs such as Larry Ellison, and the late Steve Jobs have. It’s also definitely not that that of Steve Ballmer. You’ll never see Tucci up on stage doing an EMC equivalent of Ballmer’s famous ‘Developers, Developers, Developers’ performance. No, his presence is much more akin to that of Citrix’s Mark Templeton, or Cisco’s John Chambers: one that combines an honest burning passion for the product, with an acute sense of what works and what doesn’t in business.

It results in a quiet charisma, one that that exudes a sense of a doting parent; someone who wants nothing more than for his company that has been his life’s work for the past ten years to flourish after he’s retired, and no longer around to guide and care for it.

His visit to the Middle East to launch the company’s partnership with local universities is possibly his last as CEO of the Hopkinton-based EMC Corporation. In September 2011, he announced that he will step down as CEO at the end of this year. He will, however, continue on as the company’s chairman and president.

Asked if he cares what his legacy as CEO is, his answer left no room for doubt. “If I’m honest, I’m really not worried about my legacy. What I do worry about – and what I want to make sure – is that the company flourishes after I do retire.

“I worry about whether we have a great strategy,” he continues. “I would hope people would say yes, it was a fundamentally great strategy.”

Though the company is yet to announce who will take over from Tucci when he steps down as CEO, most industry commentators have suggested it will be Pat Gelsinger – the company’s current chief operating officer, who joined the information specialist in 2009 after spending 30 years at Intel. Though he wouldn’t give any hints as to who his successor is likely to be, he did acknowledge that they were likely to make changes – possibly large ones – to the strategy he had carefully crafted since 2001.

“Strategies are living, breathing things. I’m sure my successors will – and should – modify it.”

His focus on the foundations of the company is the result of him leaving a company that is in an extremely strong position. Some might accuse him of seeking to leave while the company is at the top of its game, but Tucci brushed off those accusations and made it clear that he believes the only way for EMC is up.

“Some people think it’s a plus to themselves if the company does best while they’re in charge. I think that’s wrong,” he states. “The big plus should be if the company does even better after I leave. So the real legacy is whether the company not only continues to prosper, but manages to do even better. I’m actually more hopeful that the record gets written that the company did even better after I left. For me personally, that would say that we established a really good platform, we picked the right people, and had a good succession process.”

That succession process is crucial for EMC. It isn’t the first time it has employed it. Back in 2001, when Tucci first came on board at EMC the company implemented the very same succession process that is likely underway right now. That process saw the company’s then chief executive officer Michael Ruettgers remain on board at the company, first as executive chairman until 2004, and then chairman until 2006, when Tucci also took over responsibility for that role, in addition to his position as CEO.

The desire to ensure continuity is also one of the crucial reasons behind the partnership Tucci was in Dubai to sign with regional universities. Under Tucci, the company has invested heavily in helping to create the next generation of engineers and specialists at EMC. His presence in the region for the signing is a key example of how important he and the company see initiatives such as this. In 2010, the company opened its first Centre of Excellence in Cairo – something Tucci specifically singled out.

“It’s been very successful,” he reveals. “It’s been the fastest growing centre of excellence around the world to date, and the people that we have there are remarkable.”

The backdrop to the announcement – and one that can’t be ignored – was the unrest that rocked the region during 2011, and looks like continuing into 2012. One of the key issues was that of youth unemployment and the feeling amongst many of the region’s under 30s that opportunities were being stolen from them.

While he’s keen to stress that the programme isn’t a reaction – or worse – an attempt to cash in on the protests, he is confident that it will help to address many of the underlying issues for some of those who feel that they can contribute something special to the future of the world.

“Tomorrow’s economy is very much going to be knowledge powered,” he states. “This region has got a lot of great minds, and great resources. But the problem is that not everyone has equal opportunities. How many brilliant minds go wasted because they couldn’t get access to education? Way too many is the simple answer.” He explains that the main motivation behind the programme is to tap into talent the youth in the region has to offer. He makes it clear that this isn’t just another Regional Centre of Excellence. Rather, it is about shaping the curriculum to ensure that the EMC – and indeed its competitors – have access to graduates with the right set of skills and knowledge.

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