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Top three draft picks for the next CEO of Citrix

The next Citrix CEO is anyone's guess, but Citrix users and industry watchers alike repeatedly mention these three IT industry executives.

Talk of whether Citrix will merge with another company or sell off some parts swirls throughout the IT industry, but its next CEO is just as important, as that decision is sure to affect IT investments in Citrix technologies.

Mark Templeton's successor will either see his Workspace Services vision through by continuing to invest in projects that may not yield the revenue investors demand for some time, or drive such projects into the ground in favor of technologies that turn quicker profits.

In July, the Citrix board hired executive search firm Heidrick and Struggles to find the next CEO of Citrix. The search is ongoing, according to a spokesperson, who declined to comment on potential candidates.

Elliot Management Corp., an activist investor firm that owns 7.1% of Citrix's common stock, recently set in motion changes to boost Citrix's profitability and may have strong influence over the next Citrix CEO.

In July 2014, Elliot Management also tried to convince EMC to spin off VMware. The firm has a $1 billion stake in EMC. EMC has an 80% stake in VMware and a 62% stake in Pivotal, a company which VMware owns a stake in as well.

How are these companies related to Citrix? A person with ties to each one is Paul Maritz, whose name industry watchers continually mention as a strong candidate for Citrix CEO.

Pivotal's Paul Maritz

In an unrelated statement, Elliot Management made clear that Maritz deserves a seat at the head of an IT company. In the firm's letter to EMC's board of directors one year ago, Elliott stated that Maritz -- and other executives who report to Joe Tucci, the CEO of EMC, which is the holding company for VMware and Pivotal -- "are well-respected, CEO and CEO-caliber executives who are paid like CEOs, who are industry leaders, who can leave to go elsewhere, and, yet, who still report to another CEO."

Coincidentally, Maritz stepped down as CEO of Pivotal on Aug. 18, just weeks after Templeton disclosed plans to retire. He continues to serve Pivotal as executive chairman of the board.

Whoever becomes the operations lieutenant, whether it's Maritz or someone like him, would need to be a strategic visionary.
Geoff Woollacottanalyst, Technology Business Research

Maritz formed Pivotal in 2013 after vacating his post as CEO of VMware. Prior to VMware, he served as EMC's president of the cloud infrastructure and services division. He came to EMC when it acquired his company, Pi, in 2008.

Prior to founding Pi, Maritz spent 14 years at Microsoft, where he was a member of the five-person executive committee that managed the overall company and was responsible for Windows Client product development and marketing.

Citrix's next CEO must continue the company's tight relationship with Microsoft, and with his Microsoft background, Maritz could do that, said Geoff Woollacott, an IT industry analyst with Technology Business Research, Inc., in Hampton, N.H. 

"He is a technology visionary. When he talks, I listen," Woollacott said. "I personally have a lot of respect for Maritz. He would be great for Citrix, and it would be great for the industry if he stayed active."

With his commanding presence and articulate speech, Maritz could communicate what Citrix aims to do with its Workspace Cloud in a way that IT pros and the investor community understand, Woollacott said.

"The level of impatience investors have is doing the IT industry a disservice," Woollacott said. "Whoever becomes the operations lieutenant, whether it's Maritz or someone like him, would need to be a strategic visionary and shareholders need to trust the person who is articulating what's possible."

Maritz did not respond to a request for comment.

Microsoft's Brad Anderson

Given how close Citrix's ties to Microsoft are, it is also conceivable the next CEO could come directly from Redmond's top brass. One name that has come up since the first time Templeton said he'd retire in early 2014 is Brad Anderson, corporate vice president of Microsoft's enterprise client and mobility team.

Anderson's team focuses on products to support the highly connected workforce -- an important part of Microsoft's mobile-first, cloud-first mission under Satya Nadella -- which also happens to be the focus of Citrix's strategy with Workspace Services.

Anderson is energetic and highly visible at Microsoft's conferences. He would be a natural choice given his strong working relationship with Citrix, as well as his knowledge of the company's products and the end-user computing market. Even so, some people say poaching an important executive from partner Microsoft isn't something Citrix would attempt.

He may not be interested in a move, either. CEO Satya Nadella's vision energizes Microsoft employees, and that might be reason enough for a high-ranking executive, such as Anderson, to stick around, Woollacott said.

"It would seem to me that he's very excited about what might happen at Microsoft, where Maritz has already signaled a desire to step away from what he was doing," he said.

Anderson did not respond to a request for comment.

VMware's Sanjay Poonen

A third possibility comes directly from rival VMware. Last year, Citrix lost a number of executives to the virtualization giant, so it would be poetic justice for Citrix to lure one of VMware's executives to its CEO office.

One person IT industry watchers mention is Sanjay Poonen, VMware's general manager of end-user computing since August 2013. Prior to that, he served as the head of SAP's mobility division. Early in his career, Poonen worked as a software engineer for Microsoft, then Apple -- his Master of Business Administration from Harvard, Master of Science, Management Science and Engineering from Stanford, and a bachelor's degree in computer science and engineering/math from Dartmouth College don't hurt, either.

It looks like he isn't going anywhere for a while, however. He declined to comment on whether Citrix's executive search committee has contacted him, but Poonen vowed his commitment to VMware.

"I am very happy building an incredible team and a fabulous business here at VMware, so I see no reason to change that," Poonen said.  "I am also far from done in what I want to get done here in end-user computing at VMware, or in the words of the poet Rudyard Kipling, 'I have miles to go before I sleep.'"

About the author:
Bridget Botelho is senior news director for TechTarget's Data Center and Virtualization and End User Computing media groups. Contact her at [email protected].

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