By Lisa Calhoun
Stepping up to one of the most influential roles in tech, Diane B. Greene recently accepted an appointment to run Google’s cloud-enterprise business. She’s a serial entrepreneur and ocean-loving adventurer most famous for co-founding VMware, a software company that sold to EMC in 2003 for $635 million in cash.
When VMware went public in 2007, the 76% surge in its stock price eclipsed even Google’s historic 18% first-day gain in 2004.
Filling her sails
- Diane B. Greene was born in Rochester, New York in 1955.
- Her mom was a teacher.
- Her dad was an engineer.
- She was raised in Annapolis—by the water—and says the sea inspires her.
- Crabbing, sailing, and ice skating were her favorite activities as a child.
- Her first foray into entrepreneurship was sneaking up on crabs—for which she earned five bucks per crustacean. “You get in a boat, the crabs attach to pilings along the shore, you sneak up behind them and pick them up,” Greene describes. “You need to be sure that you don’t let them bite you.”
- At 19, she organized the first Windsurfing World Championship.
- She won the national women’s dinghy championship in 1976 at age 21.
- That year, she also earned her bachelor’s in mechanical engineering from the University of Vermont.
- She then earned a master’s degree from MIT in naval architecture.
- Her first job? Designing offshore oil rigs.
- The job let the wind out of its sails when she was forbidden from visiting oil rigs because of her sex. “My firm told me I couldn’t go,” says Greene.
- She quit. (Imagine you’re the company that loses Diane Greene over your women-at-work policy!) Windsurfing took her to Hawai’i.
- Windsurfing led her to a role in the engineering department of Windsurfing International, then to a position at Coleman, the storied outdoors outfitter.
- Her next adventure was as the computer geek on a treasure hunt to a sunken Spanish galleon off Saipan.
- After that project, she took a role at Sybase. “That’s when my boring life started,” she quips.
- When she was 33, she earned a masters degree in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley. She met her future husband Martin, a professor at Stanford, there.
- They have two children together.
- She built out her tech resume with leadership roles at Tandem Computers and Silicon Graphics
- When she was 42, she founded her first technology company, streaming-media startup Vxtreme.
- It sold to Microsoft in 1997 in a private deal around $75 million.
- In 1998, her husband Martin asked for her support in productizing “a concept” he was working on with some of his grad students. It was a virtualization approach that would allow a computer to run more than one operating system at the same time. She was intrigued.
- She worked on VMware without pay for a year.
- Her husband returned to his role as a professor at Stanford. She become CEO at VMware.
- She raised capital to build out the “virtualization” concept into a product. Diane said at the time, “I never aspired to be a CEO, period.”
- Diane made time for family even as VMware took off. “I have pretty set rules that I go home for dinner every night unless I am traveling,” Greene says. “I have a lot of help to do chores so I can be with my family, and I never have any help over the weekends.”
A steady head for headwinds
- As VMware’s success thrust her into the spotlight, she was sometimes criticized for her lack of polish. Reported in Fortune in 2007, “Greene’s presentation skills lagged her technical acumen,” said Mike Kwatinetz, a venture capitalist who invested in VMware in 2001, “and because of that she was underrated.”
- Others found her approach a refreshing break from the big egos of Silicon Valley. Network World called her “humble” and “unassuming” in a glowing article about her leadership.
- “I’m pretty transparent and clear about things,” Greene says about herself. “The things I do and the way I act are no different than I would expect of others. Mostly it’s about being very clear about what we are trying to do and communicating a lot and showing absolute consistency and integrity about what I say and do.”
- VMware tried twice to go public, but pulled back both times.
- In 2003, when Diane was 48, VMware accepted the offer from EMC for $635 million in cash.
- At the time of the acquisition, VMware had 300 employees.
- Of the 37.1 million stock options granted to VMware employees before it went public, Greene received 2.7%. (The typical award by startup boards to CEOs they recruit is 7% to 10%, Fortune reported.) “Joe Tucci told me he thought he was being ‘very generous,’” she says. “Those were his exact words.”
- In a time when Google had warmed toilet seats, her style at VMware was dinged as too frugal by some—and businesslike by others. “We’re very focused on creating a phenomenal work environment,” said Greene. “But we try to do it very frugally because that’s sustainable.”
- When VMWare built an eco-friendly, environmentally sustainable headquarters in Palo Alto, owner EMC balked at the price tag.
- In 2006, Intuit appointed Diane to their board of directors.
- Diane began growing her reputation in the mid-2000s as a tech investor. Some of her investments at the time, according to Crunchbase, included Clinkle, Cloud Physics, Cumulus Networks, Nimbula, Unity Technologies, RockMelt and Cloudera.
- EMC’s CEO Joseph M. Tucci fired Diane in 2012.
- At the time Diane was let go as CEO of VMWare, the company had 3,000 employees (up from 300 when acquired.)
- VMWare stock tanked 24% that day.
- Because Diane was fired, three top executives left the company in protest.
- Diane’s story is reminiscent of that of another visionary, Sandy Lerner, the serial entrepreneur who co-founded enterprise software networking legend Cisco Systems with her husband in 1984. Sandy was fired by Don Valentine of Sequoia and removed as CEO—in response to which Cisco Systems executives, including her husband, left.
Leadership at Google and new adventures
- That same year, 2012, Google appointed Diane to their Board of Directors.
- Late in 2012, Diane founded Bebop, a cloud software development startup.
- Google acquired Bebop this year, right before her appointment to lead the cloud enterprise business.
- Dell is engaged in attempting to buy EMC in what will be, if it happens, the largest single technology deal ever—some $67 billion. Michael Dell has remarked, “VMware is a crown jewel of the EMC federation.”
- Diane was appointed to Alphabet’s board of directors last month and now is expected to grow Google’s share of cloud enterprise infrastructure in fascinating and unpredictably brilliant ways.
This article originally appeared at Inc.com