Cue another Silicon Valley CEO bowing out - Cumulus Networks sees a change

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A sign of the times with VC backers getting antsy or simply a pragmatic reaction to organizational growth? Who knows?

News this morning that Cumulus Networks' CEO and co-founder is stepping aside to give someone else a go at the role. JR Rivers, the incumbent CEO and one of the most respected people in the networking industry, has decided to step back to the CTO role and focus on technical direction.

Cumulus Networks produces Cumulus Linux, a network operating system that aims to recreate the impact that Linux has upon data center computation. With Cumulus Linux, organizations can radically simplify the cost of operating their networking equipment and gain greater agility from their existing and future assets.

Cumulus is something of a poster child for the Software Defined Networking (SDN) crowd. Indeed Martin Casado, the founder of Nicira Networks, itself a networking company that was acquired by VMware for over a billion dollars, is a bit of a fan of both Cumulus and its founder. Interesting then that Cumulus' founders include Andreessen Horovitz, the Venture Capital firm that Casado recently joined after leaving his role as head of all things interesting at VMware.

Anyway, back to this news. The company is spinning this as a natural move and has appointed Josh Leslie to the CEO role. Leslie is a Cumulus insider and, until this promotion, headed up sales for Cumulus. Previously he ran worldwide field operations at Instart Logic where he was responsible for signing the company’s first 150 enterprise customers. He also spent six years at VMware where he held roles in sales, operations and business development as the company scaled from $100 million to $1 billion in revenue.

The tone of the release is very much that Rivers made this decision by himself and tapped Leslie for the role. That may indeed be the case but conspiracists among us might suspect that the current economic climate, alongside some demands from Cumulus' VC backers to double down on sales growth, might have had something to do with it as well. In times when VC funding is harder to get, and the public markets are taking a hammering, the best person to have in the CEO role is someone who can execute a sales operation. Sales trumps all skills in difficult times, even technical ones.

Rivers was glowing about Leslie:

“I work with Josh every day, and through those interactions, I came to realize that he is the ideal person to lead Cumulus Networks. Having Josh at the helm will allow me to focus completely on my passion: technology and products that customers love,” said Rivers. “Josh is a natural leader and exhibits business acumen in spades every day. As one of our own, he brings a deep understanding of our customers’ needs from day one. He also gets our culture and has already earned my trust, and more importantly, the trust and respect of the entire team.”

At first appearances, there is no reason to suspect this is anything but a happy change to a ship going in the right direction, Cumulus is building its enterprise customer base and has vendor partnerships with a host of companies including Dell, HPE, Edge-Core, Agema, Penguin Computing, Supermicro, Quanta, and Mellanox. It's unlikely that we'll ever know the back story to this news (if there is one) but it is worth noting that CEO changes seem to be an increasingly common occurrence these days.

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