Diane Greene: The humble executive

Unassuming as she is, VMware head Diane Greene is revolutionizing the systems business.

A profile of Diane Greene, president of VMware.

Diane Greene is nothing if not unassuming and humble. She hates talking about herself and won't reveal any details about her family. But she will talk about her passions: VMware, the server-virtualization company she heads that EMC acquired in 2003, sailing, windsurfing and backcountry skiing.

 //VitalStats 
 Position: President, VMware 50 Founding VMware in 1998 and then selling it to EMC in 2003.

Age:

Years at company: 7 industry: 19Major career ccomplishment:

Years in

 
 ILLUSTRATOR: ANTONY HARE 

Greene was raised in Annapolis, Md. Her father was an engineer, and her mother was a teacher. "Our house was on the water, and I had tremendous freedom," Greene says. "From a very early age, we could go [boating] with our friends, and crabbing, sailing and ice skating."

She recalls her first paying job - catching crabs for $5 a dozen from the piers lining the Annapolis shore. "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. Then you dump them out into whatever you are keeping them in and sort them by size."

Greene, who loves the sound of the ocean, finds much of her inspiration from the sea.

That engineering and love of the water are in her blood show in Greene's educational and career choices. After obtaining a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and a master's degree in naval architecture from MIT, Greene took her first official post-college job designing offshore oil rigs. She then traveled to Hawaii to design windsurfing gear. From there, Greene returned to the University of California at Berkeley for a master's degree in computer science. Being away from the sea and locked in academia didn't deter her; though Greene doesn't speak of them, there are stories of her hunting for treasure near a sunken Spanish galleon.

Then high-tech called, and Greene held a succession of jobs at Sybase, Silicon Graphics and Tandem before founding streaming-media company Vxtreme in 1997. After Vxtreme was sold to Microsoft in 1997 for about $75 million, Greene co-founded VMware with her husband, Mendel Rosenblum, and three others.

Leading VMware is an important part of Greene's life, though a part that she clearly separates from her life at home.

"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."

With her family, Greene regularly sails a 31-foot trimaran - a three-hulled, oceangoing sailboat - and skis the backcountry. She enjoys locations as remote as Montana and as exotic as the tropics.

In 1976 she won the women's National Double-handed Dinghy Championship and won the women's division in the San Francisco Classic, a long-distance windsurfing race, three times. She also organized the first Windsurfing World Championship in 1974.

Her corporate leadership style is much the same as when she's skippering a racing vessel.

"I'm pretty transparent and clear about things," says Greene, who cites her dislike for deviousness. "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."

Greene's unassuming leadership is one of her most appealing characteristics, says Mark Leslie, founder of Veritas Software and a former member of VMware's board of directors. "I am a believer that one of the most important traits of leadership is humility and a genuine belief that you aren't better than other folks and do your job to help the business. Leadership [like Greene's] is a quieter, equally thoughtful thing," he says.

"Greene is a very strong believer in sharing information broadly and engaging people as partners in the business," Leslie adds.

If she were not heading up the fast-growing server-virtualization trend-setter, Greene says she would try her hand at moviemaking (despite not owning a television). The studios will have to wait, as Greene is clearly on track to deliver some of the best virtualization in the industry.

What she cites as her biggest career accomplishment is also a testament to her humble nature: "Working with everyone to build up VMware," Greene says quietly.

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