The CMO Files: Tim Yeaton, Red Hat, Inc.

What keeps CMOs awake at night?

Get inside the minds of the world's top marketing professionals. In 20 questions we find out what they love most about their job... and what keeps them awake at night.


[image_library_tag 603bab00-4696-47ed-a4d6-7c76bde97aff 117x176 alt="22-11-2017-tim-yeaton-red-hat-inc" title="22-11-2017-tim-yeaton-red-hat-inc - " width="117" height="176"class="left "]
Tim Yeaton

Organisation: Red Hat, Inc.

Job title: Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer

Location: Westford, MA, United States


  1. Where were you born and raised?   
    I was born and grew up in the seacoast area of New Hampshire.  I’ve lived my whole life in the greater Boston area, and consider myself a “Bostonian”.
  2. What was your first job?  
    Ah, one of my favourite stories, and to preface it - I have never lost a challenge on who had the worst first job!  I was a labourer for a septic tank company during the summer in high school, and it was every bit as nasty as you would guess.  Even better, the name of the company was “Tom Sawyer’s Septic Service” (you can’t make this stuff up).  I learned two early life lessons: do well in college to find a different career, and pay attention to branding.
  3. What was the first product you got really excited about?   
    When I first went to college, my dorm neighbour had an audiophile-quality stereo system with separate components, tower speakers, etc.  It was like nothing I’d ever experienced before, and turned me into a technology and specs junkie.  It also was the catalyst for one of many (expensive) hobbies that I still have.
  4. Who has been the biggest influence on your career?
    Over the course of my 30+ year career in technology, I’ve had the privilege of working with many of the best minds and role models in the industry, and have tried to learn from and emulate the best of each.  That said, I would say the single biggest influence was growing up in the R&D side of Digital Equipment Corporation, for two reasons:
    It introduced me to “open source” software and “co-opetition” – two staples of our industry today;
    It was an open, collaborative, and intellectually curious culture that was constantly in search of the best ideas – much like that of Red Hat today.
  5. What has been your greatest achievement?
    If family can be considered an achievement that would be it.  They are certainly my greatest source of pride.
    From a career perspective, my greatest achievements have been about building and leading successful, motivated teams in large organisations, and two venture-backed companies as CEO.  If I were to point to one specific example, it would be when Black Duck Software was named a “Top Place to Work” in 2012, while I was the CEO.
  6. What has been your biggest mistake?
    In our industry, you have to take risks to innovate and grow, so mistakes are perfectly fine as long as you learn from them. When I raised an external investment round while at Black Duck Software, I would assure potential investors of the strength of our management team by emphasising that we had each failed spectacularly at least once in our careers.  
    Mine was during my first CEO stint at a different start-up, called Avaki – we took too long to rebuild the first-generation product and reposition the company, so despite a great team, outstanding core technology, and solid traction once restarted, we had burned through too much capital, and sold the company earlier than we would have liked.
  7. What is your greatest strength?
    I think it is my ability to drive positive engagement, alignment, and collaboration across all functions and people in a company.  In a prior CMO role, the CEO called me the “glue” of the management team, and that is exactly what I try to be and something that I constantly think about. I will err on the side of investing time and energy to get all stakeholders aligned around a mission or task, then empower them to execute.  All that, with a touch of humour…
  8. What is your biggest weakness?
    Time management. I’m a people-person story-teller who loves to spend time with customers and employees globally, and consequently travel extensively…not a great formula for perfect calendar discipline. I sincerely don’t like being late, but I just am.
  9. What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers? 
    I would say “walking-the-walk” of the business –that is, to not only understand the value proposition, but to be able to do so fully through a customer lens.  I think marketers need to be able to engage C-level executives about what we do and how it solves their business problems. There is no better way to understand what customers really need than to engage them directly – many, many of them. In the for-what-it’s-worth category, last year I did over 50 C-level customer meetings in our Executive Briefing Center.
  10. Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm?
    I’m always focused on cross-team alignment and collaboration, so many of my themes centre on this. I also like to inject a little humour to make serious points memorable. I guess the one mantra that is most repeated within Red Hat deals with the need to work across organisational “stovepipes”, to which I always say we need to plumb together our “cylinders of excellence”.  I’ve always hated the term “stovepipe” because it implies sloppy and slapped together, when in fact they really are teams that are highly optimised, high performing, and laser-focused on a narrowly defined mission. It is the job of management to create mechanisms to bridge across these teams to accomplish the bigger mission of the company, without diminishing or disempowering our “cylinders”.
    The phrase that always makes me squirm is “Tim, we need more budget”.
  11. What makes you stressed?
    The relentless pace required of the job. It’s exhilarating, but also diverse and demanding. I travel almost 50% of the time – mostly international, and do a lot of public speaking, press and analyst meetings, as well as customer and partner engagements. Yet I still need to lead a global team of over 700 marketing professionals who are defining and bringing a broad portfolio of existing and new products to market, driving brand and portfolio awareness, and scaling a demand-generation machine that needs to feed a $2.4bn company growing at nearly 20% a year.
  12. What do you do to relax?
    When I’m not working I am 100% about my family. We love dinners out with a good bottle of wine, and especially spending time together at our lake house in New Hampshire. It is truly a magical place – a simple weekend there is as reinvigorating as a week of holiday.
  13. What is your favourite song?
    I’m a huge classic rock fan, though right now I’m listening to a lot of Green Day. A couple of classic rock songs that I love because their life-balance messages resonate with me are: “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and “Have a Nice Day” by Bon Jovi. When I’m driving my mid-life crisis with the top down, it’s “I Can’t Drive 55” by Sammy Hagar – volume 10. And my ringtone is “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC. Just for fun!
  14. Which book taught you most?
    I’ve spent my entire working career in tech – specifically software, mostly in the open source corner of the industry, growing up in product management and marketing. In my earlier days the book that first captured our industry dynamics and was a must-read was “Crossing the Chasm” by Geoffrey Moore. More recently, the best things that have been written about developing, scaling and measuring software businesses in a Cloud/SaaS/Subscription era are not in a book, but rather in a blog series called “For Entrepreneurs” by David Skok at Matrix Venture Partners. Also a must-read for any software marketer.
  15. Do you have a team or sport that you follow?
    I’m a Bostonian, so of course I follow the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics – it’s the law here anyway! Personally, I love golf, but despite living on one course and owning another, my schedule precludes me from playing much – and my 17 handicap proves it. I do live golf vicariously through my grown son though, who is a PGA Professional and Golf Digest Top 100 Instructor, - #1 in Indiana. And I still follow my teenage daughter’s soccer, basketball and lacrosse teams first-hand – early on as a coach, now as a proud spectator.
  16. Which country would you like to work in?
    I’ve travelled the world extensively, having flown over 3 million miles to-date. I’ve always particularly loved the cultural diversity and history across Asia, so I’d have to say Singapore. It is our Asian headquarter and it would be a great home base for traveling throughout the region. I also love the city and its melting-pot of people that just know how to get along.
  17. Which company do you think has the best marketing?
    This definitely changes with time. Today, I have to say it’s Manchester United Football Club – you know your product and marketing are good when you have 10% of all the humans on planet earth following you on social media, as they do! I’ve barely gotten to 1000 Twitter Followers, so they set a pretty high bar.  
  18. What do you love most about your job?
    This may take a while…!
    At its core, it is about being a part of Red Hat’s totally unique culture, development and business model, and its transformational impact on the software industry. We are the largest completely open source company in the world – which means that 100% of the software that we commercialise for enterprise customers is freely available – at no cost - on the internet, and is also developed by a community of developers, many of whom work for other companies and even competitors. We often joke that our business is “selling free software” (a colleague once replied to a taxi driver inquiry with this quip, and the driver’s deadpan reply was “gee – sounds hard.”). This means that marketing at Red Hat is unique and uniquely challenging, which is also what makes it fun.
    Add to this fact that we also have the most unique, innovative, “open” culture in software that is a direct result of this unique development and business model, as my boss and Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst (politely) documented in his book “The Open Organization”. It is a true meritocracy where everyone famously has the right to - and often does - weigh in on any discussion and pending decision. It is simultaneously complicated, noisy and often quite harsh, while at the same time being unbelievably stimulating, empowering and innovative. The culture doesn’t “suffer fools” very well, and “B” players tend to opt out or wash out very quickly. The net result is an environment that feels like working in the world’s only 10,000 employee start-up, while also being a direct influence on how every emerging class of new software innovation now happens in software – via open source and collaborative community-driven innovation.  
    The proof? I was a CEO for 5 years (at Avaki, acquired by Sybase) before my first stint as Red Hat CMO. I eventually caught the CEO bug once more and left to run (Red Hat investment) Black Duck Software, which was and is an incredibly successful privately-held software company. Despite having a blast at Black Duck, Red Hat was never far from my thoughts, and once I helped put Black Duck on its long-term path, the lure back was irresistible. So I helped recruit my very capable successor at Black Duck – Lou Shipley – walked away from a near-certain future IPO and payday, and came back to Red Hat 3 years ago.
  19. What is your favourite book?
    Red Hat’s Brand Book.  It’s incredibly well-done, and in addition to the obligatory brand standards, it beautifully describes our unique “voice”- as embodied in our iconic “Shadowman” logo. The first edition came out in 2005, during my first stint as the company’s CMO, and there is a section in it entitled “Things Shadowman would Never Say” – which started out as a whiteboard listing of stupid or made-up terms I use every day at work. They just bucketed and merged them into the first Brand Book.
  20. What keeps you awake at night?
    Our (and especially my) ability to keep up with the dizzying pace of technology innovation in the software industry. Ironically, it is the emergence of open source technologies, and its corresponding collaborative community development model, that has fuelled this pace of innovation, so it is exciting to witness yet daunting to keep up with.