EMC and VMware hope to repeat success with Pivotal spin-off

July 14, 2014, 11:54 PM UTC
Pivotal chief executive Paul Maritz speaks at the 2014 Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colorado.
Pivotal chief executive Paul Maritz speaks at the 2014 Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen, Colorado.
Kevin Moloney/Fortune Brainstorm TECH

Data storage giant EMC (EMC) did extremely well running VMware (VMW) as an independent subsidiary. Now the company is hoping to repeat that success with a new company, Pivotal, headed by Paul Martiz, a tech industry veteran who worked at Microsoft and was CEO of VMware.

“This is a repeat in a different form of the VMware play,” Martiz said during an interview at Fortune Brainstorm Tech in Aspen, Colo. EMC’s playbook, he said, is unusual, and not often emulated in the tech industry, but it has worked well. “We’re plying new ground here.”

Pivotal Software was spun off 18 months ago, in part, because the company believed that its plan to offer a new types of software and services for enterprise companies could not be done successfully in-house. Pivotal is now working with big clients to help them blend their cloud computing services with real time data that could help them make better decisions and affect outcomes.

“There’s tremendous business value to be had if you can catch people in the act of doing something and affect the outcome,” Maritz said. Maritz compared the approach to Google, which can serve ads on the fly depending on what users are searching for, but applying it to companies from agriculture (to incorporate real time data to improve crop yields) to telecom (where they might blend insights from network management and customer care).

One of the benefits of remaining independent, rather than being blended into VMware, has been building a new culture that is more suited to “play offense.” Pivotal, for example, has structure software development teams in new ways. Maritz said Pivotal pairs younger employees with more experienced ones, and keeps rotating the pairings. The approach has helped foster a culture where top employees see their prestige enhanced because more people want to be paired with them; the approach also forces employees with big egos to be better team players, and it can send valuable signals to managers if there’s an employee that no one wants to pair off. “Software is at its core a team sport,” Maritz said.

As part of an effort to help with recruiting and retention, Pivotal has two offices, one in Palo Alto that is staffed mostly by older employees, and one in San Francisco. “If you are under the age of 35 and have at least two tattoos you are allowed to work in San Francisco,” he quipped.

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