“Open source is becoming the backbone for driving digital transformation”

EQT portfolio company SUSE powers the economy. While it may sound grandiose, it isn’t far-fetched. SUSE’s open-source technology supports massive IT workloads in some of the world’s largest companies within telecom, pharma, automotive, manufacturing and banking. We sat down with SUSE's CEO Melissa Di Donato for an update on her main priorities since she joined and her thoughts on the future outlook for the open-source industry.

You joined as CEO of SUSE some 18 months ago and the business keeps going from strength to strength. What has been your main focus during this period?

I knew there were a few areas where I wanted to drive impact immediately and a few areas that I wanted to empower and enhance. A large focus for me has been on growing SUSE’s market share with an emphasis on our largest product area, the fast-growing Linux Operating Systems, but also our emerging hyper-growth offerings in Enterprise Container Management, and Edge computing, reaching even more customers in every industry vertical.

We also identified that our brand awareness did not correspond to our success in the market or our future growth aspirations. To address this, we embarked on a company-wide rebranding journey and today, we have a platform to tell our story in a much better way – soon, you will start seeing SUSE EVERYWHERE! I have also put immense focus on empowering our people and culture. SUSE does not rely on intellectual property – our success is driven by our team. We have therefore launched new mentoring and employee groups like Women in Technology Network, Pride at SUSE, and Go Green focused on sustainability.

EQT and SUSE have very ambitious growth targets and when I joined, and as it stands, we are making good progress on this path. With support from our excellent and high-profile board of directors and the team at EQT, our strategy to achieving this consists of a mix of organic and inorganic growth, bolstered by our acquisition of Rancher Labs, a market-leading Enterprise Kubernetes Management vendor, which closed at the end of 2020.

Talking about Rancher. The acquisition complemented SUSE’s offering within the Kubernetes container space, which is still somewhat of an unknown technology outside industry experts. What does this innovation mean for your customers?

While Kubernetes may have been relatively unknown, I would argue that it is gaining increasing attention across the C-suite and is being deployed rapidly at enterprise level. In a nutshell, it is a technology that enables companies to run applications effortlessly at scale and to put new software into production faster in any IT infrastructure.

For our customers, in particular, this means they can innovate with speed and agility with unmatched freedom and zero lock-in, allowing them to accelerate their digital transformation at a much higher pace. The bottom line is that Kubernetes is one of, if not the most, transformational technologies in this century. As one combined company, SUSE and Rancher offer a highly adaptable Linux operating system, an interoperable Kubernetes Management platform, and innovative Edge solutions.

As the Chair of the Technology Working Group at the 30% Club, you are personally committed to increasing female board representation and attracting more women to tech. How do you think the tech industry can improve in this field?

This is a topic that both EQT and I are very passionate about and I believe that we as an industry has to continue to push ourselves to attract more women. I see four main areas where we can drive impact. First is the pipeline problem. In general, there are not enough girls studying engineering, mathematics and IT and we need to mentor and show that women can have successful careers in technology. Number two is what I like to call the “trap door” where many women start their careers in technology, but then they fall out and never return. We lose far too many women to other industries and they never return. This leads me to my third point – the returners program – we need to bring these women back into technology once they leave the industry Lastly, we need to prepare women for leadership roles as too few make it into the C-suite. To mitigate this, I try to have at least 50 percent women candidates when filling open positions, regardless of the gender balance in recruitment pool. This is an approach that SUSE also shares with EQT. While we have a way to go to achieve true gender parity, I am optimistic that this will one day be achieved.

Looking ahead, how do you see the open-source software industry develop over time, and as one of the industry leaders, how would you describe SUSE’s role in driving things forward?

I strongly believe that there has never been a better time to be in open source. Last year, global research and advisory firm Gartner stated, “open source is becoming the backbone for driving digital transformation”, and we at SUSE could not agree more. I might even go so far as to say that no digital transformation is possible without open source.

SUSE recently commissioned a survey with Forbes Insights, which found that 93 percent of executives agree that open-source solutions provide their organization with a competitive edge and 75 percent stated that they have increased their adoption of open-source solutions over the past three years. This has never been more critical as we think about the COVID-19 pandemic and how this has accelerated the digital transformation for companies in every industry and in every part of the world. What would have happened over the course of several years, is now happening seemingly overnight.

We are at an exciting threshold right now where the digital transformation will impact all parts of society. And we believe that with the support from EQT, SUSE is in a great position to accelerate and benefit from this shift.

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