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The 'pragmatic generalist' behind SUSE's success

Nils Brauckmann describes himself as a "pragmatic generalist". When asked about his strengths, he says casually that he knows how to manage a team.

But one thing that Brauckmann cannot play down is the success that he, as president and general manager, has brought to SUSE, the Linux company. It markets a distribution of the same name that was once identified as Europe's most widely used.

Things changed when SUSE was acquired by Novell in 2003; during its years as part of a bigger operation in the US, SUSE was not much in the news.  Neither was Novell.

That changed in 2006 when Novell signed a patent licensing deal with Microsoft; the media coverage that Novell received after this wasn't exactly pleasing to the ears. And SUSE never fared very well in this milieu; at best, it managed to break even.

Things began to change in 2011 when Attachmate Corporation bought Novell, took it private and relocated SUSE as an independent business unit in its old home of Nuremberg in Germany.

Brauckmann, who has been with Attachmate for 18 years, was tasked with running the company. "I had no idea of how SUSE was run in the past," he told iTWire, on the sidelines of SUSECON, the first SUSE company conference in Orlando last month.

"But separate business units have an advantage – they can go to market with a clear line of sight, they are easier to manage and it is easier to make decisions."

He uses the word agility when he talks of such units. "There is a clear line of responsibility and we are better able to serve remote markets."

Brauckmann started out working with an American software company, WRQ, and took care of starting up the German branch of this firm. In December 2004, WRQ was acquired by an investment group led by Golden Gate Capital, Francisco Partners and Thomas Cressey Equity Partners.

This same group acquired Attachmate in April 2005 and merged it with WRQ.

SUSE is an international company and Brauckmann said he had wanted executive power distributed, in order to share influence and strategic thinking. The company's vice-president of global alliances and marketing, Michael Miller, and director of solutions marketing, Kerry Kim, are located in the US.

Since he was asked to go to Germany and run SUSE 18 months ago, Brauckmann has rebuilt a culture where he says "people are pleased to go to market as SUSE – from employees to alliance partners".

"We have dedicated sales teams and we have held on to our engineering quality," he added. "The business is growing and people enjoy it. They take pride in being profitable even though this means they have to work really hard."

Brauckmann is looking at expanding the company's turnover from the projected annual US$225 million for this year, to US$500 million in five years' time. Being the pragmatist that he is, one would hardly be surprised if he managed to achieve what he has set out to do.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.


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