Red Hat founder Bob Young's not done with startups

The UpTake: Bob Young sees himself as a salesman, not an engineer. But that didn't stop him from founding software giant Red Hat.

Bob Young is an unassuming man in a baseball cap with a quiet, self-deprecating sense of humor.

"I am to technical people what a groupie is to a rock band," he laughs. "In other words, what's the point of being in a rock band if you don't have people to appreciate the music?"

Behind that baseball cap might not be the mind of a technology genius, but it is the mind of the man responsible for Red Hat (NYSE: RHT), the open-source behemoth that he brought to Raleigh in 1995 with co-founder Marc Ewing.

Young, who thinks of himself "not as an engineer but as a sales person," is Canadian by birth and North Carolinian by choice.

And Red Hat's not the end of his story. In addition to supporting his wife's NeedlePoint.combusiness, he also heads growing self-publishing firm Lulu and is a vocal board member of Raleigh drone startup PrecisionHawk.

He's also an active citizen of North Carolina, despite politics that he finds "troubling."

"They really have to get their act together," he says of state officials. "They're up against Texas and Nevada and Indiana who would really like (companies like ours) to move to their state."

But if Young has anything to say about it, he'll be in North Carolina for the long haul.

"You become familiar to an area, so you know things, and you have credibility," he says. "When I go to N.C. State, people go, 'Oh, it's Bob Young. We better listen to him.'"

I sure did, and not just because he's the head of a huge publishing company, but because he's genuinely an interesting guy. He tells me other interesting guys like SAS CEO Jim Goodnight led him to the Triangle in the first place.

The following is an excerpt from the conversation. For the full interview, go to the Triangle Business Journal.

Were you involved in technology as a child?

I used to subscribe to Scientific American back in high school, even though I did not have much of a technical bent. It’s not that I didn’t have a technical bent, it’s that I didn’t have technical competence. My attention to detail leaves a lot to desire.

As the CEO of Lulu, I bet you have an opinion about this. What do you think about the shift from paper books to digital e-readers?

The good news is - and I’m a wild-eyed optimist so I see good news everywhere, all the time - the good news is, our society, our planet, it is safe to say the world, is raising the most literate generation of human beings that the world has ever seen. Not just 5 percent - literally hundreds of times more literate ... You now have kids in Africa who are reading and writing as a basic form of communication, whereas only five years ago, the vast majority of kids in Africa not only did not learn to read and write, if they did learn, they did not have the opportunity to use it. Today, you cannot be successful in an African village without it. It's a more literate generation than anything the world has ever seen. And it's making the world a smaller place. We're all upset about the situation in Ukraine. Only 40 years ago, people wouldn't have cared about the situation in Ukraine.

Several companies - Ipreo and Evalueserve among them - mention Red Hat as one of their inspirations for moving to downtown Raleigh. How does it feel to start what could become a technology center in downtown Raleigh?

We all stand on the shoulders of giants. So Red Hat, in turn, ended up in North Carolina largely because Jim Goodnight was able to build SAS Institute in North Carolina, so we knew it was possible to build a global technology company in the Triangle. ... We had pioneers. We could point at SAS and say, 'No, it's quite possible to do this in North Carolina.' So when Marc Ewing and I had the opportunity, we made the conscious decision. We could have built in Connecticut. We could have packed up our development team and moved to Silicon Valley. We chose to do it in North Carolina. You think of it as paying it forward. The fact that Red Hat is now playing that role with other technology companies in the Triangle gives me great pleasure.

There's a lot of talk about Raleigh being an entrepreneurship capital. Do you think it can happen?

Yes. Collectively. Individually, it's scary. Four out of five startups won't work, so it's a high-risk thing to do. But you have a hundred startups, and even though you know four or five of those are going to be yesterday's news, one out of five in 100 is 20 companies launched in a year. But the challenge isn't to get 100. It's to get 500 or 1,000 new companies. ... It's an ongoing battle, and the state government has to do a good job to create an environment to attract the biggest and brightest to North Carolina.

You say you're not a tech guy. What advice would you have for your entrepreneurship counterparts? People who aren't necessarily technical, but dream of starting a company?

You have to build a team, and in the modern world, you can build a team by hiring people, but also by partnering - partnering with firms, whether they're in the Triangle, whether they're in India, whether they're in China. The world is getting to be a very small place. And that's the challenge North Carolina has, too.

Why didn’t you retire at your beach house after Red Hat?

At the end of the day, beach houses are lovely things. My wife and I and our daughters have a lovely beach house down near Wilmington. But I'm like everyone else on the planet. When I get out of bed in the morning. ... We want to make the world a better place. And the problem with going to our beach house is, other than making our immediate family's world a better place - my wife loves going to the beach house - I don't actually get to make the world a better place in quite as impactful a way. (Lulu) just allows me to make a contribution, making the world a better place faster than playing golf does. If you saw my golf game, you'd realize how true that statement is. This is so much more fun than hanging out at the beach.


Read the original story here.