by Scott Berinato

CIO 20/20 Honorees–Innovator’s Profile: Matthew Szulik of Red Hat Inc.

Oct 01, 20022 mins

Chairman, President and CEO

Red Hat Inc.

Imagine if Revolutionary War instigator Thomas Paine had needed to answer to Wall Street, and you start to appreciate Matthew Szulik.

Szulik, 45, has two diametrically opposed duties. He must promote the open-source movement?the concept of distributing computer code without copyright restrictions?with what he calls his “social responsibility.” But Szulik must also move his publicly held company to compete in the ultrapractical Darwinist business world, what Wall Street would call his “shareholder responsibility.”

Few people can master both tasks, and even fewer can balance them the way Szulik does, which is why Bob Young, Red Hat’s cofounder, handed his Raleigh, N.C.-based company to Szulik. “You need that odd combination of listening to the [open-source] community but at the same time being a decisive businessman,” says Young.

Szulik has taken it even further than balancing the contradictions; he seems to have integrated them. He has transformed the open-source cause into marketing. Once merely an alternative operating system for college students and computer-literate Microsoft Windows haters, Linux now has become a less expensive OS option that gives users more control.

Despite the necessary forays into the cynical world of marketing against the most powerful technology companies in the world, Szulik says he’s optimistic that in his lifetime, the open-source model will come to dominate the software business. “It’s a goal of mine to have our brand become the defining technology of the 21st century,” he says in a moment of pragmatic idealism. “And to have our brand stand for something different than the goofiness we’ve seen for the past 10 years.”