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Georgens next in line at NetApp

When Network Appliance hired Tom Georgens to run its enterprise storage systems group in 2005, many storage insiders suspected it was grooming him to succeed Dan Warmenhoven as CEO. NetApp sent a strong signal that was the case this week by promoting Georgens to president and COO.

Georgens has the right credentials for a CEO of a large storage company. He served in that capacity with LSI’s Engenio storage unit, and spent 11 years with EMC before that. He was responsible for scouting out acquisition possibilities at NetApp, so he knows the industry. But perhaps where he stands out most among NetApp execs is he brings an outsider’s perspective. Of the top eight Net App execs, two (Dave Hitz and James Lau) founded the company in 1992, three (Warmenhoven, Tom Mendoza and Rob Salmon) joined in 1994, another (Ed Deenihan) came aboard in 2000 and CFO Steve Gomo signed on in 2002.

That’s a lot of experience – all with one company. Yet Georgens, a relative NetApp rookie with barely two years with the vendor – was the one promoted from VP of product operations to COO/president.

To make room, NetApp made former president Mendoza vice chairman. That’s a promotion, too, and Mendoza is truly considered “an icon and a legend” inside NetApp, as Warmenhoven described him in the release announcing the management changes. But the old guard will likely make way for Georgens when Warmenhoven steps down. Now it’s a question of when.

One financial analyst who follows NetApp suspects it could be within a year, and expects it will definitely come by mid-2009.

“It is obvious that they are grooming Georgens to be the next CEO,” the analyst said. “It could be six months, or it could be 12 months. I feel confident it will be less than 18 months [before Warmenhoven steps down].”

At Engenio, Georgens dreamed of becoming CEO of a public storage company before parent LSI pulled the plug on plans to spin off Engenio with an IPO. Georgens promptly left, and NetApp scooped him up within months. Now it looks like he’ll get his wish after all.

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