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Leading And Leaving

By Lanham Napier

One of the leadership coaches we use at Rackspace, a local author and consultant named Kelley Freeman, has a great line about leadership transitions. “The last act of leading,” he says, “is leaving.” What he means is that a leader ought to consider when he has done all he can to help grow and develop his team or his company, and know when it’s time to let someone else take the reins.

That time has come for me. I’m retiring from Rackspace. Our co-founder and executive chairman, Graham Weston, will step in to replace me as CEO, and will run the company in partnership with our president, Taylor Rhodes, while the board conducts a careful search for a long-term CEO, among internal and external candidates.

I’d like to take a few moments to explain my decision to retire, and what comes next for me and for Rackspace.

First, I want you to know that my decision was a difficult one. It required much soul searching and a thoughtful process with our board of directors. I’m confident it’s the right choice. The truth is there’s no perfect time for a transition like this one. However, I recently decided now is as good a time as any. And there are a number of reasons why.

Beginning with our launch of OpenStack, which is now the de facto standard for open-source cloud software, we at Rackspace embarked on the largest transition in our history. While there is still work to do, I am pleased with the progress we have made and the growth in the power and adoption of our cloud offering. The transition took longer than we had hoped, but our ambitions for this game-changing shift were massive. We’re now competing for much larger opportunities and are winning big, at-scale workloads. I wanted to stay at the company long enough to see the transition through, and I feel like we’re finally there. Most of the heavy lifting has been accomplished by the team, and now it’s time to capitalize.

With the board and management team aligned around our strategy and financial plan heading into 2014, I believe now is a natural transition point and the right time to select a new leader for the next exciting phase of Rackspace’s growth.

It makes it somewhat easier to step aside knowing that we have a great team in place. I find it reassuring that Graham is stepping back in as CEO – a job he held from 1999 until he turned it over to me in 2006. From the very beginning, he has been an inspiration for Rackspace and his fingerprints are all over this place. I’m also pleased with Taylor’s recent promotion to president. He is a proven leader in sales, support, and international operations, and has inspired Rackers around the globe to do their best work. Graham and Taylor bring a deep knowledge of the company and our industry. They have been intimately involved in the formation of our strategy and our financial plan. They command the respect of our Rackers, our customers, and their peers in our industry. I know the company is in good hands with Graham and Taylor in these roles. I’m confident that Rackers will rally around them and make 2014 a great year for Rackspace.

On a personal level, it’s a good time for me to make the transition. Working alongside our Rackers, I have pulled this wagon with great pride for many years. I’ve poured my heart and soul into this company. Together, we have exceeded the world’s expectations, and I’m proud of all that we’ve accomplished.

In thinking about that, and reflecting on the other passions in my life that have taken a back seat to running this great company, I decided that I’m ready to take a break and then try some new things, both professionally and personally and get back to my entrepreneurial roots.

These last 14 years have been the highlight of my professional career. I came here from the private equity business at age 29 because I wanted to build something. This is where I grew as a leader: as CFO, then president, then CEO. All of the incredible moments here have made this decision difficult for me. It reminds me of how nervous I was when I asked Dacia to marry me. I’ll confess that my decision to retire from Rackspace has given me just as many stomach knots and sleepless nights. But I’m confident it’s the right choice.

I love this company, its people, and the many customers and partners and shareholders I’ve come to know over the years. Together, you have a special role in the world, which is better off because of the contributions all of you make toward nurturing innovation. As the inputs in our business — hardware, software and bandwidth — naturally become more commoditized, that trend benefits Rackspace and our customers. The scarce asset today, which can never be commoditized, is the expertise of people with servants’ hearts who can get all the complex parts of business IT to work together. This key differentiator is the Rackers who deliver Fanatical Support, and who are constantly expanding it to include more advice and expertise in the customers’ architecture and applications.

I will be around Rackspace for a while to help ensure a smooth transition. During this time I look forward to catching up and sharing memories with Rackers and with the many friends I’ve made in the larger Rackspace community, among our customers, partners, and shareholders. I will miss working with you, but I’ll still cross paths with many of you. You’ve all got an amazing future ahead. This company’s star continues to rise, and I think that all of you who contribute to its success will go on to make a dent in the universe. As you do, just know that there is one middle-aged chubby bald guy in San Antonio cheering for you.

About the Author

This is a post written and contributed by Lanham Napier.

Lanham Napier was the CEO of Rackspace from 2006 to February 2014, and now serves as a consultant to the company's leaders. As CEO, he avidly promoted the workplace culture that drives the company’s famed Fanatical Support®. This passion for empowering customers has made Rackspace the acknowledged leader of the open cloud.

Napier joined Rackspace in April 2000, a couple of years after its founding. He recognized early on that the company’s employees—dubbed Rackers—and its unique culture of customer service, would be the keys to its success. Napier strove to give Rackers the same exceptional support that they provide to the company’s customers. That approach has won Rackspace recognition by FORTUNE® magazine as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, and by Bloomberg Businessweek as a Top 100 Performing Technology Company.

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