At 54, new CEO FranÃ§ois Bancilhon is, ah, more mature than the rest of the crew at MandrakeSoft. Just take a look at the boyish mugs of the top executives here, extrapolate some age data,and you'll find that Bancilhon could be someone's daddy. Figuratively speaking, of course.When asked why he thought MandrakeSoft picked him to be the new helmsman, Bancilhon does a verbal double-take. "Why did they pick me? Well, because they needed a professional manager that had the experience of starting new companies in Europe and the US, and they needed somebody to take the company to the next stage of development."
Well, ok. But did you notice how much older you are than the rest of them? "Oh, and I'm a real nice guy, too," he chuckles. "One of the team told me 'we think it's real nice to have an older guy here.' I think the company was created by very young people with an incredible amount of energy. But here and there you need to bring in people with a little more experience and wisdom...
"I would say a 'white hair' but actually, I have no hair." bah-dum-pah.
Bancilhon is very much an experienced daddy.. uh...chief executive; he founded and ran two technology companies - Arioso in the United States, which is still in business, and O2 in France, which was acquired by Ardent which was acquired by Ascential. He is a very smart man; he has a PhD in Computer Science from the University of Michigan and he is big into object-oriented databases. He started a research consortium that built the O2 object-oriented database system and he is the author of many books, articles and reports.
And that's really what MandrakeSoft needs, not another Linux expert, but a business expert, one who can get this company that has seemed perpetually on theedge of success to finally heave itself over to the black side. Bancilhon agrees that his first goal is to "take it to immediate profitability.
"We do that by a very classical approach, and we are already in a situation where all our revenue lines are increasing - OEM, retail, e-commerce, and service."
Bancilhon seems confident that it won't take too much more work to achieve that goal. "We're going to be at breakeven in 2003, so we're just around the corner. Once we get the company to a normal situation, which is recurring revenue, then we can move to the next stage. Step one is to be cash flow positive."
Of course, MandrakeSoft has been talking about breaking even forever - in May 2001 right after former CEO Jacques le Marois took over, he said the company was on course to "break even within a few months."
But, Bancilhon says, MandrakeSoft is definitely on the right path. "The company has figured out the right business model. For a long time people in the Open Source software environment were asking, 'how can you be a profitable company while keeping your open source spirit?' But through our existing revenue line we have a model that works and that can be made extremely profitable."
Bancilhon is a newcomer to the world of Open Source. "I've read about open source in general, and I think the model is fascinating. I have a strong past in Unix, but the true logic of open source is new to me.
"I'm glad to learn it."