NetApp and the Challenge of Global Leadership

By William Barnett, Sara Leslie
2009 | Case No. IB89 | Length 18 pgs.
By 2009, NetApp, a fast growing innovator in the storage and data management market, had become successful both in the U.S. and around the world, with revenue of over $3.5 billion. Company management and industry analysts attributed this success to a combination of great products and a culture that deemphasized hierarchy and put responsibility in the hands of its employees. NetApp’s entrepreneurial management style was particularly evident outside the U.S. Leaders in different geographies (“GEOs”) were given the autonomy to determine how NetApp would function in their respective markets. In many cases, individual leaders were able to translate successes in their markets into product and design changes throughout NetApp. One could point to success in several markets, Germany and Australia in particular, as evidence of such innovation. Japan, however, was an enigma for NetApp. The company entered Japan in 1996, just as it was becoming a force in several markets worldwide. Yet by 2009, NetApp still did not have a direct relationship with its customers in Japan, and so had to work through partners that, in turn, controlled the relationship with end users. Although Japan was a difficult market to enter for most firms in the storage and data management space, NetApp’s lack of success there perplexed its corporate leadership. Dan Warmenhoven, NetApp’s long-serving CEO in 2009, knew from experience that NetApp’s products could measurably improve the efficiency of Japanese companies–at a time when economic conditions were driving firms there to look for just such efficiencies. After several years of lackluster performance in Japan, Warmenhoven and his team decided it was time for a change.
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