Frank Slootman, who saw his CEO role as ‘insanely confrontational’ and was likened to Elon Musk, has stepped down at Berkshire-backed Snowflake



Frank Slootman did it again. Now it’s succession time.

Slootman is leaving his CEO role at Snowflake while remaining chairman, as surprised investors learned in an earnings call this week. Filling his shoes is Sridhar Ramaswamy, previously senior vice president of artificial intelligence at the cloud data analytics company.

Slootman said of the leadership change, “We didn’t have to. We did it because we wanted to…With the onslaught of generative AI, Snowflake needs hard-driving technologists to navigate the challenges the new world represents.”

Slootman, 65, joined Snowflake in 2019 and led it through its blockbuster IPO the following year. That was hardly his first rodeo, however. He shepherded two other enterprise technology companies through their IPOs: Data Domain in 2007 and ServiceNow in 2012. 

But his hard-charging leadership style has garnered perhaps as much attention as his track record, with some likening him to his counterpart at Tesla. 

“Frank Slootman is the Elon Musk of enterprise software,” Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta posted in a since-deleted tweet a few years ago.

‘Seek the confrontation’ 

Under Slootman’s leadership philosophy, chief executives need to boost the intensity among employees and get used to confrontation, as he wrote in his 2022 book Amp It Up. He’s noted that many young CEOs feel uncomfortable doing so. 

“They just think, ‘I hire a bunch of people, and then I sit back and wait for greatness.’ They have no idea that they have to relentlessly drive every second of the day, every interaction, and seek the confrontation,” Slootman told the No Priors podcast last year.

He added, “CEO jobs are insanely confrontational, which is not human nature. We don’t like it. We’re not naturally confrontational.” 

Slootman, like Musk, has courted controversy. In 2021, he drew backlash after saying that, when hiring or promoting employees, Snowflake should focus more on merit than diversity goals—a view he said other leaders shared but were reluctant to express publicly. (Later, he apologized to “anyone who may have been hurt or offended by my comments,” which “may have led some to infer that I believe that diversity and merit are mutually exclusive.”) 

The previous year, he said that he had little patience for employee activism and “social justice issues,” seeing them as distractions from the “single-minded focus” he favors.

Asked on No Priors whether he feared employees would be turned off by his approach and leave the company, Slootman answered, “Well, if they leave, they should leave. This is the great thing…You attract the right ones, and you start losing the wrong ones, so it’s actually quite perfect.” 

‘Not a personal cult’

This week, he was asked a rather different question: whether employees would flee because he was no longer running the company. “This is not a personal cult,” he replied, adding that he did not fear an exodus.

Employee uneasiness could be forgiven given Snowflake’s revenue growth under Slootman: It hit $2.8 billion in the fiscal year ending Jan. 31, up from the $265 million reported on the same date in 2020.

Also under Slootman’s watch, Snowflake lured a highly unusual investment from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. While the legendary investor avoids new stock offerings, Buffett made a rare exception in 2020, buying $250 million worth of Snowflake stock at the IPO price. The share price then surged from $120 to over $250 on the day of the offering. 

Snowflake shares currently stand at $188, after having dropped 18% on Thursday following the earnings call—its worst one-day fall ever. On the upside, new CEO Ramaswamy will have an easier starting point as he attempts to fill Slootman’s shoes.

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