Heroku taps industry vet Tod Nielsen as new CEO

Tod Nielsen, who helped lead the charge on VMware’s Cloud Foundry platform-as a service, has switched PaaS providers, joining Heroku as CEO.
The last we heard in January, Nielsen was on his way from VMware(s vmw) to its Pivotal spinoff, where he reported to CEO Paul Maritz. The top slot at Heroku ┬áhas been empty since the departure of Byron Sebastian in September, although Sebastian’s title was senior vice president of platform for Salesforce.com, Heroku’s parent company. And, Sebastian was responsible for both Heroku and Force.com while Nielsen will focus on Heroku alone and report to George Hu, COO of Salesforce.
Now that Nielsen’s settling in he hopes to enforce the notion that Heroku, a PaaS for hardcore developers, and Force.com, Salesforce’s platform for developing line-of-business applications, are complementary and not at odds.
“Heroku is for building real apps, mobile apps, while Force.com is for building things like report writers and extensions to existing apps. People need different tools for different jobs,” Nielsen said in a phone interview Tuesday.
On the broader competitive front, his former company Pivotal is pushing Cloud Foundry as a commercial PaaS that Heroku will compete with going forward.
If anyone is suited for navigating the tricky straits between what can be contentious user groups, it’s Nielsen. Twenty years ago, he was the poor soul Microsoft designated to make peace with dBase and Foxpro database fanatics who really, really didn’t want Microsoft to acquire FoxPro. They saw Microsoft, with its nascent Access PC database, as the enemy. Nielsen helped woo those folks and keep them on the ranch.
He later was Microsoft’s front man for press during the government’s anti-trust suit against Microsoft. He’s also spent time at BEA Systems, then at Oracle(s orcl) after it acquired BEA. He was also president and CEO of Borland Software.
Nielsen said his pals at Pivotal are okay with his move. “Paul Maritz is a lifelong friend and he wished me luck,” Nielsen said. Indeed, Nielsen worked with Maritz for years at Microsoft before rejoining him at VMware.
Nielsen plans an all-hands meet-and-greet at Heroku’s San Francisco headquarters on Monday. “I’ve been in this business for 24 years and there are people here who are 24. It’s crazy to be the old guy,” he said. One agenda on the meetup is “dress code,” something that may have caused concern which Nielsen wants to dispel.
His message? “Look I’ve spent 25 years in this industry wearing slacks and button-down shirts. I don’t have jeans. The deal is, they don’t give me grief about my clothes and I won’t give them grief about theirs.”