Business

CEO Joseph Tucci guided EMC in boom, layoffs — and now, merger

Joseph Tucci has been EMC’s chief executive since 2001 and its chairman since 2006.

JASON GROW/File 2008

Joseph Tucci has been EMC’s chief executive since 2001 and its chairman since 2006.

Joseph M. Tucci clung fiercely to the top job at EMC Corp. for a decade and a half, from the bursting of the dot-com bubble through the Great Recession and the cloud revolution, until ultimately agreeing to sell the region’s last technology giant to Texas’s Dell Inc. this week.

Tucci, 68, has been chief executive of the Hopkinton-based data storage company since 2001, and chairman since 2006, overseeing a period of technological change and numerous acquisitions to help broaden EMC’s offerings. He has fended off takeover rumors for years, and faced intense pressure recently from an activist hedge fund manager to break the company into parts.

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Today, the company Tucci is selling for some $67 billion employs nearly 10,000 people in Massachusetts and 70,000 globally. It had more than $24 billion in revenue last year.

“EMC has a tremendous legacy,’’ said Tom Hopcroft, chief executive of the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council. Under Tucci and his predecessors, he said, “They have been a longtime important contributor to our economy.”

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It has hardly been without setbacks.EMC shares hit nearly $100 during the dot-com frenzy but slumped below $5 in 2002. EMC shares closed at $28.35 Monday.

Over 10 years, the shares are up more than 100 percent, thanks in large part to acquisitions of the software maker VMware Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif., and two Massachusetts companies, RSA Security and Data General Corp. Under Tucci, EMC has spent billions of dollars on some 70 deals. Along with those acquisitions, Tucci has shown himself to be a master of cost-cutting and layoffs on the way to growing the company.

A New Yorker who went to college in Manhattan and earned a master’s degree in business policy at Columbia , Tucci played semipro baseball before diving into the technology sector as a programmer for RCA Corp. Tucci worked for a number of high-tech firms, eventually earning his reputation as a turnaround manager as chief executive of bankrupt Wang Laboratories, which he revived and sold in 1999.

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Jack Connors, the retired Boston advertising executive, said he has known Tucci since his Wang days and that “he may be the hardest-working executive I have ever known.”

Tucci puts in 100-hour weeks and travels the world on EMC business, Connors said. He had to, to get past the global drop in demand after the frenzied sales for Y2K, when companies spent heavily to protect data against hypothetical system problems at the turn of the new century, and to dig out of the hole the company was in after the tech bubble burst. Tucci himself, in an interview with a recruiting firm, recalled cutting 7,000 jobs, amid hundreds of millions of dollars in losses at the time.

As the Internet became dominant and more companies turned to cloud services that allowed them to store data without buying expensive servers, EMC was faced with decreasing demand for its staple product. Tucci pivoted, buying software firms, a data security company, and smaller storage-device makers. His 2004 deal to buy VMware for $625 million was perhaps his boldest move, giving the company a foothold in cloud computing.

“In a very challenging environment, he made a lot of stockholders a lot of money,’’ Connors said.

Tucci was handsomely rewarded for his efforts. He routinely appears on lists of highest-paid executives in technology and in Massachusetts: He earned $11.2 million in 2014, down from $12.6 million in 2013.

He has been talking about retiring for years, but kept staying on, receiving bonuses for doing so. Tucci could potentially receive $39 million in cash severance and accelerated stock awards and options if he is let go without cause following the merger, according to EMC’s filing with securities regulators in March.

The deal could lift the value of Tucci’s own stock holdings. Tucci owned or had options to buy a total of 2.7 million shares, according to the SEC filing, that could be valued at more than $90 million under the terms of the takeover deal with Dell.

Tucci joins a list of the region’s chief executives whose final act with companies they helped build was to sell them, including Henry Termeer’s 2011 sale of drug maker Genzyme to France’s Sanofi-Aventis and David D’Alessandro’s sale of John Hancock Financial Services in 2003 to Canada’s Manulife Financial Corp.

“It’s a story we’ve seen before,’’ said Hopcroft of the technology council. “Hopefully we’ll see that seasoned expertise [from EMC] connecting with some of the amazing startups we have here.”

Elliott Management, the New York hedge fund that has been dogging Tucci to find buyers for EMC’s various parts, on Monday praised the sale to Dell.

“For EMC, this moment represents the culmination of Joe Tucci’s and his team’s work to create one of the most important technology companies of our time,’’ Elliott said in a statement. The firm also commended Michael Dell and financiers at the private equity group Silver Lake “for their vision and creativity in recognizing EMC’s unrealized value.”

Todd Wallack of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Beth Healy can be reached at beth.healy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @HealyBeth.
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