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People Who Came and Stayed: Novell, Inc., Founders

The Novell, Inc., founders are the people who survived NDSI’s time of troubles. The hard sieve of layoffs and the soft sieve of having the opportunity to pursue other more attractive opportunities had skimmed off about 100 people and left these people behind to carry on the dream. Some of the founders continued on in quite prosaic fashion—they just did their job. A few, the ones this story is about, rose to the challenge of shaping a new company and a new industry. We will follow them throughout this tale.

The Returned Missionary

In 1977, Craig Burton stepped off the plane and took a deep breath of the dry, thick air of home: Utah. He was still over 4,000 feet, but he’d come from a mission in Ecuador where he was riding a bicycle and proselytizing for the Mormon Church at over 10,000 feet. The airport announcements were in English, not the South American Spanish or the native Indian Quechua he’d been hearing for the previous two years.

It was good to be home, but what to do now?

Rather than return to college, Craig started working with his father, LeR Burton, selling real estate. The income was slow in coming. In fact, he only sold one house. But real estate was merely one of many things that interested the Burtons. Computers and electronics was another. LeR, for instance, had worked in the mid ’70s with some of the first Hewlett Packard handheld calculators, the HP-35s, and had written some of the examples that HP put in their instruction manuals for doing real estate calculations.

Craig and LeR started doing computer consulting, helping businesses integrate personal computers into their work. Roger White at ComputerLand supplied them a couple Apple IIs. Craig was soon setting up cash flow projections using Apple’s Pascal programming language.

By 1981 Craig was out of real estate and into personal computers entirely. He was working with Personal Business Computers (PBC), a thriving retail computer store in Salt Lake, to sell systems to professionals, and he was discovering that while professionals liked the pricing and the office productivity software available on personal computers, they needed more connectivity than personal computers offered.

When Craig saw the first ads for the Corvus computer networking system, he thought he was seeing a godsend. Then he tried to make one work. It didn’t. He called many times and even visited their factory once. He wasn’t satisfied. By 1982 he knew they were onto something hot, but he could also tell that Corvus hadn’t the foggiest idea what it was they were making, and it would be a while before they found out.

By then Craig knew a lot about selling personal computers. He had participated as Apple and the various CP/M-based computers had battled for the hearts and minds of computer retailers and their customers. He had witnessed Commodore shoot themselves in the foot time and time again through ham-handed marketing and introductions of new products incompatible with old ones and with each other, then save themselves time and time again with price reductions that opened markets of new buyers and new store operators who saw those prices and said, “Let’s start here.”

He had witnessed Apple bobble the Apple III introduction—in part by ignoring how important the Apple II’s open bus had been to its attractiveness. And in 1982 he was watching them compound the error with their Lisa product introduction by making it both closed and pricey. (Lisa was the short-lived Macintosh processor that taught Apple how not to market Macintosh.)

Craig had also been noticed by several people at Novell. He was interested in local area networks at the same time Novell was interested, and in spring of ’82 he got his break. Roger was moving out of Customer Support into Sales and he needed a replacement. Craig came to mind. Roger talked with him. Craig visited, talked with top management, expressed his views on LANs, and was immediately invited to speak at a seminar in St. Louis.

Weeks later he was formally on board doing customer and sales support work.

Craig did a lot of things at Novell but he spent most of 1982 working with Reid on building international sales. The two traveled worldwide. As a result they were partly isolated from the crises that shook Novell in the Time of Six Presidents, discussed in Chapter Two below.

As the crises ended, Craig was working on documentation, customer support and, in what ended up being his most strategic effort, developer relations.

Craig Burton

Craig Burton joins Novell early in 1982 at the beginning of the Time of Six Presidents. He stays with Novell until March of 1989 when his departure, along with Judith Clarke’s, signals the beginning of the Organizational Phase Change of 1989–90.

Adding from ADDS

Utah has seen its share of electronics failures as well as successes.

There is a straight as an arrow section of I-15 at the south end of the Salt Lake Valley, just before the highway winds and curls by Point of the Mountain—the landmark hill that separates the Salt Lake Valley, which holds Salt Lake City, from Utah Valley, which holds Orem and Provo. Midway along this stretch of highway is a giant brick building that now houses the Utah National Guard—easily identified because out front is a jet fighter mounted on a forty-foot-high pedestal.

This spectacular building is the legacy of a multi-hundred-million-dollar electronics industry failure. The builder of that building had dreams of churning thousands upon thousands of computer terminals out of it. It was ADDS (pronounced adds, for Applied Digital Data Systems), a New York company that in the mid-’70s was one of the leading CRT terminal makers, and Harry Armstrong was one of the people who was going to make that happen as its employee. But ADDS suffered the same declining price and declining margin challenges that faced Beehive, Novell, and all the other domestic makers of CRT terminals in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Even Utah’s low labor costs weren’t enough to keep them competitive with the East Asian imports. Shortly after it was built, the factory was shut down.

At ADDS Harry was a “metal bender” and “plastic pourer”. He was in charge of making the physical manufacturing processes happen, and it was this expertise that attracted Joe. But Harry was another of those people with a rich background in electronics. Before working for ADDS, he had been one of the founders of a personal computer manufacturing company in Ogden, Utah, that didn’t make it, and prior to that he’d been in California doing design and troubleshooting work on flying surveillance systems used by the military in Vietnam.

Harry enjoyed working with people, and Novell turned into a perfect stage to exercise his many people and technical talents.

Harry Armstrong

Harry Armstrong joins Novell in the summer of 1981 to work for Joe Maroney in Manufacturing, survives the Time of Six Presidents, and heads both Manufacturing and Sales under Ray Noorda. He stays with Novell until summer of 1987, when he retires to take up ranching on the Idaho/Wyoming border.

The Wife and Mother

Judy’s story began as typical Americana. She grew up in humble backgrounds in the period between “Rosie the Riveter” of WWII and the “Women’s Lib” of the ’70s and ’80s. She was outgoing, ambitious, and constantly driven to make something of herself in a time when this ambition wasn’t taken seriously in the average woman.

In her younger days, she had qualified as a beauty technician. By 1981 she had married twice and borne three children, but there was little one could point to on her résumé to predict “Giant success awaits you just around the corner.” In 1980 she was in Hawaii working part-time with her husband, Reid Clark, at a company that sold minicomputer-based energy management systems, and before that she had done some presentation work for a small telecommunications company.

Judy met Reid at a church social in Phoenix, Arizona, and they married shortly thereafter. (She added the E to her last name after their divorce.) She followed him as his work took him from Phoenix, to California, to Hawaii, and finally to Provo, Utah.

Judith Clarke

Judy Clark (after her divorce, Judith Clarke) starts working for Novell part-time in the summer of 1981, becomes full-time as Ray Noorda comes on in 1983. She heads Communications until March of 1989 when her departure, along with Craig Burton’s, signals the beginning of the Organizational Phase Change of 1989–90.

The Programmers

In 1981 Jack Davis was looking for a word processor to offer as “Novell’s word processor”, and in 1981 BYU was a hotbed of word processing activity. It had a horde of graduate students and professors who had been developing word processors the previous two years for organizations such as Hill Air Force Base, Savin (copiers and other office technology), and Qume (a division of ITT that did daisywheel printers at the time, terminals later).

(“Blistering hotbed” is the proper description for BYU that year. Besides those who met their destiny as SuperSet at Novell, another group started what would become WordPerfect.)

Jack consulted with an assistant to the Dean at BYU’s College of Engineering about what features the Novell word processor should have. This fellow did some research for Jack and recommended four BYU computer science grads to bring in as programmers. One of them, Dale Neibaur, had done work on a word processor for Jack in 1980—yet another of Jack’s entrepreneurial projects.

But before they could work on a word processor, they were directed to a more pressing need: A product introduction for Comdex.

As you will see below, the story of SuperSet reveals a lot about the functioning of Novell management before and after Ray came on board.


SuperSet is a group of sometimes three and sometimes four BYU grad students (Drew Majors, Dale Neibaur, Kyle Powell, and often Mark Hurst) who come to Novell as contract programmers in the summer of 1981, form into a distinct entity in the summer of 1982, and continue working for Novell as SuperSet into the 1990s.

People Who Didn’t Join in Founding Novell

Jack’s list of connections didn’t end with people who joined Novell. Many helped Novell without actually joining it.

Motorola Men

These include Sherrill Harmon’s superiors at Motorola in Phoenix, who had also been associates of Jack’s. Even though he was taking one of their people back to Utah they saw his work as a potentially big market for their chips, so they remained enthusiastic about Jack’s work. They helped Jack and Sherrill stay up to date on the 68000’s progress. Novell was usually the first or second company in the state to get update information and newly revised 68000 chips.

Ray Noorda

Another person who was aware of Jack’s work but not involved was Ray. Jack and Ray had earlier worked together at GE in Phoenix. In the ’70s Ray moved on to become President of General Automation and Jack worked for him there, heading up International Sales.

When Jack presented his plan to Ray, Ray was involved in turning around Boschert, Inc., a maker of power supplies for electronics. He declined to get involved.

Ray had another reason for staying out.

Since he’d become head of a company producing a component for computers, he had gained a new perspective on industry trends. When Jack talked about manufacturing hardware in Utah—minicomputers, terminals, and printers—Ray felt Jack was in for some tough sledding. Yes, Utah was a low-wage state in the US, but in 1980 terminals and printers were just the components East Asians were getting good at making. This meant increased competition and declining margins for all involved. In fact, one of Ray’s major goals for restoring profitability to Boschert was to move power supply manufacture offshore.

Ray decided to pass on the opportunity Jack offered.

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