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Chapter Three
1983: Vision Unchained

The New Man

A Working President Arrives

On a cold January morning in 1983, Ray drove his car under the I‑15 overpass and into the glistening parking lot of the old truck dealership that was now world headquarters of Novell Data Systems, Inc. To the east the rising sun peeped over the snowy top of Mount Timpanogos; to the west, Utah Lake, a vast sheet of ice and chill water, was capped by a light mist. Next to the lake the Geneva Steel plant was unnaturally still. It had been shut down for several months now and the Utah Valley community was hurting. A government report in 1982 had declared Utah Valley to be one of the ten most depressed areas in the country.

As Ray walked towards the warehouse, his steps crunching above the sound of freeway traffic, he remembered how he hated Utah winters.

The company Ray was interested in was depressingly spare in terms of staff and product. The $900 paintings from the Canova days still hung on the walls outside the executive offices—a grim joke. Only 14 employees remained of the 120 who had worked for NDSI a year earlier. A few of the 14 had stayed because they believed in the potential of ShareNet (NetWare’s original name) but most were there simply because they had nowhere else to go.

Three of the old management team remained: Joe Maroney, Vice President of Production; Rusty Woodbury, Vice President of Development; and Reid Clark, Director of International Sales.

SuperSet—Drew, Dale, Kyle, and Mark—continued development of ShareNet.

Dave Baumgartner handled Domestic Sales. Harry Armstrong worked for Joe in the Manufacturing area as production manager.

Craig Burton’s job was basically to explain the virtues of LANing; he also wrote documentation, helped demonstrate the system to prospects, and evangelized ShareNet to software developers.

Judy fit in wherever she could as a secretary, receptionist, warehouse helper, trade show assistant, whatever.

Diane Solberg was a secretary and Lorraine Fitch helped with the bookkeeping. There was also a draftsman.

Ray sat everyone down and introduced himself as a would-be President. For the next couple of months he would be like a consultant to the company, observing and talking with the staff. He reassured them that he was not going to fire everyone and bring in his own people. He was going to see what he had to work with and what they could do. In the next few days he would interview each person to find out what they were doing and what they needed to do their jobs better.

The staff were somewhat skeptical. In the last nine months they had seen at least five Presidents come and go. Ray was merely the latest, and he was another guy with a minicomputer background. On the other hand they were encouraged by his personal investment in the company and by his reputation as a turn-around artist, a savior of failing businesses. Jack Davis called him “a company doctor”.

In the beginning, Ray commuted to Novell from the Bay area, until he bought a house in Orem and moved his family in March. Jack Messman was still officially President until Ray was elected President and Chief Executive Officer that month. On February 21, 1983, one of Messman’s last acts as President was to reincorporate Novell Data Systems, Inc., as Novell, Inc.

The staff weren’t sure how to read that—maybe it was positive that NDSI was dead and a new company had been born, or maybe it was a ploy to deprive them of their shares of NDSI.

There was something reassuring in the style of their new leader, though. He projected a kind of calm confidence, and as a Mormon—like most of the employees and most of Utah Valley—he was more believable than his predecessors. Of the six or more Novell Presidents up to then, only Ray was a member of the LDS church.

For the first two months, January and February 1983, Ray studied his new company carefully; he questioned and listened to his staff and watched them work. He spent a lot of time with SuperSet and a lot of time with Craig.

Ray’s most pressing problem was to reverse the plummeting sales of Novell products and he immediately hit the road making calls on prospective customers. Drew, Kyle, and Dale accompanied him on many of these calls, as did Craig. Soon the staff realized that Ray was quite unlike the Presidents who had preceded him: Ray was not just a manager, he was willing to work in the trenches with them. He rolled up his sleeves and jumped into every aspect of the business, from sales to shipping.

Where other Presidents had commuted to Orem, Ray put down roots there. Where Sandy, for example, arrived to work in a limo, Ray drove an old pick-up truck. And no previous President had the depth of experience, the contacts, or the reputation in the computer industry that Ray Noorda had.

Dale recalled his early experiences working with his new boss:

The thing that I saw with Ray that was different right from the start was that he was competent. I don’t know any other way to describe it.

Back in those days, Drew, Kyle, and I quite often would travel on sales calls and meet for discussion with nearly every person who considered being a customer of Novell. We almost always got involved in talking about what do we have, what direction we’re going, what do you want, how fast do you need it. You know, “We’ll have it by tomorrow night.”

And when we started going out with Ray, people responded to him a lot differently. He took us into businesses that already knew him, people that had had dealings with him before. And he had an incredible credibility rating. People bought Novell because Ray Noorda was running it. They would buy off on this crazy, unheard-of notion because Ray Noorda was backing it.

I saw that when we went places, he ended up doing a lot of the sales early on. … I remember following him around and just watching and noticing that he did not use a lot of hype. He didn’t promise things he couldn’t deliver. And he had a lot of credibility. People tended to believe him when he said things.

The product Ray and his team were selling was the networking system that NDSI had demonstrated at Comdex 82 in Las Vegas. It consisted of a file server with cabling and connections in a star topology that could accommodate up to 24 PCs. The system sold in 1983, called NetWare/S-Net (for Star-Net),[Footnote 1] had two key selling points: 1) Low-cost sharing of hard disk storage space and peripheral devices like printers and modems and 2) the ability to put both CP/M-based microcomputers and DOS-based IBM PCs on the same network. It did not allow the PCs on the network to talk with each other.

The end users for these systems were typically small or medium-sized businesses that had several stand-alone PCs. By buying a Novell network for a price ranging from $2,000 to $25,000, a company could buy just one printer or storage device that all the PCs could use.

In 1983, Diablo daisywheel printers were a widely used quality printer and the new Diablo 630s sold for $2400 each. Older models still sold for $3600. The HP laser printer was just announced and it too sold for $3600. If a company needed some CP/M-based microcomputers as well as the new IBM PCs, it could let them share the same peripheral devices by putting them on a Novell LAN.

Footnote 1: It has been claimed elsewhere that “S-Net” is a synonym of ShareNet, a usage unknown to this writer.

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