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General Electric

The Beginning

In 1949 Ray was accepted into General Electric Company’s management training program, one of the best in the nation. One August evening in 1950, Ray and Tye eloped and were married in a ceremony in Salt Lake City.

Ever thrifty, Ray and Tye postponed much in the early years of their marriage until they felt more financially secure. One of the things they postponed was children. In 1956, Christopher, their first child, was born; four others followed. Devout Mormons, Ray and Tye raised their children in the LDS Church.

The Career

In his 21 years at GE, Ray progressed from engineer to salesman to founder and manager of the Process Control Division, which used computers to control manufacturing processes. His career required long hours, separations from his family, and frequent relocations. In the 1950s he was needed on a dam project in Tennessee and it was months before he could rejoin his family. When a position in Boston called, the Noordas packed up and moved. In the early ’60s Ray and his family lived in Phoenix. Subsequently they moved to southern California when the Process Control Division office opened there.

People who knew Ray sometimes wondered how such an eccentric, freewheeling deal maker could have survived and risen in a large corporation like GE. “The thing that absolutely amazes me,” said Ron Eliason, former Chief Financial Officer at Novell, “is that this independent, maverick personality was able to take 21 years of big corporate life. I find that almost hard to believe.”

According to Ray, GE gave him his first taste of entrepreneurship and his first opportunities to build businesses.

GE was an entrepreneurship company, and still is. When I was with the company, I was involved with several start-ups. … They were started as a new business plan with some level of capability for new people to take the business to a size that was at that time identified as a true 100% profit-and-loss organization with its own management, its own market, its own authority—under restriction, of course—in General Electric to grow as it could.

Saw a whole lot of that and the phases it would typically go through: An engineer would start the idea. A marketer would then recognize the value of that idea and help grow it. And as it developed in strength, typically a manufacturing person would come in to help the business grow, get the cost of manufacturing products down, making sure that the quality was a very fundamental part of the business. And generally speaking a marketing man might come in and be the manager of that company.

And finally, in our company in General Electric, we used to call it the “milking phase.” That means that the business is mature. It may even die because there are technologies perhaps that would supersede it. And so people at the financial level—they’re really good at this, they’re great “cow milkers”—they came in to make sure that all the costs got under control as you started to harvest the results of this, and that people were motivated heavily towards high productivity. Compete as long as you could but don’t count on anything forever.…

Within General Electric, in the 21 years I was there, I watched about 15 businesses—and participated in some of them—come into growth, develop to maturity level, get into harvest level, [and] go out at the business level or get merged into another department. It’s a continuous cycle of entrepreneurship that exists.

Ray and Process Control

Process control is the art and science of controlling a manufacturing process such as making steel, making paper, or even cooking an egg. Ever since the industrial revolution began a lot of workers have earned their living looking at gages and turning valves when the gage readings moved out of tolerance. Process control can be pretty mindless work, so inventors have tried to automate it whenever possible. A thermostat is an example.

In the ’60s computer costs were down enough that it was possible in theory to use computers to watch gages and turn valves more economically than people. Ray was one of the pioneers in turning that theory into practice.

Ray started developing process control for automated steel mills and ended his career at GE in their Charlottesville facility as General Manager of Manufacturing Automation Business. As his work changed, his responsibilities changed as well. He moved from technical, to sales, to marketing, and finally to general management.

As he built the Process Control Division, Ray became convinced that he could do for other companies what he was doing for GE. He had the know-how. He had the contacts in the computer industry. He had a little money put by from years of saving. So when an opportunity arose in 1970, Ray left GE to become an entrepreneur.

He was 46 years old, the sole support of his wife and five children ages 5 through 13.

The People

Working for Ray at GE in Phoenix had been a number of people who would later play a role in the Novell story. Jack Davis was a marketing guy who worked as an account rep for GE. Sherrill, Joe, and Reid were also GE Phoenix people.

Among Ray’s other employees at GE was an ambitious young man named Jay Kear. Jay entered GE at age 22 in 1959, progressed through a number of technical support and sales positions, and left in 1967 to become Director of marketing for a software company. A year later he landed a job as Vice President of marketing for Digital Industries, and a year after that, in 1969, he was offered a job at General Automation. Jay was then 32 years old.

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