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Judith Plans for the Future

Novell’s ambitious people weren’t all imported by acquisition. Judith had plans of her own. She talked with Tom one evening about how it was time to position Craig as Ray’s successor.

As Tom was putting together the annual report for 1988 she directed him to put Craig’s picture next to Ray’s on the “Report to the Stockholders” page, and he did as he was told.

But it turned out that Judith’s timing for these positioning ploys was poor—and she had a hard choice to make. When Ray saw the draft and questioned the positioning, she ducked responsibility. This cost her credibility with her staff as well as with Ray.

The Action Technologies Contract

The decisive crisis for Craig and Judith came in December 1989. Craig tried to solve the nagging Action Technologies/Message Handling Service (MHS) problem by terminating their contract with Novell. He signed an agreement without consulting either Ray or the legal department, which it turned out was going to cost the company millions of dollars in termination fees.

Craig wasn’t Ray, and this wasn’t an acquisition. Losing that kind of money that way was considered a big mistake.

Troubleshooters or Loose Cannon?

Craig was the technology enthusiast made good at Novell. Unlike Ray, whose office rarely contained even a single personal computer, Craig’s was rarely equipped with less than a Mac and a PC and a laser printer. As the latest in personal computer accessories became available, there would be one in his office. Scanners and big-screen color displays for the Macintosh were some of the items that could first be seen at Novell by looking in Craig’s office.

His staff also reflected Craig’s passion for the products of the industry. It was just three people and they were techno-junkies as well.

Craig used them as troubleshooters to help him introduce new technological ideas. Steve Pelfrey, for instance, was “Mr. MHS” within Novell; his mission was to proselyte for its use within Novell and to make it an industry standard. Craig saw his staff’s role as one of initiating vital projects and then handing them off to the proper rank and file department to carry through with. ELS (Entry Level System) NetWare got its start this way.

When the ambitious newcomers to the company turned on Craig, one of their strategies was to use these people against him. In the eyes of the newcomers these people weren’t initiators, they were loose cannon—bumbling loose cannon at that—and they took pains to discreetly portray them as such to outsiders, to Ray, and even to Craig.

Trying an End Run

In 1988 Ray announced that it was time for a management review. This one had a different twist. One item was that each manager was to name his or her successor in the event of sudden departure. In a stable environment this would have been just another bit of paperwork, but in the superheated political situation of Novell in 1988 it became a major signal of who was “in” and “out”. Ray set the example: He named Jim Bills, then Director of Sales, as his successor.

When Craig and Judith found this out they realized that their positioning efforts of the last few months were about to be nullified. In response they took a risky step: They tried to end-run Ray by appealing directly to the board that Jim Bills wasn’t his proper replacement.

It was a step of hubris. They felt they had done just as much as Ray to grow Novell and grow the industry. They felt they knew the industry as well as he. If Ray was leaving, why should “newcomer” Bills be favored over “founder” Craig?

The board listened but took no action. This was still Ray’s company and in spite of the political hysterics that had brought about this strange appeal, Novell was still growing profitably and Ray was showing no signs of leaving.

In making this effort Craig and Judith may have also forgotten Ray’s roots. At Novell Ray was finally part of a company where he was the founder—the guy that had the weight of organization tradition behind him. After having worked at four other companies where as the “newcomer” he was forced to leave as part of a management struggle, he was not about to lose Novell in this management struggle—ill-timed and launched by a couple of people who were still amateurs to this phase of company evolution.

The First, and Last, Vacation

Finally in October 1988 Craig took a six-week vacation and Judith followed suit two days later. As they were leaving someone asked Ray if they would be coming back. “I just don’t know” was his surprising reply.

Michelle Swaner, Tom Vitelli’s wife, remembers that time. (More language color, this time not Utah-based: She pronounces her first name McHaley.)

It was so sad. Craig and Judith’s leaving happened just before the Novell New Year’s celebration in October. The party was at the Red Lion Inn and the theme that year was a Mardi Gras costume ball. The uncertainty about what their leaving meant and the sadness made the party seem more like something out of Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”.

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