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All through 1988 the political situation at Novell grew more important to those at Novell. The success was bringing new money to the table, the acquisitions were bringing new players into the organization. The company goals were transforming from just interconnecting PCs to connecting PCs to many kinds of networks. These, and the growth of Novell’s importance to its customers, all conspired to make what happened at Novell “important”. These changes attracted ambitious people, made the corporate vision more complex, and made defector behavior more rewarding. “Politics”, in the pejorative sense, is defector behavior that isn’t seen as contributing to the company good, and Novell was becoming political in that sense.
Ray did little or nothing to stop this politicizing trend in Novell management—his management style was such that he did not see it as a problem except where it led to his fourth “E” in the five stages of morale: Euphoria, which blinds management and leads to Extinction. [Footnote 1]
From 1983 on there had been continuing changes in personnel at Novell, but the three constants at the top had been Ray, Craig, and Judith. Ray had provided the unifying vision, business acumen, cost control, and credibility. Craig proved an exceptionally good planner and articulate spokesman for the open systems marketing and technology approach. He spread the gospel within and without Novell. Judith implemented a style and an education communications campaign that not only made Novell a place to turn for information on the emerging LAN industry, but also helped analysts and other opinion makers believe there was an industry.
The other major role Craig and Judith jointly assumed was apologists or “spin controllers” for Ray. At some points, such as the NetWare Centers execution souring, what happened just didn’t fit into the company vision. Craig and Judith took on the task of making it fit. They issued press releases referring to statements made in older press releases and talked to analysts explaining how what had happened was actually consistent with Novell’s long-term vision. It required a lot of creativity and fast footwork, and Craig and Judith did it well. Analysts left feeling warm and fuzzy about what Novell was up to, even when as soon as their backs were turned Craig and Judith were scratching their heads and shrugging, still trying to figure out what had really happened.
But in 1988 the triumvirate cracked, and in 1989 it shattered, leaving Novell with a palace revolt, layoffs, and the end of Novell’s Legendary Period.
Craig and Judith both liked being on the forefront of communications technology. They were among the first to get car phones in Utah Valley. (This is the pre–cell phone era when portable phones were still expensive and exotic.) But they were not the only enjoyers of high tech communications. A Utah Valley ham hobbyist had a radio scanner and a tape recorder, and this person tape recorded a conversation between Craig and Judith in which disparaging remarks were made about Ray. Utah Valley being the tight-knit community that it is, this tape found its way to Ray’s ear in December 1987. There was no immediate effect but the stage was being set.
Later, through this same tight-knit community, Craig and Judith found out that Ray had overheard something. They didn’t know what, but they assumed that Ray had got whatever it was by bugging their phones, so yet another veil of suspicion was drawn between the triumvirate.
By April 1988 people in the community were starting to take sides. Two new management hires into Communications were told that part of their work was to suppress any nasty rumors they heard about senior managers.
On one side were Craig and Judith—young, aggressive, hard-working superstars of the LAN industry. They were also evolving into a nouveau-rich lifestyle that was raising eyebrows. On the other was Ray Noorda—old, hardworking, pinch-penny “Uncle Ray”, the savior of Novell and the person who finally made the computer industry happen for Utah Valley.
So it was a painful but not a hard choice to make for people in the Utah Valley community as to whose side to believe. When the time came, all but a handful sided with Ray.
Within the company and within the industry the split was just as painful but more evenly divided.
By October 1988 the stress of the politics and the pace of the ever larger Novell were wearing Craig and Judith thin. At Networld Dallas their fast-and-loose style stumbled and led to some severe unraveling of the image that Craig and Judith had been working so hard to build. This is what Tom Vitelli of Communications saw:
The height of the crisis came at the Reseller Dinner.
First problem: Craig and Judith were there, but Ray hadn’t been invited.
Second, there had been bad news for the resellers announced earlier in the show and they were out for blood.
Third, there was a noisy party with a band playing below on the atrium floor [of the Infomart] and the noise level at the dinner was high.
Fourth, Craig was tired. As was often the case he had been up until 2 am the night before and had already put in a full day. But this time he couldn’t pull it off. By the time he was making his presentation at the dinner he was distracted, belligerent, and his speech was slurred. If I hadn’t known he wasn’t a drinker I’d have pronounced him drunk. The audience didn’t appreciate him either. They wanted Ray and when they found out he wasn’t going to show, many walked out.
Ray heard about this the next morning.
|Footnote 1: For those who don’t want to hunt back to p. 88: Ray’s first three Es were Enthusiasm, Excitement, and Exuberance.|
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