Novell shake-up: Jack Messman shown the door

By   |  June 23, 2006

Novell CEO Jack Messman has been ousted from the company he has been involved with since 1982. In a desperate management shake-up, both Messman and CFO Joseph Tibbetts were dismissed by Novell’s board of directors, after failing to turn the beleagured company around.

Novell has had a troubled existence since its inception, achieving momentary success in the eighties with network operating system Netware. The nineties however were filled with strife as the company asked itself: “Where to now?” A slew of purchased and discarded software and a revolving CEO’s door told the story of a company in trouble.

In 2001, it tried to reinvent itself as a services company with the purchase of Cambridge Technology Partners. In 2003 it became a Linux desktop company, buying Suse Linux. But revenues continued to slip and the once-dominant software company is yet again trying to find its way. Hence the shake-up.

If the incoming CEO, Ron Hovsepian, manages to reverse Novell’s fortune, it will be against the run of history. Even Eric Schmidt, now leading a very successful Google, couldn’t make it work in his tenure as Novell CEO. Some are calling the move Novell’s last hope, and indeed investors must be loosing patience after half a decade of poor results.

“The Board concluded that a management change would be the best way to accelerate the execution of our growth strategy and build value for shareholders,” says non-executive chairman Thomas Plaskett. So far, no particular change to strategy has been announced: “Ron is the ideal choice to lead the company as we continue with our transition to Linux-based products and identity and resource management and leverage our unique support of mixed source environments,” continues Plaskett.

Hovsepian says of his appointment: “I am very enthusiastic about the opportunity to lead Novell and to aggressively execute our strategic plan. In recent months, we have adopted a comprehensive strategy, strengthened our portfolio through both acquisitions and organic growth, and divested the non-core Celerant business. Although we still have much to do, these steps have positioned us to take full advantage of recent trends towards a mixed source computing environment based on open source and open standards.

“Going forward, we will maintain a sharp focus on meeting customer demand and delivering value through Linux-based, enterprise-wide solutions and identity and resource management products. We have innovative technology, a strong roster of customers and business partners and an extremely talented group of employees. I look forward to continuing to work closely with our business partners and customers.”

Commenting on these changes, Plaskett says: “The Board is grateful for Jack’s and Joe’s service to the company. Jack has been a director since the company’s founding, and he and Joe helped lead Novell through a period of dramatic change in the software and information technology sectors. In particular, the company’s decision under Jack’s leadership to adopt an open source-based strategy put Novell at the centre of one of the most significant computing developments in the last decade. We wish them further success in their future endeavours.”

And we wish Novell a long-overdue turn-around.

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