Hovsepian Needs to Get Novell on Track

Opinion: As others have done, Novell has called in a former IBM exec to serve as CEO. The company has some catch-up to do.

Despite his background in the railroad industry, Jack Messman was never able to get Novell on track. While Im not privy to the details, it appears that the Novell board of directors finally decided Messman was not the right engineer (or CEO) for the Novell train and tossed him and the companys chief financial officer off without a station in sight.

On Thursday, June 22, the company issued a release stating that Messman and CFO Joseph S. Tibbetts, Jr., were gone as of June 21, although Messman will continue to serve on the board until Oct. 31. The company turned to Ronald W. Hovsepian, who was brought into Novell in 2005 following a high-tech career that included seventeen years at IBM.

Hovsepians appointment continues an industry trend of bringing in IBMers to help fix troubled companies, including such major repair jobs as that faced by John Swainson at CA (formerly known as Computer Associates). Hovsepian was credited with getting Novells sales operations in order last fall and was widely viewed as the companys next leader.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read more about Novells change in leadership and its continued commitment to Linux.

Messman was named president and CEO of Novell in 2001 when the company was merged with Cambridge Technology Partners where he had been president. This was actually his second round as president of Novell after having served as president of the company from 1982 to 1983. His background includes several management positions with Union Pacific, including the railroad operations.

When Messman came to Novell the second time in 2001, he came to a company that was a conglomeration of acquisitions and misfired product directions and was a slow runner in the race to Internet-based computing running on Linux systems, even though the red-colored Novell box and the Netware certification were once the twin icons of the rise of networked personal computers.

But the shift from proprietary networking company to open-source, Internet-based standard networks has been rocky. The difficulty of adhering to and applauding open standards while at the same time growing and making money for shareholders has been a continuing obstacle for Novell. The company has been unable to demonstrate that its version of Linux is a more viable product than that of market leader Red Hat.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here for a slide show walk-through of Novells OpenSUSE 10.1.

While Linux-based and other open-source software has been gaining favor in the IT community, the vendors supplying service and support for those open-source products have had difficulty finding reliable, growing revenue streams, which has held back investors.

Hovsepian is expected to bring a strong focus to Novell. He is expected to expand the reseller community, eliminate redundant, aging or extraneous products, and bring the financial discipline learned at IBM to the corporate organization. He needs to get Novell on one train, going down one track to a specified destination.

eWEEK magazine editor in chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at eric_lundquist@ziffdavis.com.

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