Ray Noorda, The CEO Who Led Novell To LAN Dominance, Dies At 82 - InformationWeek

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10/9/2006
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Ray Noorda, The CEO Who Led Novell To LAN Dominance, Dies At 82

Noorda led Novell from 17 employees to 12,000. But he failed in attempts to provide an alternative to Microsoft Office.

Ray Noorda, the son of Dutch immigrants who drove Novell Netware to become the dominant local area network operating system in the 1980s, died Monday at the age of 82 after a long bout with Alzheimer's disease.

Noorda was the first to clearly articulate that the many interoperating parts of the computer industry meant that one company needed to cooperate with another to ensure their products worked together. In some realms, they might be both partners and competitors, he noted, in a relationship he summed up as "co-opetition." Many companies learned from Noorda's example and today it is common in the computer industry for competitors to set rivalries aside long enough to work out standards for their mutual benefit. Noorda was a popular figure at Brainshare, the annual Novell user group meeting, where he frequently met with attendees on a one-to-one basis. Early in his business life, Noorda became known as a turnaround artist for businesses in California, such as Systems Industries, General Automation, and Boschert. He returned home to Utah in 1983 to become president and CEO of Novell, a post he remained in through 1995. During that period, Novell supplied the Intel-based PC revolution with its first networking software, Netware, which linked the desktop to printers and file servers, allowing the exchange of information and messages.

It had been Noorda's dream to bring the growth of the technology industry to his native Utah, and he succeeded with Novell, which grew from 17 employees to over 12,000 as Netware became the dominant PC LAN. Noorda was noted for establishing a company culture in which each employee was to be treated with respect, regardless of position.

Noorda didn't succeed with one of his other IT ambitions: to buy a set of applications that might let a network operating system compete with the Windows operating system and Office. In 1996, it acquired WordPerfect, by then a suite of office productivity applications, which became the Novell collaboration suite, Groupwise. It failed to become the direct competitor with Office that Norda had sought. With his penchant for partnerships, Noorda also was an early practitioner of building sales through a channel of third parties that enhanced and installed Novell products. Manufacturer and reseller should grow together, he told prospective partners.

He retired to found the venture capital Canopy Group, which invested in 100 technology startups, most of them in Utah.

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