Friday, June 23, 2006

Interesting Perspectives on the Jack Messman Departure

I read a message this morning from Richard Bliss on a news group to which I subscribe, which cast a unique light on what it was Jack Messman actually did at Novell.

"I've applied the "Wait 24 hours before replying" rule to some of the comments that have been made about Jack's departure. I would like to comment, since I was there when he came on board as CEO and watched the impact his tenure had on Novell.

Before Jack came on board, Novell, NetWare, and GroupWise were heading for a cliff. I joined as the head of marketing for GroupWise in April of 2001. I was told by the current management that GroupWise was dead and that my job was to simply help ease the transition of its death. I was given $50,000 for a GLOBAL marketing budget to market the product. And had to battle Product Management that said GroupWise 6 that had released in March of 2001 was the last release of GroupWise. 75% of the Product Managers and Engineers on the product had just been let go. At the same time NetWare 6 was launching with a multimillion dollar marketing budget. NetWare was king and GroupWise was a little bug in the corner.

Then Jack came in and things began to change, in a hurry. One thing he did was to make some very tough decisions. The company was heading in the wrong direction with a full head of steam. No one wanted to hear that NetWare wasn't the future, no one wanted to believe that Novell shouldn't be taking business away from Channel partners by being in the technical services business. He had to reverse disastrous decisions of his predecessors. One being the consulting business. The administration prior to him coming had decided to jump into the consulting business and completely shut down many revenue opportunities for channel partners, Jack reversed that. Which meant, unfortunately, that good, solid, Novell consultants had to go find new jobs.

He is the one who brought Chris Stone on board and oversaw the adoption of Linux. He had to keep rabid NetWare loyalists at bay at the same time move the entire company to a new direction. And he wasn't getting a lot of help from anyone, since, at the time, everyone thought he was nuts to be doing the things he was doing. He launched a multimillion dollar marketing campaign, one of the first for Novell in a decade and something everyone had been screaming for years to see.

Lots of people were let go, which was a good thing for the company but a personally bad thing for the individuals. But I sat in meetings with him where he held managers at Novell accountable for the first time in years. I saw him defend GroupWise from his own GroupWise management team which wanted to kill it.

I am not one to jump on the band wagon to kick a man on his way out. He was brought in to make some of the toughest decisions Novell has ever had to make in the history of the company. And now, he has helped make the next transition smooth for Ron as he comes in. You don't get to be the CEO of billion dollar organizations by being an idiot. You get there by doing the hard things.

Ron Hosvepian is the ideal person for the next phase of Novell's growth, so it is a great thing for Novell and especially for GroupWise. Ron is a big GroupWise fan. He and I have had several occasions to talk about the product, its impact in the market, and its future with Novell. I have been with the product since 1989, and I will tell you that things have never been so good. That the future of the product is bright with Ron at the helm, and it avoided the rocks of destruction due to deft steering by the outgoing CEO Jack Messman.

Richard Bliss
VP Marketing

This is certainly unique to most customers. However, most customers were also not Novell Consultants in a prior life...I felt compelled to shed some light from my vantage point as well.

"Richard - thanks for writing's always interesting to see another side of an issue, and this one was not very visible from the perspective of the customer.

What I will say, having been a former Novell consultant, is that I too came to believe that Novell shouldn't be in the professional services business. It wasn't because the people who were put in charge handled it like a cheap prostitute (do what you want, then discard it when you've had your fun), and it wasn't because we were stealing food from channel partner's mouths.

I wanted to see most of Novell's professional services given away. This was because much of the work we were doing was implementations at new customer sites. With respect to the channel, the reason we were doing so much of this work is because channel partners couldn't. The channel as a value added partner is a complete myth in my experience...few if any actually add value beyond moving boxes. Furthermore, those who can actually perform well have nothing to fear from Novell or any other competitor.
Novell purposely priced themselves at nearly double the going hourly rate for channel-level consultants. The emergence of Novell Professional Services wasn't a matter of Novell competing with the channel or stealing business - it was a matter of customers buying complicated procuts, and needing help to get them implemented properly.

To come full circle with that thought, my contention was that Novell should be giving away the services of people like myself in the role of a consultant to new customers with qualifying purchases - the costs should be wrapped into the product. The purpose of that would be to eliminate a significant barrier to adoption for companies who are big enough to need enterprise-grade products, but which may not have the expertise on-staff to implement them.

Our sales leads came from Novell salespeople. The companies worked with Novell to identify a solution, not a partner. Novell doesn't deal directly with as many customers as the channel does. For companies like mine today, we deal directly with Novell because there are no channel partners near us that have any competency in these products. Not suprisingly, there are fewer active Novell channel partners - you can't blame this on Consulting though (perhaps in another thread).

In an interview with ComputerWorld, Hovsepian himself identified the fundamental problem Novell faced (and still faces), but specifically as it applied to consulting.

CW: In hindsight, do you think Novell's acquisition of Cambridge Technology Partners was a mistake?

RH: No. I think the execution could have been done better. We didn't get a timely integration done. We confused our go-to-market model with our business model. What I mean by that is we took the business model of consulting and mixed it with the software business model. We translated that into, "OK, that means we sell consulting now." What it really should have been is using consulting to leverage our software products.

What he's saying is that Novell mistakenly turned the Consulting branch into a group of mercenaries, when they should have been used to talk to customers about their business problems and how Novell could help solve them. Those solutions would end up selling products, rather than simply trying to sell products + the help needed to get them installed. This is another area where Novell had capabilities that the channel simply doesn't, in virtually every case.

I don't blame Jack Messman or the CTP acquisition for the departure of many consultants - I know the names of the people who were responsible for the fatally flawed execution against the consulting model, and so do people like Gregg who were there with me. I also don't believe that Jack was solely responsible for saving GroupWise (pre GW6.5, I was perfectly ready to switch to NetMail and attack collaboration from another angle - I remain in 'wait and see' mode regarding the viability of GW7 as we go forward, but am cautiously optimistic).

I blame Jack for allowing the company and the board to become disengaged from each other, and the customers. That kind of leadership isn't easy either, I'll admit - but it's necessary. Jack probably would have served better as a COO, working with and answering to a 'proper' executive figure. In the end, I think it will become clear that Hovsepian is "the man", and were it not for all the things we've griped about for the past few years, Novell wouldn't have him in this position today."

Loyal readers will hopefully be able to see the truth of these posts, and let this information help them make informed decisions about their interaction with Novell going forward.

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