As a sales executive, how are you qualified to lead Novell? Will you meet with Bill Gates? How does it feel to be put on the defensive constantly despite your No. 1 ranking in the NOS market? Newly anointed Novell president Joe Marengi fielded these and other feisty questions posed by IDG's Christine Burns when they met in New York recently. Marengi, a 43-year-old Massachusetts native, has just replaced Robert Frankenberg as president of NovellIDG: With Novell having been a leader in the network software market for so long, what is it like to work for the company now that it is on the defensive?
JOE MARENGI: We are still the market leader; I want to make sure you have that clear because it seems as if people have forgotten that; by a long shot. We sold 800,000 servers last year, and we will sell a million servers this year.
Defensive is the right word, though. That happens when a company goes through some of the things that we did, ie the WordPerfect acquisition/divestiture and all of the other stops and starts.
Your messages to the marketplace are perceived as passive, and you become quiet and dark. What happens is people in the press start to print and the print turns into bad news. Employees start to read the bad news and believe it.
The key is: how do you get the employees to feel the passion again?
IDG: What are your plans to stop Novell's haemorrhaging of executives?
MARENGI: First of all, there isn't a haemorrhaging of people leaving Novell. With a lot of the officials that have left the company, there were mutual partings that have taken place.
But what happens when people leave the company to either found their own companies or go to start-ups, the one thing they always bring with them is an extension of the company they just came from. So, as corny as this is going to sound, when employees leave your company to go do something that may be more exciting to them, it oftentimes is beneficial to you as a company because what you have just done is expanded your extended family out into the marketplace.
IDG: Some of Novell's biggest customers and resellers describe you as a very competitive person. What is going to be your approach to the competition Microsoft poses?
MARENGI: Competing with Microsoft is obviously something that we have to do. What I want to do is make sure that the customer has what it needs from both companies. Novell has always represented the Switzerland type of approach in the marketplace. If part of Novell overlaps with Microsoft, then, yeah, we are going to compete with them. Competition in the marketplace is not healthy if it does become adversarial, which it did for a while between the two companies. The one that loses in that situation is the customer.
IDG: Have you recently met or do you have any plans to meet personally with Bill Gates as former Novell CEO and president Robert Frankenberg did?
MARENGI: I imagine that we will eventually do that. It is not the No. 1 priority on my list right now, but I think that would be in order.
IDG: What is your position on Microsoft's business practices as brought up by Netscape?
MARENGI: I have no comment on that.
IDG: What do you have to say about the acquisition/merger rumours that are circulating as a result of the internal and overall perception problem Novell has?
MARENGI: The fundamental answer to that is simple. We are positioning the company as a total stand-alone. We are still building infrastructure outside of the US. We are still recruiting employees inside the company. We have got huge development projects going on. We are looking for a new CEO. Those are not things that you do if you are trying to window-dress the company for a sale.
IDG: Going forward, what is your overall vision for Novell?
MARENGI: Vision is a dangerous word because the vision of the company is still the same as the one that Bob [Frankenberg] put in place and it still works very well. That is, allowing Novell and its partners to create a network where people communicate and collaborate anytime, anywhere, with anyone; so that high-level vision stays. The direction of the company, as we migrate from LANs to WANs to the intranet, is becoming a major player in the intranet space, which we see is the evolution of the corporate network.
IDG: How are you going to reach that point, and how will you convince customers that you are moving that way?
MARENGI: How we are doing it from a product perspective is breaking the products up into three different categories.
The first is server operating systems as we migrate from NetWare as a platform and move it into the intranet space.
In addition to that, we are distributing the services of our products, such as directory, security and management, onto other server operating systems such as NT, Unix and others.
Then another piece of our strategy moves us into what the user sees, hence the need for products like GroupWise. These products give the user an intuitive interface, a way to access the network for very specific tasks.
IDG: What do you feel - in your experience as vice-president of sales - qualifies you to carry out this new company direction towards the intranet and help the company deal with its perception problem?
MARENGI: There are two major areas. The first is putting the customer at the forefront of the equation. I am talking about both in our marketing efforts and our product development efforts. We really have to understand what the customer needs in order for this to be successful. Just putting technology in the market doesn't work.
Because I come from the customer environment, if you will, that is one of the most important things that I bring to the company.
The other part of it is the ability to lead, the ability to create leadership and make Novell become passionate again about being the greatest company in the networking space.
IDG: What is your prediction of where Novell will be in a year's time?
MARENGI: We will have maintained our market share in the server operating system business. We will have created enough mind share that people will recognise us as an intranet player primarily in the corporate intranet space.
GroupWise will have evolved into the No. 2 position in the marketplace - probably second to Lotus Notes. And we will have shipped some technology that people will say, "God, I didn't realise that Novell was that good."
The directory will be on its way to becoming the meta-directory in the industry due to some of the strategy that we are moving on in that arena. And people will be asking themselves why they didn't buy our stock when it was at 101/2.
IDG's Laura Dideo also spoke to Marengi in his first week on the jobIDG: Who's running the show at Novell now that the jobs of president, CEO and chairman have been split?
MARENGI: I'm running day-to-day operations. We want to bring in a CEO who's an industry luminary. [Editor's note: Chairman John Young is interim CEO.] IDG: Will you throw your hat in the ring for CEO?
MARENGI: Definitely. But it's the board's decision.
My job is to respond to Novell's customers, motivate employees and get Novell moving in the right direction.
IDG: One of the biggest criticisms regarding Novell's strategy over the past two years is that it was too defensive with respect to Microsoft.
MARENGI: Bill Gates and Microsoft aren't my or Novell's arch rival. Novell competes with many vendors. Truthfully, our biggest rival in the last few years has been ourselves. We failed to clearly articulate a strategy. That will change now.
We're going to be more aggressive - I'm different from Bob [Frankenberg] in a lot of ways. As far as I'm concerned, winning is the only viable option in life. Novell has been way too passive.
IDG: What immediate changes will be made?
MARENGI: You're going to see a new, unified Novell - the company with an attitude. We have tremendous technology, but we've never told people why they should use NetWare, GroupWise, etc. Now we have to deliver bulletproof software and open up the technology to multiple platforms.
IDG: When will Tabasco, the codename for NDS running on Windows NT Server, ship?
MARENGI: Right now it's slated for first-quarter delivery. It's the most cogent strategy we have for NDS.
IDG: Is Novell for sale?