Novell's new CEO girds for challenge

April 11, 1994|By Knight-Ridder News Service

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- All Bob Frankenberg has to do now is save the world from Microsoft. But is he too nice a guy for the job?

On Tuesday, Novell Inc. named Mr. Frankenberg, a 25-year Hewlett-Packard Co. veteran, as president, chief executive officer and presumed heir to Ray Noorda at the Provo, Utah-based software company that has much of its operation in Silicon Valley.

What made Mr. Frankenberg's appointment more than just another case of software-industry executive reshuffling is that Novell is considered one of the few companies standing in the way of complete domination of the computer industry by Microsoft Corp.

While Novell sells $1.1 billion a year in networking software, it soon will take on Microsoft by marketing word processing and spreadsheet programs through its recent WordPerfect and Quattro Pro acquisitions.

"Everyone is rooting for someone to stand up against Microsoft," said Hambrecht & Quist's Robert Herwick. "We don't all want to be paying taxes to Bill Gates for the rest of our lives."

Mr. Frankenberg's appointment comes at a crucial time for the once-formidable Novell, which is widely viewed as having lost momentum during the past nine months.

"It's been sad to watch," said one analyst of the company's recent performance, which has included slowing growth, late products and admissions of memory losses by Noorda.

Besides serving as H-P's liaison to Novell, Mr. Frankenberg, 46, headed H-P's personal computer operations. Dataquest's Robert Corpuz gives Mr. Frankenberg much of the credit for H-P's unpublicized strong performance during the past two years, when personal computer annual sales nearly doubled, to almost 700,000 units.

While H-P is still in eighth place in the personal computer business -- IBM, for example, sells 4 million units a year -- Corpuz said H-P "has really come out of nowhere. They've had phenomenal growth, and they've avoided me-too products."

Regarded as an up-and-comer at H-P, Mr. Frankenberg also is known in the industry for being gracious and approachable, in contrast to the externally more combative Mr. Gates.

With some people wondering if Mr. Frankenberg has the mettle to go one-on-one with Microsoft's chairman, some of Mr. Frankenberg's former staff members at H-P were quick to vouch for their ex-boss's thick skin.

"Some of our computer prices dropped 70 percent in the last 18 months," noted Bernard Meric, marketing manager for Mr. Frankenberg's division. "Yet in profitability, we are far ahead of the average PC business. To do that, you need to be tough."

Mr. Frankenberg himself laughed off the "too nice" question, saying, "Nice guys don't always finish last."

Among Novell analysts, Mr. Frankenberg got varying reviews.

Mr. Herwick said Mr. Frankenberg was "perceived as someone who can make things happen quickly," while Montgomery Securities Richard Kimball said he was skeptical that someone from a traditional computer company could lead Novell through the Microsoft battle it faces.

In leaving to head another company, Mr. Frankenberg is following a long and proud H-P tradition, said company archivist Karen Lewis. She noted that Apple's Steve Wozniak, Tandem's James Treybig, Silicon Graphics' Ed McCracken, 3Com's William Krause, Octel's Doug Chance and Trimble Navigation's Charles Trimble, among many others, were all former H-P employees.

"Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard were always pleased when their people embodied the entrepreneurial spirit and went out and built new companies with philosophies based on the H-P way," Ms. Lewis said.

Mr. Frankenberg said he and his wife, Linda, will move to Provo, but will maintain a condominium in the Bay Area.

The couple has two children: Rob, a research biochemist in Berkeley, and Merrili, a freshman at the University of California, Davis.

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