Computer networking giant leaves tech legacy
Raymond John Noorda, the "father of network computing" and later the godfather of dozens of Utah technology companies, died at his Orem home Monday at 82.
Noorda built Provo-based Novell into an international technology giant, teaming with co-founder Drew Major to develop NetWare, the first networking software that "fundamentally changed the way the world can seamlessly communicate with computers," said Richard Nelson, president of the Utah Information Technology Association.
Added Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.: "Ray was one of the innovators of the 'Utah Miracle,' '' referring to the numerous technology developments - and companies - to come out of the state. ''He has left behind a monumental legacy. We are all in his debt.''
Born June 19, 1924, in Ogden to Dutch immigrants Bertus and Alida Noorda, he developed a respect for hard work while growing up during the Depression.
Noorda worked selling magazines door-to-door and picking cherries. Those experiences stayed with him. Though wealthy later in life, he still drove a pickup and was known for a down-to-earth sense of humor.
The Ogden High School graduate earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Utah after serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He then spent 21 years at General Electric, developing a passion for guiding internal startup projects.
In 1970, he left GE to form his own management-consulting firm and built a reputation for turning around troubled companies. Most notably, Noorda bought a majority share of Provo-based Novell Data Systems in 1982 and became an industry legend by leading it from near collapse to international prominence.
"Under his direction, Novell helped found the corporate networking market," said Novell spokesman Kevan Barney. "His legacy at Novell and in the Utah technology sector continues to influence innovation and remains a model of success to emulate."
Novell had 17 employees when Noorda arrived, a number that skyrocketed to 12,000. He paved the way by developing a "tiered distribution structure" and emphasizing partnerships, or "coopetition," in which technological competitors developed common standards to grow the overall market for their products.
"Not only was he respected and appreciated by those who partnered with him, but also by those who competed against him," said Major, Novell's co-founder. "With his integrity, he built a trust and a bond in the early Novell years that empowered us together to go out and change the world."
Noorda's approach impressed Michael Dell and Kevin Rollins, chairman and president, respectively, of computer giant Dell Inc.
"He was known for letting anyone make a mistake once - as long as they got it right the next time," Dell and Rollins said in a joint statement. They credited Noorda with making personal computers accessible to the masses "by building a successful file-sharing system for the newly introduced PC that is now the de facto standard in local area networks."
Novell was a $1 billion concern when he left in 1994 and started the Canopy Group. The privately held venture-capital company soon was the state's leading technology incubator. In all, Canopy helped launch more than 100 companies, among them tech headliners such as Altiris, Helius, LinuxNetworx and MyFamily.com.
Son Brent Noorda said: "In my memory, Dad was always president of one company or another. As a kid, I didn't know what this meant, so I asked, 'What does a president do?' Dad said, 'A president is the guy who sticks around to empty the trash after everyone else has gone home,' ''
Laura DiDio, a senior analyst at Yankee Group, hailed Noorda's vision and energy. "Perhaps Mr. Noorda's greatest and most enduring legacy is that even as he helped to usher in the high-technology era, he steadfastly maintained old-fashioned business values. His word was his bond," DiDio said. "He always retained the common touch. He was famous for flying coach. Above all, Ray Noorda should be remembered as an honest businessman and a true gentleman."
Active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Noorda also was a philanthropist, founding Angel Partners and Worth of a Soul to advance his family's charitable contributions.
As Noorda's health declined in recent years because of Alzheimer's disease, Canopy's image took a hit. In December 2004, Noorda protg Ralph Yarro filed a lawsuit against the Noorda family after being ousted as Canopy CEO. The litigation was settled three months later with The SCO Group leaving Canopy. The dispute did not end, however, before figures on both sides - Yarro associate Robert Penrose and Noorda's daughter, Val Kreidel - committed suicide.
None of that changed Yarro's affection for his departed mentor. "The industry has lost one of the greatest competitors of all time. He fought for the little guy and was always looking to take on bullies in the industry," Yarro said. "He was generous, he was kind, he was interested in his fellow man. He loved Utah and wanted the people of his home state to have the respect and opportunities they deserved."
At his passing, Noorda was surrounded by his family. He is survived by his widow, Lewena (Tye) Taylor, whom he married Aug. 4, 1950; four sons, John, Alan, Andy and Brent; 13 grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and a sister, Edna Hill.
A date and time for services had not been scheduled late Monday but will be at Sunset Heights Stake Center in Orem.
* Tribune staff writer MIKE GORRELL contributed to this article.
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