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Novell announced June 22 that its board of directors has fired CEO Jack Messman and Chief Financial Officer Joseph Tibbetts Jr. In Messman’s place, the board appointed Ronald Hovsepian, who had been president and chief operating officer since October 2005.

Messman, who had presided over Novell since 2001 when Novell acquired his Cambridge Technology Partners company, and Tibbetts left Novell June 21. In Tibbetts’ place, Dana Russell, Novell’s current vice president of finance, has been appointed interim CFO. Messman will remain on Novell’s board of directors until Oct. 31.

Novell also announced that Thomas Plaskett, a director of Novell since November 2002 and former CEO of both Pan Am and Continental Airlines, was elected nonexecutive chairman of the Novell board.

“The board concluded that a management change would be the best way to accelerate the execution of our growth strategy and build value for shareholders,” Plaskett said. “Ron [Hovsepian] is the ideal choice to lead the company as we continue with our transition to Linux-based products and identity and resource management and leverage our unique support of mixed-source environments.”

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Before coming to Novell, Hovsepian was IBM’s worldwide general manager of distribution industries. In this position, he managed global hardware and software development, sales, marketing and services.

“He is a talented and proven executive with deep knowledge and expertise in the infrastructure software business and the enterprise market,” Plaskett said.

“Following his 17-year career at IBM and other industry experiences, Ron … has played an integral role in developing the company’s operating strategy and fully understands Novell’s compelling growth opportunities. He has forged close relationships with key customers and is highly regarded by the board and employees throughout our organization.”

“I am very enthusiastic about the opportunity to lead Novell and to aggressively execute our strategic plan,” Hovsepian said. “In recent months, we have adopted a comprehensive strategy, strengthened our portfolio through both acquisitions and organic growth, and divested the noncore Celerant business. Although we still have much to do, these steps have positioned us to take full advantage of recent trends toward a mixed-source computing environment based on open source and open standards.

“Going forward, we will maintain a sharp focus on meeting customer demand and delivering value through Linux-based, enterprisewide solutions and identity and resource management products. We have innovative technology, a strong roster of customers and business partners and an extremely talented group of employees. I look forward to continuing to work closely with our business partners and customers.”

Regarding Messman and Tibbetts, Plaskett said, “The board is grateful for Jack’s and Joe’s service to the company. Jack has been a director since the company’s founding, and he and Joe helped lead Novell through a period of dramatic change in the software and information technology sectors. In particular, the company’s decision under Jack’s leadership to adopt an open source-based strategy put Novell at the center of one of the most significant computing developments in the last decade.”

While Novell has embraced Linux and open source with its acquisition of Ximian and SUSE, it has been unable to profit from these technologies as quickly as many of its investors would like.

Messman, and his plans for Novell, had been criticized since last fall by major stock holders Blum Capital Partners LP and Credit Suisse First Boston on several fronts. Messman, analysts at both firms felt, had not been moving fast enough to cut the fat from Novell.

Last fall, these investors wanted Novell to divest its “noncore businesses,” such as ZENworks, GroupWise and Cambridge Technology Partners. Both also want Novell to become more of a leader in Linux and identity management through joint ventures and selective acquisitions.

Given this public opposition and Novell’s recent lackluster financial results, few were surprised when the board dropped the ax on Messman. The former CEO himself though had intended to stay the course.

In a March Linux-Watch interview, Messman said, “I’ve been around the company a long time, and I love it. I’m in good health, and I see nothing like retirement on the horizon. If the board ever decided I should leave, I’d go. But I enjoy the business and have no plans to leave.”

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