Novell Ousts Messman, Names Hovsepian New CEO

Hovsepian, who became Novell's president and COO last November, takes over the chief executive post effective immediately. The Waltham, Mass.-based software maker said Messman, who also held the chairman's title, left the company as of June 21 and will remain on the board until Oct. 31.

In addition, Thomas Plaskett was elected non-executive chairman of the board. He has been a director since November 2002.

Novell also said CFO Joseph Tibbets left the company effective June 21, and Dana Russell, vice president of finance and corporate controller, will serve as interim CFO.

"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 in a statement. "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. He is a talented and proven executive with deep knowledge and expertise in the infrastructure software business and the enterprise market."

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Hovsepian, 45, is well-respected by channel partners. He joined Novell in June 2003 as president of North America after serving in management and executive positions in a 17-year career at IBM.

Novell has been under pressure to shake up management for months. Credit Suisse First Boston and other investors have urged the board to shake up top management and exit the consulting business, which Novell entered through its merger with Cambridge Technology Partners in 2001.

The timing is critical for Novell, which is slated to launch its highly regarded SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10 later this summer. The company is negotiating a key transition from its bread-and-butter Netware business to a Linux-based software stack.

Frank Basanta, director of technology at Systems Solutions, a New York-based integrator, said he's hopeful that Messman's departure will pave the way for more Linux growth.

"SUSE Linux should be rivaling Red Hat in sales growth but has languished for the last few years," Basanta said. "We hope that Ron Hovsepian understands the SUSE Linux potential and takes the bull by the horns. Hovsepian needs to be driving the SUSE Linux business harder."

Novell shares rose 40 cents to $6.40 in trading Thursday morning.

STEVEN BURKE contributed to this story.