A Contribution That Mattered

Saturday 14 October 2006 @ 4:38 pm

All humans are born with an innate drive to fulfill four basic needs. These needs are:

1. To Live
2. To Love
3. To Learn
4. To Matter

Once you reach a certain level of stability and maturation, the fourth item listed … To Matter, can become a primary source of focus and pre-occupation in your life. In my life as I now have exited the 30’s and have moved into the 40’s, I find myself asking the questions, “what am I doing that matters?” “What legacy will I leave?” and “what difference will I make in this crazy world?” The great men that I have respected have turned much of their energy to doing something of consequence or to mattering.

This past week I had the opportunity to attend the funeral of one of my hero’s and mentors in life, Ray Noorda. Ray was the man who turned Novell from a failing startup company with 17 employees to a computer giant which employed more than 12,000 people and made Utah Valley a hub of technology. Most of the technology companies in Utah Valley today still have someone or something that was in some way touched by Ray Noorda. I had the opportunity to work for a small startup company that Ray founded while I was in college and then spent 8 years working in many places at Novell during it’s “Glory Days” while Ray was driving the ship. I derive much of my leadership style and philosophy from simply watching Ray.

There is not a month that goes by that I don’t use Ray’s quote:

“Resist change and die!
Adapt to change and survive.
Create change and thrive!”

There is not a week that goes by that I don’t use Ray’s philosophy of considering the actions I take as a leader and how they will generate stories and drive the culture of the organization that I am involved in.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t require the very best from myself and from my team

Ray Noorda was at the very heart of these basic life fundamentals that I now try to live by.

Ray was not only a visionary, but a life philosopher, a mentor, a leader, and an individual who had a life purpose …. that of making a real contribution that mattered. He simply had the best strategic mind of any man I have had the opportunity to associate with. Ray subscribed to the philosophy of “Teach a man to fish and he will eat a life time,” rather than, “give him a fish and let him eat for a day”

Ray is known in the technology industry as the “father of network computing”. This is a fair and accurate assessment, but he was much more than this. He enabled the economy of Utah Valley, generated countless high paying technology jobs, spawned thousands of small businesses, and of most consequence to me, Ray set a leadership template that many men have tried to follow. I count myself as one who has benefited greatly from this template.

The entire week after learning of Ray’s passing, I found myself a bit melancholy. In some way I felt I needed to express gratitude to Ray. I could not really think of any appropriate action to take other than simply go to Ray’s funeral and silently let Ray know how much impact he had in my life and say thank you.

Ray probably did not even know that I considered him to be one of my greatest mentors and heroes. I was never on the inside circle of his sr. management team, nor was I closely associated with him in intimate social settings. (unless you consider my 3 year old son spilling his entire cup of punch on his shoes at the company picnic.) But I watched … I learned … I analyzed …, then I watched some more …. analyzed some more and you know what, his simple non assuming, conservative, lead by example, don’t tolerate mediocrity, and expect the best, and work hard philosophy rang true to me. As a young hungry MBA graduate eager to make my mark on life, I self assumed Ray as my mentor without him know of it.

I realized that Ray established the culture not by lecturing, not by mandating, but by creating stories. He made a point to come by our offices on Saturdays and after hours and sit on our desks. We all knew how to behave, what we stood for, and what was expected of us, not by him telling us what to do, but by the stories. There were many powerful, wonderful stories that circulated like wild fire through the companies that Ray was involved in.

I will never forget one particular meeting that I was involved in between Ray and one of my other major life mentors. Dr. Peter Horne. (Dr. Horne is another amazing man who I have undying respect and gratitude for and which no doubt will be the focus of many of my future Management Metaphor blogs.) Dr. Horne was in Provo from England to meet with Ray. True to form, Ray began acting kind of like a bumbling old farmer talking about how he loved to ski. Dr. Horne in his proper British accent said “so Ray… you are a skier are you”. Ray said, “oh yes, I love to ski, just love to ski, but only on Tuesdays.” Long awkward pause Dr. Horne looking puzzled took the bait and asked “Now why do you ski on Tuesdays Ray?’ A simple yet deliberate impactful response “It is Sr. Citizen day and I ski for 1/2 price”

Needless to say, the tone of the meeting was set, the fiscal conservative nature of Novell was established, and Ray (Novell) and Dr. Horne (Mitsubishi/Apricot) went on to have a strong productive relationship for years to come.

This is a fun story to tell because Ray and Dr. Horne both had tremendous impact on my approach to business and life philosophy.

At Ray’s funeral yesterday, several outstanding eulogies were given (one by Drew Major, and the other by Terry Peterson) that summed up the key things that Ray stood for. With out being laborious, I would like to regurgitate these points:

1. Believe and Trust In People
2. We all have a stewardship in life. Be faithful in your stewardship.
3. Customers 1st – Employees 2nd – Share holders 3rd (I can’t count the number of times I heard that)
4. Un Assuming (we all know that Ray lived in a home like ours and drove a car like we did)
5. Listen – Ray was a great listener and used words very deliberately and carefully
6. Integrity – Loyal
7 Be true to your own core beliefs. You can be successful with out compromise

    Terry Peterson

1. Respect the individual – Titles did not matter to him
2. Marriage – He and Tye were always supportive and building even in hard times
3. Financial Responsibility
4. Listen – especially with your heart
5. Word of Wisdom – focus on your health
6. Forgiveness
7. Dignity – always hung in there even with physical problems
8. Give back

I thought that these were a really good summary of what he stood for.

Ray, thank you for your contribution and making this world a much better place. I will forever be grateful for your example and in a small way will attempt to carry the torch forward.

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Rich Christiansen