Waste Not…Want Not – Zig Zag Principle #26

July 27th, 2011 by Rich Christiansen

One of my heroes and mentors was a businessman named Ray Noorda.  Ray was the CEO of Novell when I worked there, and he guided the company through its “glory days.”  During his time as CEO, everybody knew very clearly what the values of Novell were.  Financial responsibility was at the top of the list.  Next was to be on the leading edge of technology.  Another was to take good care of our customers. 

We had a series of mantras that were propagated throughout the company.  These were little statements that Ray was famous for, such as, “Resist change and die, adapt to change and survive, create change and thrive.”  Another was, “Customers first, employees second, shareholders third.”  One of his statements that used to spread fear throughout the company was, “Spring cleaning whether we need it or not.”  All of us knew that every spring the bottom 10 percent of performers would be laid off.  Ray did not like having dead wood in the company.  He felt it was an honor to work at Novell; and if people were not performing, he did not want them to weigh the company down.  Not everyone agreed with his values, but these are examples of the culture that Ray created for Novell. 

Most of us who worked for Ray considered him to be something of a tightwad.  Whether that is a fair assessment or not, he was definitely fiscally responsible. Although he was a billionaire, Ray did not have a fancy office; in fact, he had the same standard issue desk and chairs as everyone else.  When he traveled, he flew coach to save the company money.  He did not wear expensive suits.  He drove an old 1972 King Cab pickup truck.

Not surprisingly, he loved to walk around the company and met people.  He would stay after hours and talk with the custodians.  It was not uncommon for him to come sit on your desk and ask if you had anything good to eat.  He would talk to every level of employee.  As a result, he knew exactly what was happening in the company.

At one point, we had an executive who made it a point to let others know he had money, and one day he came to work with a shiny new Rolex watch.  This employee had failed to take note of the values and culture of the company.  Not surprisingly, he was one of those who ended up getting cleaned out the next spring.  That became one of the many stories that got passed through the company, which reinforced the values Ray used to guide Novell. 

One time I personally witnessed one of Ray’s stories, and I did my part to pass it along.  I was in the restroom when Ray walked in.  There was another man in there who was combing his hair and who kept the water on the entire time he was grooming himself.  He would leave the water running while he went to check himself in the mirror.  Then he’d come back for a bit more water, and then head to the mirror again.  When Ray came in and saw what was going on, he turned the water off.  The guy went back and turned it back on—and then gave Ray a dirty look.  As the guy turned away from the water, Ray shut it off again.  It was obvious this guy had no idea who he was dealing with.  After the third time, Ray wagged his finger in this man’s face and said, “Waste not, want not.”  I am not sure what happened to the offender.  But I know that I was sure quivering and that the value of not being wasteful was ingrained deep within me that day.  These were the stories that would spread like wildfire through the company.  They taught the values and created the culture of how everyone in the company was expected to behave. 

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