Company Profile: WordPerfect
We don’t like to hire MBAs here. We will teach you everything you need to know about the software industry.
Three years later, it all came crashing down and might have been saved by a few more MBAs.
WordPerfect was the first “real” company I ever worked for. I had a salary. I had health insurance. And I had paid days off! How cool was that? And like most first loves, I overlooked a lot of flaws. Mostly, it was because I was young. We were all young once, and it is the perogative of the young to be niave. In hindsight, WordPerfect was a flawed company from nearly the very beginning.
WordPerfect got its start be radically redesigning the word processor. The introduced a nearly empty screen. As the user typed, they saw a rough approximation of what the printed page would look like. They quickly became the #1 word processor in the world.
It’s said that the worst thing that can happen to a first time gambler is for him to win. WordPerfect was that first time gambler and they won big. But, like the new gambler, they didn’t understand enough about the game to prepare for their eventually losses. They assumed that they were successful because they had it all figured out. They didn’t realize that the market they came of age in would change.
Now, you might say that no one, Microsoft, Google, MySpace, IBM, or WordPerfect knows what the market will be like in the future. And you would be right. But, one difference between successful companies and unsuccessful ones are that successful companies assume the market will change. They may not know how, but they plan on it being different at some point.
WordPerfect’s biggest draw was their biggest downfall. They offered unlimited tollfree support forever. The largest group, by far in the company was the support department. It worked well when WordPerfect was selling for $500 per copy. And this was in the 1990s. Eventually, other competitors entered the market. Most notably Microsort Word. MSCORP started offering more features and a lower price. And, of course, Word worked well with Windows.
The fall of WordPerfect was swift and dramatic. A company that had cashflowed its expansion suddenly found itself runing out of money. It was $100,000,000 in debt when Novell purchased them in 1994. By the end, they couldn’t change their business model enough to stay profitable in a changing marketplace.
Today, the buildings that they constructed in Orem, Ut are still there. A dozen small software companies use them. Each hoping to be the next WordPerfect. The houses that the executives built literally next door are still there, but many of them have changed hands.
The company itself no longer exists. Correl still sells a version of WordPerfect, mostly to law firms who have years of files they don’t want to convert to a new format.
In the end, WordPerfect fell because of a combination of hubris and organizational structure. At the end, or slightly before the end, I bet they wished they had a few MBAs who understood the industry.
Years employed: 1988-1994
Job Titles: Telephone technician, Support Operator, SWAT Team member
Best things: Great people and free soda
Worst thing: A lack of vision
Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.
(c) 2017 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved