Personality Profile: Alok Mohan - New President of SCO

He brings experience of 22 years at NCR to his new post

By Sally Atkins

                    Name: Alok Mohan
          Place of Birth: Calcutta, India
                Position: President, COO, and Board Member, SCO
Time in Current Position: Two weeks
   Years in the Industry: 22 years
           Car He Drives: Late-model Lexus

Favorite Non-Work Activities: Biking, golfing, surfing, and boogie-boarding with his two sons, 10 and 14.

Pet Open Systems Peeve: "With the fading of IBM as the 'thought leader,' no one has been able to fulfill that role effectively although many are trying. The open systems movement could have, however the UNIX wars left a void and the UNIX players have basically left a space for a company like Microsoft able to mount a credible attempt. The inability of the UNIX giants to come together on a common standard in an earlier time frame has been a problem."

On UniForum: "Vendors and users need to support UniForum more. It serves a very useful purpose in educating computing professionals.

Alok Mohan, from a North-Indian Hindu middle class family in Calcutta, arrived on the East Coast of the United States in 1970 with a prestigious Indian engineering degree, $8 in cash, and bus fare to Indiana. Today, he is the newly-appointed president of The Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) and a member of its board.

From India To Indiana

In the 1950s, Mohan's father was in the shipping business for the Indian government service. In what must be the equivalent of our modern "bring your kids to work" days, Mohan and his brother sailed aboard American ships, where they met people from around the world. In Calcutta, Mohan had access to a U.S. library and American movies. He was intrigued by U.S. culture and people, and set his sights on America at a very early age.

Mohan went to college at the well-known Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur, which has as much school pride in Silicon Valley as MIT. He received his B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1969 and worked as an engineer for one year afterwards at a chemical plant.

Following his dream, in 1970, Mohan headed for graduate school at Indiana University. He was new to this country, but met the challenges of a foreign land undaunted, and worked his way through business school. Between his first and second years at Indiana, he interned at NCR. When he received his M.B.A. in Finance in 1972, he was asked to join NCR full time. There he stayed, with the exception of 1975, a year which was devoted to helping his brother set up a thermal protector manufacturing company in India. (That company still exists and is quite profitable.)

Career Overview

Mohan was at NCR for 22 years, filling 11 jobs-in finance, product management/marketing, strategic planning, and operations. Mohan says he was never bored working at NCR. At times he would be in a position for only four months, three of which were spent traveling.

The last six years at NCR, Mohan was vice president of the workstation products division and was an officer of the company, three years as vice president of workstation products division and three years in strategic planning and product management. Then, NCR merged with AT&T Computer Division, a process that took close to a year and a half, after which Mohan felt it was time to move on. He opened his own consultancy in February of 1994, with SCO as one of his early clients. By May, SCO's then-President and CEO Lars Turndal asked Mohan to become chief financial officer and senior vice president of operations.

Mohan initially had no intention of going full time at SCO. He was not 100 percent sure of what he wanted to do, and he enjoyed his freedom as a consultant. However, during his consulting for SCO, Mohan realized what SCO needed to do to improve its performance and decided to take the job.

Six months later, a time in which SCO's stock doubled, Turndal asked Mohan to take on the role of president, COO, and become a board member. He accepted, and now all senior managers in the company except founder and Chief Technical Officer Doug Michels, will report to Mohan. Turndal continues as CEO.

Climbing The Corporate Ladder

Mohan is open minded and sees part of his role as listening, teaching, and informing, in contrast to dictating. He calls Chuck Exley, former CEO of NCR, his mentor. Mohan says that Exley understands the fundamentals of business modeling, and as they went through the process of moving NCR onto the open cooperative computing strategy, Mohan found himself one of a half dozen people who brainstormed about the future of the company. Mohan is also a rigorous planner and modeler, and will tell you that he often lets economics dictate decisions. To succeed, though, good business people need more than quantitative skills. Ethics, openness, drive and willingness, and the ability to see things from the customer's perspective and move away from the bits and bytes of technology are all essential.

NCR was an early proponent of open systems with its UNIX Towers and PCs, and included open systems as part of its belief system. As head of strategic planning, Mohan guided a strategic redirection to open cooperative computing, implying top-to-bottom UNIX and Intel. That strategic direction took NCR away from previous proprietary architectures.

The NCR merger with AT&T took some of the focus away from NCR's new vision, and spelled the end of Chuck Exley's career. Mohan laments the fact that the merger meant, for all intents and purposes, NCR will not be able to focus on the horizontal open systems "thought leadership" vision he and Exley and the team had dreamed of. Instead, he sees AT&T as focused on solutions in vertical markets, exemplified not by the choices (pull marketing) and openness in the NCR strategy, but by the you will (push marketing) attitude of their advertisements.

In his 22 years at NCR, Mohan participated in several business cycles and helped move the company through many major changes. He seems to have learned when to push for a change and when to be patient. His first job was as a financial analyst. Mohan and 30 or so peer analysts were caught in the middle of a reengineering phase as the company converted from electromagnetic to electronic cash registers. People on the wrong side of the technology were being fired just as he joined the company, and many workers were waiting to see who would be in power and to hear which projects would fly. The analysts spent a lot of time flying paper airplanes. He found that for every major reengineering plan, there is a time to be patient and wait for the new processes to unfold, lest you get caught in an obsolete project group.

This doesn't necessarily mean that in his first days as president of SCO, Mohan will find analysts flying airplanes, but to prevent any confusion, he has already outlined his goals and explained what SCO needs to do to be more profitable.

SCO: 1995 and Beyond

The company's stock price has just about doubled since the end of June, and according to other top managers at SCO, Alok Mohan is one of the major reasons why.

You might say Mohan's karma is very good, and he shares the wisdom gained through 22 years at NCR with the much younger company he now calls home. Already, he seems to fit in among long time employees in all ranks and disciplines. His leadership style is anti-hierarchical, with teamwork and shared vision the guiding principles. He stresses that he is not alone in charge, but part of a large team working to be the best SCO can be.

In six months as chief financial officer, he has set a course to reign in expenses and redeploy marketing resources while working on more focused positioning for SCO as the business-critical, Windows-friendly server company. He believes the company must manage expenses so that they grow only nominally, redeploy resources to direct sales and marketing, continue to improve ISV relations, and increase sales. SCO will continue to refine the open business model, using important partners in the OEM and VAR businesses to address a broader customer base. Mohan points out that SCO has a high win rate when evaluated fairly in major accounts. The direct sales force will champion fair evaluations while using the VAR channels. Their target markets will remain the medium-sized enterprises with lots of replicated sites.

This month, SCO paid $14 million to acquire Visionware of Leeds, England (with offices in Menlo Park, CA), a company with $12 million in annual revenue. Mohan said the engineering and management team and the technology were both important in the purchase. The X-server, terminal emulation, and PC Connect products, as well as the new SQL Server product, are part of what SCO needs to help deliver an ever-easier environment for open systems users. The combination of Windows-friendly value added at the desktop and SQL at the server gives SCO some control at both ends of the client/server pipeline.

When asked about competing in a Microsoft-centric industry, Mohan points out that without UNIX, NT would have little competition. They are careful allies. He thinks the competition keeps both UNIX vendors and Microsoft more ambitious. Microsoft still owns 15 percent of SCO stock and Microsoft has a seat on SCO's board. Mohan points out that when competitive topics come up at board meetings, the Microsoft board member may be asked to leave the room.

In Mohan's opinion, SCO is a gold mine. The company was already moving in the right direction and pushing to become profitable when he joined it. SCO has done well from a market-share standpoint by owning 37 percent of the UNIX-on-Intel market, according to IDC published data. SCO is the volume server/host vendor and its business model fits well with the open-industry standard movement.

SCO's future is tied to how it can leverage its own alliances. SCO follows a leveraged R&D model and attempts to take the best value-add from the industry and integrate it into its own products. SCO's leveraged distribution model also is based on selling and delivering products through partners. SCO does not sell directly, although Mohan will increase the presence of account reps in major accounts in support of the OEM and VAR distributors.

The biggest satisfaction at SCO for Mohan is the strong management team and the capabilities of the people. Mohan's personal target when joining SCO was to triple the stock price and SCO is well on its way. He is excited about the opportunity of successfully growing the business while maintaining good profitability. Mohan looks forward to the first half of 1995, when SCO will announce Everest, an new version of the business-critical server with improved scalability.

Mohan brings a bit of the NCR open cooperative vision to SCO. And just maybe as a result, SCO will find its niche as a thought leader among customers devoted to open systems.

(Sally Atkins is manager of standards and evaluation for Stanford University's Information Technology Services.)