Kiwi company comes home

Marshal is back with most of its original development team, and it's expanding

Marshal Software’s tale is one that bears repeating — even if not always in polite company.

The company made a huge name for itself with its MailMarshal and WebMarshal screening products. It didn’t hurt that every email scanned by the company’s software cunningly carried the MailMarshal brand and so helped spread the word. Indeed, not long after NetIQ bought Marshal for the paltry sum of US$23 million (then NZ$45 million) in 2002, Computerworld ran a story about a well-known golf association that was caught up in a virus attack and was receiving thousands of bounced emails. The biggest problem, said the association spokeswoman, was that MailMarshal kept popping up to tell her it had blocked all the email.

The local NetIQ PR manager rang demanding a retraction of the story (perhaps she wanted us to say, “Product doesn’t perform as advertised”). We declined, but it didn’t bode well that the new owner was so obviously unprepared for MailMarshal’s popularity.

NetIQ then made a series of fairly obvious blunders with Marshal Software. First, it decided to relocate development to Texas. Surely, when you buy a company, you’re not just keen on the name and the existing product suite, but want to buy its future earning potential too? When Disney bought Pixar it made sure co-founder John Lasseter’s on-going employment was part of the deal.

Unless you’re buying a manufacturing plant, or a plot of earth, when you buy a company you’re buying the people. They’re what make the company worth buying in the first place. NetIQ forgot that, and once the company had made the decision to shut down the development arm in New Zealand, it was downhill from there. The company compounded the error by claiming it had offered jobs to a “subset” of Marshal employees but was not interested in the development team.

The rationale for the move was quite astounding. Vice-president for human resources, Terry Dyckman, flew to Auckland to give the staff the news. He said, “The decision was made to consolidate, to co-locate all development on this suite of products in one place [because of its importance to the company].” Yeah, right.

In the time NetIQ owned Marshal hardly a word was heard from the company. Instead of new releases, NetIQ released a series of small incremental updates that did nothing to keep the product at the forefront of buyers’ minds.

And so, three years later, Marshal is back in New Zealand, with most of its original development team lined up to start work again, and looking for another 50 developers. This is a great opportunity for the new management team, who know a good thing when they see it and have also persuaded a UK investment house to stump up some cash.

It’s always good when a management team feels so strongly about the product that they buy a chunk of the company. It bodes well for the future because you know they’re behind the product all the way.

We’ve become something of a hotbed for software development lately. This is great as software is something we can easily ship overseas. I recently heard an orchardist talking about selling apples overseas. He said simply getting an empty box from New Zealand to the docks in Europe costs $20, before the apples even go into it, just because of the cost of shipping and labour. Add on top of that, the need to make a return on investment and battle with regulatory issues (fireblight isn’t a new web browser development, by the way, Australia), and you’ve got very expensive apples — assuming you can hire staff to pick them in the first place.

So more power to software developers, I say.

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