Opera Software’s co-founder and ex-CEO, Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner, has finally broken his silence. Speaking to ComputerWorld, Tetzchner revealed his disappointment at both the direction Opera Software is taking and how it is being managed.
Tetzchner co-founded Opera with Geir Ivarsøy in 1995, and was the Chief Operating Officer until he stepped down on January 5, 2010. He continued to be associated with the company as strategic advisor, but parted ways on June 24, 2011. In his departure mail, he wrote, “It has become clear that The Board, Management and I do not share the same values and we do not have the same opinions on how to keep evolving Opera”.
Tetzchner was widely regarded as a man of ideals, and the person responsible for establishing Opera’s work culture and corporate values. He believed in the open web, hated software patents, and believed in caring for his employees. He was reported to be in favor of aggressively fighting to keep Opera Software independent and uncompromised. Unfortunately, the board and the shareholders didn’t always agree with him. Since his departure, Opera has streamlined itself on numerous occasions, sometimes shutting down entire offices. Opera has also invested more heavily in the advertising business. And most recently, Opera decided to ditch its rendering engine in favor of Chromium. His departure has led to a steady stream of rumors that Opera Software might be about to be acquired. The fact that he sold off a large chunk of his shares in the company for between 180 and 200 million NOK (about 32-35 million USD) over the past few months has only strengthened the rumors.
Under Lars Boilesen, Opera has made record profits, grown its mobile user base at a phenomenal pace, and expanded into new segments. However, under Boilesen, Opera has also lost its innovative edge. According to reports, Opera Software has also lost a lot of its atmosphere and culture. Wilhelm JoysAndersen, who used to manage Opera’s core testing team before quitting last year alleged in a post on Hacker News that employee morale is at rock bottom. No wonder then that Tetzchner remarked, “I must admit that I think it’s sad to see what happens with Opera”.
Addressing the reports of mistreatment of employees, Tetzchner went on to say, “Not only do I disagree with the strategic direction management is taking now, but I’m also sad about how the company is treating its employees”. “There must be good reasons to let people go. I think an atmosphere where so many must go, or stop more or less voluntarily, is unfortunate for both innovation and employees. This is very far from what I stood for. The employees are a vital resource and has been critical of the company has achieved.”
He also addressed the lack of innovation. “When competition increases, I believe one must increase his efforts, not reduce it”. As I noted in my previous article, since Tetzchner’s resignation, many influential and well-known developers have left the company to work for Google and Mozilla among others. Opera’s ex-CEO believes that a reduced focus on product innovation and core technologies is pushing talent out of Opera.
When asked if he misses being a part of the Opera management, Tetzchner candidly said, ” I miss Opera as a company and I miss the staff. But the direction the company now runs did not fit me”. Expanding on what he wrote in his parting email, he revealed a longstanding discord between shareholders and sections of the management including him. Tetzchner preferred to build the company stone by stone to achieve organic growth. Whereas shareholders preferred to prep the company for sale through acquisitions and cost reductions.
Note: Original Norwegian quotes have been translated with the aid of Google Translate.