Sandra Kurtzig (1947-)

Company: ASK Computer Systems; Kenandy, Inc.
Started: 1974
Size: $450 million in 1992 for ASK; Kenandy unknown as of 2013

She’s been called “a legendary figure in the tech world” and “the first lady of computers,” and it’s no wonder. In 1974, at a time when women were barely beginning to consider careers in high-tech, Sandra Kurtzig was founding what would become one of the fastest-growing computer software companies in America, ASK Computer Systems – and she started it in her spare bedroom with just $2,000. What began as a part-time venture developing inventory control software while she started a family quickly grew into a full-time vocation. Kurtzig used some creative negotiating in her early days, talking Hewlett Packard into letting her programmers use their minicomputers after hours and then, once the product was developed, convincing HP to bundle it. In 1981, she became the first woman to take a technology firm public. Not bad for a woman who ten years earlier was selling computer time for General Electric. She stepped down from ASK in 1985 (though remained chair), but returned as CEO in 1989 to revive the company and help it reach the $450 million mark by 1992. Shortly thereafter she stepped down and the company was acquired for $311 million. By 2010, Kurtzig used $10.5 million in venture capital funds to launch Kenandy, Inc., a cloud-based manufacturing software company.

“I’m willing to take risks. If you don’t have some fear of failure, then you’re not taking enough risks.”

References:

  • Picture: Courtesy of Sandra Kurtzig.
  • Adam Bryant, “Don’t Chase Everything that Shines,” New York Times, 1 December 2012 (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/02/business/sandra-kurtzig-of-kenandy-on-keeping-companies-focused.html?_r=0).
  • “Silicon Valley Pioneer Sandra Kurtzig Back in the Game with Kenandy,” Wall Street Journal, 29 August 2011 (http://blogs.wsj.com/venturecapital/2011/08/29/silicon-valley-pioneer-back-in-start-up-game-with-new-company-kenandy/).
  • “Sandra Kurtzig: The First Lady of Computers,” Entrepreneur, 10 October 2008 (http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/197656).
  • Sandra L. Kurtzig with Tom Parker, CEO: Building a $400 Million Company From the Ground Up (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1991).