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Sandra Kurtzig founded ASK Computers, a company that produced software for business settings, primarily manufacturing. The firm enjoyed rapid growth as a result of its hit program, ManMan, and by 1981 it had firmly established itself as the dominant company in its field.

Manman, a contraction of “manufacturing management,” enabled small manufacturing companies to plan material purchases and production schedules on a scale previously possible only on large mainframe computers. The software initially had a five-figure price tag, but ASK was able to reduce its costs by offering small businesses the opportunity to use the program on a time-sharing basis.

In 1984, ASK rolled out a version of ManMan ASK Computers Toronto for use on lower-priced minicomputers from Hewlett-Packard and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). The company was able to offer the new product at one-third of its previous cost. The move protected ASK’s market share with smaller companies and emerging middle-range manufacturers. It also allowed the company to begin aggressively marketing its original product for a much larger group of potential customers.

By the mid-1980s, however, ASK’s financial performance began to falter, as its customers reduced their expenditures. In addition, Kurtzig and her family members began selling off significant blocks of their stock holdings, a move that triggered a shareholder lawsuit. During this period, ASK focused almost all its attention on upgrading and improving its existing products and virtually ignored the development of new ones.

In 1989, ASK made a major acquisition by purchasing the privately owned competitor Data 3 Systems. The purchase brought the company into a new market segment, since Data 3’s software ran on IBM hardware. The new products were a natural complement to ASK’s own offerings and provided the foundation for a more diversified product line. At the same time, Kurtzig overhauled the way her old company was run, shifting personnel and making other changes in the pervasive spirit of the enterprise. She even changed such minor details as the quality of food and beer served at Friday evening company celebrations in an attempt to reestablish a sense of ownership among her staff. By 1991, the consolidated ASK-Ingres group had yearly revenues of $400 million. The diversified ASK had 91 offices worldwide and was one of the leading producers of software for businesses. This case is open to current Stanford GSB students, faculty, and staff as well as alumni. Please contact the Case Writing Officeopen in new window to request access. Thank you. Copyright 1990 by Stanford Graduate School of Business. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or published without permission from the university. This article is also available on the GSB website under the Business Cases menu. Please note that this article is not a substitute for the full GSB case study and should be used only as a supplement to it.