Saved by the Net

Two years ago, Southern California software maker Quarterdeck Corp. was falling fast, a one-product company being squeezed by Microsoft. But [...]

July 1 1996 by Michael T Harris


Two years ago, Southern California software maker Quarterdeck Corp. was falling fast, a one-product company being squeezed by Microsoft. But just in the nick of time, Quarterdeck was saved by a net-the Internet.

Following company-founder Therese Myers’ resignation in 1994, an interim management team began angling Quarterdeck toward the Internet market and lessening its dependence on its core DOS memory management product. In the meantime, an executive search tapped Belgian-born Gaston Bastiaens to be the new CEO in January 1995, and he hit the ground running.

A former Philips Electronics and Apple Computer executive, Bastiaens, 49, began executing a series of reorganizations, acquisitions, and product launches. Just last month, Bastiaens announced a major corporate restructuring that separated the company into two divisions, with one focusing on the core line of PC software utilities products, and the other concentrating on Internet software.

The latter products include navigational and database searching on the Internet, audio connections, Internet collaboration for businesses, and Internet connectivity. Most of these products have come from acquisitions; between the two divisions, Quarterdeck has more than 20 products today.

When he first took the helm, Bastiaens received his share of free advice, mostly along the lines that Quarterdeck should drop its original utilities product line, Quarterdeck Extended Memory Manager-which stores applications in a PC’s high memory, thus freeing up more memory in the basic DOS system-and aim entirely at the Net. But he didn’t buy it.

“I thought that was pretty stupid, because the only way we were going to be successful in the long term was to first build on the company’s strengths and then expand from there,” Bastiaens says. The utilities group, he adds, has turned into a cash cow for the company, and helps to fuel Quarterdeck’s aggressive growth.

Punk, Ziegel & Knoll securities analyst Cherlynn Blatter projects 1996 sales of $181 million, nearly double 1995′s figures, with 1997 somewhere around $280 million. “We believe that Internet and communications revenues will increase 73 percent year-over-year to $156 million, or 60 percent of total revenues in 1997,” she says.

Perhaps Bastiaens’ most critical strategy was deciding not to compete directly with Microsoft and Netscape, both battling for the title of Internet King. Rather, Bastiaens has positioned Quarterdeck as a value-added software company. That way, “he’s made sure he’s not going to be in front of the train coming down the track,” Blatter says.

“Our goal is to be a market leader in all the areas we are in,” says Bastiaens, who holds monthly information meetings with employees to ensure their understanding of Quarterdeck’s objectives. “We must constantly adapt to change and market needs.”

He also stresses that Quarterdeck has to think globally. “From day one, today’s product managers have to look at things through the eyes of their customers in Japan and Europe, not just those in America.” To that end, in hindsight, Bastiaens says he might have put a greater emphasis on strategic partnerships, admitting that “we went the safe way” by making acquisitions instead.

Married, with both his son and daughter grown and on their own, Bastiaens starts with a six-mile run every morning, then gets an early start at Quarterdeck’s Marina Del Rey headquarters. He communicates almost daily with his son, who lives in Belgium. How? They e-mail each other over the Internet, of course.