Sandra L. Kurtzig

In 1972, the chief executive of Silicon Valley start-up firm asked Sandra Kurtzig to write a computer program to track inventory for his manufacturing company. Perceiving this as a golden opportunity, she left her sales job at General Electric to start her own custom-programming business.

To set up an office in the second bedroom of her apartment, Kurtzig used $2,000 in savings to rent a computer time-sharing terminal and buy a desk, chair, and filing cabinet. At the age of 24, Sandra Kurtzig, Silicon Valley's leading female CEO founded ASK Computer Systems, Inc. Today she jokes, "In an area where garage start-ups like Hewlett-Packard and Apple were the norm, I couldn't even afford the garage."

She decided at an early stage to focus exclusively on manufacturing companies. "From my experience selling computer time-sharing services for G.E., I knew the manufacturing market and understood its potential. I saw a critical lack of software for the manufacturers seeking to computerize their operation and decided to fill that need."

In 1978, after recognizing that software could boost hardware sales, ASK seized the opportunity and quickly became the world's largest reseller of Hewlett Packard computers. The company later became a major reseller of computers for Digital Equipment with revenues at $13 million, Kurtzig decided to take ASK public. Company stock sold out immediately.

When sales reached $79 million in 1985, Kurtzig resigned as CEO and president. In February 1989, she resigned as chairman of the board to set off on personal pursuits that included writing an autobiography, spending time with her two sons, and building a house in Hawaii.

At the request of the board of directors, Sandy returned to ASK in September 1989. She assumed the title of CEO, president, and chairman. "Sales were flattening," Kurtzig said. "But more ominous was the fact that no major new products had been developed in many years. The company was crashing. I didn't come back to repeat what I've already done. ASK, with its 900 employees, is a new company, a $200 million start-up with a solid customer base and the potential of becoming one of the most exciting companies in America. I plan to be around for the fireworks." Recognized by Business Week editors as one of America's most influential business leaders, there is little doubt that Sandra Kurtzig will, indeed, be around for the fireworks.