Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 10/83 item 01 - scanned
DON'T WRITE OFF ADAM OSBORNE (column)
Once upon a time I would have been delighted to see Adam Osborne fall flat on his face. I first ran across him the day I joined Personal Computer World. My notes from that occasion remind me that I found him 'provocative and aggressive'. The next time I saw him was a few months later at the West Coast Computer Faire and my notes tell me that I found him 'arrogant' as well. Couple these reactions with the fact that he had been writing a column called From the Fountainhead and you will understand why I was less than well disposed towards Adam.
I did, however, overcome these small prejudices to actually listen to what he had to say and, despite my emotional reactions, found him to be a thoroughly good egg. For a start he was against the flaky companies and totally on the side of the consumer. He was also extremely perceptive to the extent that he was one of the first industry observers to spot the importance of CP/M and VisiCalc. This perception led to the presentation of his White Elephant Awards which, despite the name, used to be given by Adam to the companies whose products were of especial merit.
As time went by I became more and more favourably disposed towards Adam and when he renounced his press connections in order to start up a computer company, I couldn't wait to see what he would come up with. After all the very least he should do would be to abide by all the rules he had been setting for others through his public utterances. Of course, when the Osborne 1 was launched everyone was astonished half of them because it was so ugly and hardly portable, the other half because it offered such amazing value with its bundled software offerings. The machine certainly took off and before the year was out magazines such as Fortune were hailing Adam as something of a hero.
Before very long Osborne was becoming so successful that in late 1982 it moved into a massive new building in Hayward. And by the following March staff were already overflowing into another building. Competition for staff was fierce in the Hayward area; a quick drive round will take you past endless computer companies, many of them growing like crazy and all of them trying to find employees from a fixed pool of people. It is clear that the quality of available staff under these circumstances continually diminishes and the original members of the company who shared Adam's dreams gradually became diluted among a lot of people who simply wanted to serve time and take home a salary.
Politics too reared its ugly head as tends to happen in large organisations and a lot of energy which could have been directed towards helping the company was expended in jostling for a favourable position in the pecking order. Some people rose to positions which they promptly abused by 'big-timing' instead of maintaining a proper sense of perspective. It was interesting to watch one person try to impress me with his ability to overspend one week and the following week complain that his expenses were being queried. At least they still had people above them who were in control.
Adam too recognised that he needed a chief executive to manage the company which had developed beyond his own management skills. The company looked as if it was hurtling towards a stock market listing and several hard working and loyal employees were looking forward to the day when they would become independently wealthy as a result of throwing in their lot with Adam. Such a phase in a company's development needs to be carefully managed. The man appointed was one Robert Jaunich and I can't be sure what happened, but it seems to me that he didn't at first grasp what Adam was trying to do. He didn't seem to share Adam's view of the importance of software and concentrated much of his initial attention to the hardware side of the business. Sales of the Osborne 1 slumped and the Executive didn't really take off in the way the company had hoped. It was out trumped by a number of portable IBM look-alikes and the Vixen Osborne's down-market machine didn't appear before the company was placed under the protection of chapter eleven.
Many people seem glad that this has happened. I'm not. I admired Adam's courage in putting his money where his mouth was. I'm profoundly sad that things haven't worked out for him. What I don't think anyone should do is to write Adam Osborne off because he is bound to have learnt an enormous amount from this experience. America has a different attitude towards companies that go broke. I doubt that Adam would suffer the same degree of social and commercial ostracism that he might have encountered over here. I hope he stays in the electronics industry, his knowledge and experience will be missed by many if he chooses to go.