Investing

The Worst CEOs In American History

15. Eckard Pfeiffer. Eckard Pfeiffer ruined Compaq, one of the original PC companies, and for years one of the most successful.Compaq was started in 1982 with a $3,000 investment from its three founders. That same year, the company released the first commercially available portable computer, the father of the laptop. In 1984, the company released its first desktop, arguably making it the PC company with the broadest product line of any in the world. In 1989, Compaq moved into the low-end server market and pushed IBM and Packard Bell out.By the late 1990s Compaq would have been better off focusing on the PC and server markets. Unfortunately, Eckard Pfeiffer, the company’s CEO from 1991 to 1998, had plans to greatly expand the company’s businesses and sales. In 1997, he bought Tandem, a manufacturer of high-end servers. He then purchased DEC, the leading mid-frame computer company, in 1998. In both Tandem and DEC, Pfeiffer strayed from Compaq’s core business, buying high-end brands that were not only expensive but were in the process of becoming obsolete.  Notably, Pfeiffer was unaware of the value of one of DEC’s assets, Altavista, the original search engine and the predecessor to Google and Yahoo!

As Pfeiffer took that company up-market, competitors like Dell and Gateway stole most of the lower end of the market—the area Compaq had once dominated. After seven years as CEO, Pfieffer was sacked by his board of directors. It was too late for the company to recover critical market share in the fastest growing parts of the PC market. Compaq was sold to HP in 2002.

Douglas A. McIntyre

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