Gateway, the Inc. 500 alum known for its utilitarian computers, groundbreaking direct sales model, and Holstein-spotted boxes, has agreed to be acquired by Acer, the Taiwanese computer maker, for $710 million, according to the Associated Press. On the one hand, it's a good sum for a company that was started by Ted Waitt and Mike Hammond with virtually nothing. On the other hand, through the late 1990s, Gateway was a star of American business on par with the likes of Dell and (for a time) well ahead of Apple. In 1991, the recessionary year during which Gateway jumped to No. 1 on the Inc. 500 (up from No. 2 the year before), Inc.'s Joshua Hyatt wrote the following:
"Gateway's growth, and Waitt's genius, can't be reduced to just one overwhelming advantage. America's fastest-growing private company got there by managing, practically without exception, to come out on the right side of several dicey gambles. Waitt has gambled on his gut to figure out what customers want; he has gambled on his own taste regarding how best to advertise it to them; and he is gambling on his brain to make sure the company's growth doesn't smother its clearest impulses." (To read the rest of the article, click here.)
For the next five years or so, Waitt's gut--that, and the rapidly improving and digitzing economy--managed to keep Gateway growing fast. As Dell picked up more market share and Apple began to enjoy a renaissance, however, Gateway seemed to go astray. Waitt moved its headquarters from South Dakota to La Jolla, California, depriving the business of the sense of place that was one the most lovely components of its brand. (He subsequently moved the HQ back.) In 2005, Waitt retired from the company to work full time on other ventures and on philanthropy.
What's your take on the Acer-Gateway deal? Is it a sad day for American business or simply further proof that any company, no matter how high flying, can lose its way and/or fall victim to ever-changing market forces? And what's your take on Ted Waitt? Great innovator or guy who let his company get away from him--or both?