Jacek Trzmiel, Idek Tramielski ou Idek Trzmielle selon la source, dit Jack Tramiel, né le 13 décembre 1928 à Łódź en Pologne, est décédé d’une crise cardiaque le 8 avril 2012 à Stanford aux États-Unis. Il a fondé Commodore International en 1954 avant de prendre la tête d’Atari en 1984. Le New York Times retrace le parcours de l’homme d’affaire américain.

Jack Tramiel, a hard-charging, cigar-chomping tycoon whose inexpensive, immensely popular Commodore computers helped ignite the personal computer industry the way Henry Ford’s Model T kick-started the mass production of automobiles, died on Sunday in Palo Alto, Calif. He was 83.

Commodore rose to prominence in the 1970s and ’80s, producing the first computer to sell a million units. Another model, the Commodore 64, sold more than 20 million units — four times the sales of the Apple II, which is often said to have established the personal computer market. Sales of the 64 exceeded $1 billion.

Mr. Tramiel’s business model was ruthlessly efficient: he introduced a new product at the lowest price possible, and as the competition matched his price he went even lower. He did this by slashing costs, hiring top engineering talent, selling in mass-market stores like Kmart, and owning the suppliers of chips and other components. He changed directions in an instant, going so far as to introduce a new product even if it hurt sales of an existing one. He liked to say that business is war.

Mr. Tramiel’s boldness was suggested by a full-page newspaper advertisement he ran in 1983 when Commodore was flying highest: “Commodore Ate the Apple.”

In fact, Mr. Tramiel (pronounced truh-MELL) had so little use for Apple’s emphasis on design elegance and technical sophistication that Time magazine called him the “anti-Steve Jobs.” Mr. Tramiel wanted affordable, easy-to-use computers in every home; he spoke of serving “masses, not classes.”

He was born Jacek Trzmiel in Lodz, Poland, on Dec. 13, 1928. After the Germans invaded on Sept. 1, 1939, his family was confined to Lodz’s Jewish ghetto, where they lived in a single room while his father scratched out a living repairing shoes. In August 1944, the Nazis deported the family to the Auschwitz death camp, where Dr. Josef Mengele, the SS officer notorious for conducting heinous experiments on inmates, selected Jacek and his father for work detail at a nearby camp.

His mother remained behind in Auschwitz and survived; his father did not. Mr. Tramiel was told that his father had died of typhus but believed that he had actually been injected with gasoline.

After being liberated by American troops, Mr. Tramiel scrounged around Europe for two years, picking up odd jobs. He had himself admitted to a psychiatric sanitarium just so he could eat.

In 1947 he married Helen Goldgrub, whom he had met in a concentration camp, then left for the United States, where his wife joined him in 1948 and his mother in 1949. Joining the Army, he learned to repair typewriters. After his discharge, he drove a cab, used a G.I. loan of $25,000 to buy a typewriter store in the Bronx, and changed the spelling of his surname.

In the 1950s he moved his business to Toronto, where he had family and where the laws made it easier to import typewriters from Europe. By then his business had grown into an office-machine company. He chose the name Commodore, he said, after glancing at an Opel Commodore while riding in a cab.

In the 1960s, Mr. Tramiel became the subject of a widely publicized insider-trading investigation involving loans to his company. Though he was not indicted, the publicity made it difficult for him to continue to do business in Canada, so he moved the company to the emerging Silicon Valley area of California in the late 1960s.

A trip to Japan introduced him to digital calculators, and he began to manufacture them. The competition to cut prices in the calculator business was unrelenting, so he scrambled for ways to cut costs. He decided to buy his own chip supplier, and settled on MOS Technology in Norristown, Pa. An unexpected jewel in the purchase was an MOS engineer, Charles Peddle, who had developed a faster, cheaper computer chip, the 6502 microprocessor.

Mr. Peddle persuaded Mr. Tramiel to let him use the chip to build the prototype of a personal computer. With support from a Canadian investor, Irving Gould, Commodore introduced its Personal Electronic Transactor, or PET, in 1977. It was soon in a price war with the new computers of Apple and the Tandy Corporation. Commodore was helped by its dominance in the European market and by a marketing strategy of selling two PETs to schools for the price of one.

In 1980 Commodore leapfrogged its competition by introducing the VIC 20, the first home computer selling for less than $300. Commodore manufactured 9,000 units a day, making it the first computer to sell more than a million units. (The Apple II, introduced in 1977, reached the million mark a few months later.)

Mr. Tramiel introduced the Commodore 64 in 1982. It offered 64 kilobytes of memory compared with the 46 offered by the Apple II, and sold for half as much. The 64 had color graphics and was the first personal computer with an audio synthesizer chip.

Commodore’s financial success was dazzling: 100 shares of its stock bought in 1977 at under $2 a share were worth more than $70,000 by 1983.

In January 1984 Mr. Tramiel resigned as president, chief executive and director. At the time, Commodore was a clear leader in market share and profit while competitors were suffering severe losses. No reason for his departure was given, although many analysts attributed it to friction between Mr. Tramiel and Mr. Gould, the chairman.

Months later Mr. Tramiel bought the home video-game division of the Atari Corporation. After Atari lost ground to Nintendo and other competitors, he sold it and retired in the mid-1990s, then became involved in venture capital and real estate.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Tramiel, who lived in Monte Sereno, Calif., is survived by his sons, Leonard, Sam and Garry, and five grandchildren. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington was among the many recipients of his philanthropy.

Mr. Tramiel’s abrasive, autocratic style was renowned, and he fired executives frequently. He delayed paying suppliers so long that one demanded a cashier’s check; he grudgingly obliged, then called the bank to stop payment, an executive of one of his suppliers said in an interview Tuesday.

The New York Times said in 1985 that he had told reporters he was contemplating charging them for press kits promoting his new products. He did not appear to be joking, the Times reporter wrote.

Source: New York Times

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