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The consummate CEO

If I taught an executive management class, I would use Jasc’s Kris Tufto as a case study. 7/13 ReleVents hed: The consummate CEO dek: If I taught an executive management class, I would use Jasc’s Kris Tufto as a case study. By James Mathewson

Every year about this time, I sit down to lunch with one of my favorite people in the industry–Jasc Software CEO Kris Tufto. We mostly just catch up and talk about his industry. But the subject invariably comes around to his management style and the unique and common-sense way he runs his company. The unique part–an uncharacteristic openness–he mostly inherited and had the common sense not to mess with.

His company produces software for the consumer and small-business graphics market. Paint Shop Pro (PSP) is its flagship product, though Jasc is getting more and more into Web graphics development all the time. PSP was built by and for a community of Windows graphics hobbyists back when Macs dominated the graphics industry 10 to 1 and the only company that would touch Windows graphics applications was Corel. It has always relied heavily on online media (first BBSes, then the Internet) to help gauge user feedback, and to test products through its open developers’ forum. It has always made sure its products were right before full release. And it has always had a try-before-you-buy shareware policy toward its users. In so doing, it has developed the most loyal following in the industry.

Tufto took these qualities and added a strong sales infrastructure that turned the company’s niche hobbyist status into market domination in three years. PSP is now the most widely used graphics program on Windows. He has retained the core development team using policies toward his developers that mirror the company’s openness toward its clients. I don’t think anyone has left Jasc since Tufto took charge three years ago. And he’s added some top talent during his tenure.

We talked about his segment of the industry; which has been recession-proof because of the boom in digital photography. Jasc’s product has always been consumer-friendly out of necessity. Most of its growth comes from graphics beginners, which puts it in a great position when the flood of grandmas armed with digital cameras and ink-jet photo printers hit the market in the past year. These users could not afford Photoshop and would not learn CorelDRAW or Deneba Duneba Canvas. PSP still uses paper manuals and quick-start guides and stocks its tech support lines with live representatives. It’s an old-fashioned approach that’s needed now more than ever, as the industry reaches saturation and growth comes almost entirely from newbies.

For those who don’t spend their days looking into the way companies that serve the tech industry are run, Jasc Software may seem like just an ordinary company. But it really is quite extraordinary. More often than not, software companies like Corel make boneheaded decisions that tick off users and partners alike. One problem most of these companies have that Jasc does not have is public shareholders. When boards set arbitrary growth and profit numbers, software companies get greedy. They start charging for tech support. They stop printing manuals. They start raising prices and stop giving users a break on upgrades. They release code that isn’t ready. They start charging for beta product. They tighten their piracy policies and sic the ASA on everyone who doesn’t do public audits. In short, they treat their users with no respect. Jasc is certainly the exception to the rule.

James Mathewson is editorial director of ComputerUser magazine and ComputerUser.com.

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