Fran Tarkenton Scores In Software

As a pro football quarterback, Fran Tarkenton habitually zig zagged around opposing linemen to score touchdowns. He retired from the sport in 1978, but Tarkenton is still scrambling into the end zone. Since 1986, the Hall of Famer has built Atlanta-based KnowledgeWare Inc. into the dominant player in the nascent market for automated products that help businesses develop their own software.

Tarkenton isn't a high-tech rookie. After helping pull a software company out of bankruptcy in the mid-1970s, he became a consultant and discovered that most large corporations had huge programming backlogs. In 1986, he merged his Tarkenton Software Inc. with KnowledgeWare, an Ann Arbor (Mich.) company that specializes in computer-aided software engineering, or CASE, covering the gamut of planning, analysis, design, and construction. "The opportunity I saw was unbelievable," says Tarkenton, 51, KnowledgeWare's chairman and chief executive officer.

KnowledgeWare is now the biggest and fastest-growing company in the $450 million commercial CASE industry--and No. 2 on BW's Hot Growth list. Customers such as American Express Co. use CASE to write programs for money transfers. KnowledgeWare's sales were up more than 100% last year, to $66.2 million, on profits of $9.8 million. The company is weathering the recession well because CASE technology slashes development time and errors--cost-cutting that businesses seek in tough times.

KnowledgeWare, whose products run on IBM personal and mainframe computers, has topped rivals by being first with MS-DOS-based and, more recently, OS/2-based integrated CASE software. "Our strategy has proven to be what the market wants," says President Terry R. McGowan, KnowledgeWare's CEO before the merger.

A cozy relationship with IBM helps, too. Big Blue bought a small stake when KnowledgeWare first went public, and now owns 9%. KnowledgeWare is a major business partner in developing IBM's application-development CASE strategy, whose purpose is to establish industry standards for CASE software development. "KnowledgeWare is in an excellent position to benefit," says Thomas O'Flaherty, a vice-president with market researcher Input. Meanwhile, Tarkenton and McGowan keep fine-tuning their basic business fundamentals: listening to customers and stressing employee teamwork. "In sports, teams win and individuals don't," says Tarkenton. And with teammate IBM doing the blocking, KnowledgeWare could well keep scoring big.

Stephanie Anderson Forest in Atlanta