073 – Accounting with PCs – 1984

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There’s no business like show business, but there are several businesses like accounting.
David Letterman

A student at Newcastle University in the North East of England took a summer job with a small accountancy practice.  The practice had a government grant to develop software for use in its business and it fell to the student, Graham Wylie, to create a program.

Wylie was commissioned by printing company Campbell Graphics to develop some estimating software for the business.  He combined this and his previous work to define and create Sage Accounts.

The Campbell Graphics principal, David Goldman, hired both Wylie and Paul Muller, an academic, to found Sage in 1981.  Sage Accounts was first a vertical package for printing companies but its approach was broadened and sold through a network of resellers.

Computer System Center was founded in 1976 as Atlanta’s first computer store.  In 1977 the store’s team developed a program called Peachtree Accounting; the name was inspired by Atlanta’s peaches.  Retail Sciences Inc purchased rights in the software and founded Peachtree Software the following year; it had turned over $1.5m by 1980.

Peachtree negotiated with IBM to provide a bundled accounting package for the IBM-PC launch and publicity for this attracted more acquisitive attention.

Back in 1963 Management Science America Inc was founded as a contract programming company.   It ran into difficulty by 1971 but was rescued by its bank and John P Imlay Jr became CEO.  Imlay directed MSA’s attention to software products and turned the operation around, making a public offering in 1981 and using this to acquire Peachtree Software for $5.7m.

Under MSA’s stewardship Peachtree expanded to a $22.5m turnover in 1983, yet it sold the company on to Intelligent Systems for a mere $1m in 1986.  MSA had ceased trading by 1990.

Intelligent Systems reduced the software price from c$5,000 to $200 and changed direction to selling off-the-page in the Wall Street Journal.  In 1988 it was sold back to its management team for $20m.

Layered Inc developed an accounting package for Apple Mac and was market leader.  It was acquired by Peachtree in 1990 and Peachtree was the first accounting software available with Microsoft Windows in 1991.

Peachtree was subsequently acquired by the Sage Group in 1998 for $145m.

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