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COMPUTERS—The Wizard Gets a New Lease on Life as HarderTech

For years, Wizard of OsZ was the place small San Fernando Valley businesses went for their first computer and came back to when they didn’t know how to use it. Started before even the first IBM personal computer went on the market, the company transitioned through the years to become a maker of its own brand of computer and seller of software. But in the last month, the Chatsworth computer reseller was sold to Bill Harder who has replaced the well-known OsZ name with the less quirky HarderTech and plans to regear the business toward the computer consulting and networking market. “They’ve kind of been an icon for some time,” Harder said of the buyout. “But the company has been on a down slide. I intend to build it back up.” Harder said he wants to turn the company around with a new focus and to grow revenues from $1.5 million in 1999 to $3.5 million in the next three years. Harder bought Wizard of OsZ for an undisclosed price from Michael Adackapara, a chemical engineer who was running the company as a side project. Adackapara had been shopping the company around for the last four months so that he could focus on his chemical engineering career. He could not be reached for comment. At the same time, Harder was searching for a computer consulting company that he could buy. He had recently turned business around for North Hollywood-based MKA Systems, a computer consulting firm, where he doubled revenues in his four years as general manager. “I decided I wanted to do it myself this time,” Harder said. “It’s a lot easier to start a business from an established one than from scratch.” When Harder took over business in September, OsZ had just four of its 13 staff positions filled and was consistently losing a number of its 3,000 clients. Loyal following Since its inception in 1981, Wizard of OsZ had grown a loyal audience among Valley computer users and techies. At times, it was one of the only computer stores in the Valley. Art Schlefstein started the company shortly after he bought his first Osborne computer, a precursor to the PC. The Osborne, which sold for a pricey $1,795 in 1980, was a “luggable” machine with a 5-inch black-and-white screen that ran a word processing and database program and could be moved from location to location. “It was the first good business computer to come out with software and a complete package,” Schlefstein said. “Before with the Apple, you had to buy the keyboard and everything separate and there was no software.” Schlefstein had put his name on a waiting list and bought one of the first Osbornes sold in the L.A. area. But after getting it home, he couldn’t figure out the first thing about how it worked. A programming friend helped him get started and eventually wrote a networking program for the Osborne that allowed access to a bulletin board system where Schlefstein could download other software and connect with other users. Before long, Schlefstein was getting requests from other Osborne users for copies of the networking software. About that time, he formed Wizard of OsZ, the name suggested by a lawyer friend and meant to relate to Osborne computers. “It was a stupid name for a company,” Schlefstein said, “but we were just having fun at that point.” Giving way to Microsoft In the first few years of business, Wizard of OsZ developed a national customer base for its software programs made for the Osborne computer. The company got into the manufacture of games and graphic design programs and had a groupie following among programmers. But by 1983, the PC had arrived on the scene and it was clear the Microsoft DOS operating system would obliterate the Osborne. Schlefstein switched the focus of his company from a software maker to a hardware seller, but kept the OsZ name. Eventually, the company began making its own computer systems and selling them under the OsZ computer name. “It took off,” he said. “People heard about us through word of mouth and the fact that we were so big in Osbornes.” Schlefstein sold the business in 1998 after being diagnosed with cancer. As for the name change to HarderTech, he said it’s sad, but he is hopeful that Harder can turn the business around. “I’m surprised he decided to change the name since that is why he bought it,” Schlefstein said. Harder said he decided on the name change because the company’s focus is now on networking and software consulting. “A certain number of people thought the company was a gaming company,” he said. “And 90 percent of our business is corporate and Wizard of OsZ didn’t exude a lot of confidence.” Harder said he will focus on building the staff and luring back clients who have left the company over the last couple of years. He will target businesses with under $50 million in revenues and train them to better utilize their computer systems and software. “Small to medium-sized businesses generally don’t have a full-time computer support staff but need specialization in different areas,” Harder said. “We want to help our clients take their computers to the next level beyond Word and Excel and into information management. Then they can have access to information that will help their decision-making.”

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