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AST Shuffles Staff, Restructures Key Departments : Computers: The Irvine firm says it avoided major layoffs. Moves are in response to the slow sales of some products.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a personnel shuffling apparently prompted by growing competition, AST Research Inc. has restructured its public relations, sales and engineering departments.

Michael Moran, vice president of marketing, said Tuesday that the company has dismissed a few employees, reassigned some and hired others. He declined to be specific.

Deborah Paquin, an AST spokeswoman, said the company’s work force remains steady at 3,139, including 1,537 in Irvine. Moran said no major layoffs have occurred, but he added that after the changes are completed “there may be a net loss of some people.”

In the sales department, AST is changing its focus from resellers--who add software to a computer in order to target sales in a specific market--in favor of direct sales to corporations.

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The changes in the engineering department reflect a decision to decentralize the department and assign systems engineers to specific product lines, Moran said.

He offered no explanation for changes in the company’s public relations department, which included the departure of Don Mathias, who headed the department. Mathias will be executive vice president in the Spindler Organization, the public relations arm of Gray Advertising in Los Angeles.

AST has hired more than 100 people since July and reported record profits during the past year. However, the company said, sales of certain products have been slow during the current quarter.

Safi U. Qureshey, AST’s co-chairman, acknowledged Monday that notebook computer sales have begun to slow in the current quarter.

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Such devices accounted for 30% of total sales in the company’s first quarter ended Sept. 30.

Industry analysts have been saying for the past two months that the company could suffer as a result of renewed competition from Compaq Computer Corp.

In October, the Houston-based personal computer company fired its chief executive, Rod Canion, and focused its strategy on broadening its distribution and lowering its prices to compete directly with so-called clone-makers, such as AST.

Compaq’s moves, as well as statements from AST officials, prompted analysts to lower their second-quarter earnings estimates to 32 cents to 50 cents a share.

The company earned 56 cents a share for the year-earlier quarter and 52 cents in the first quarter.

“I think the overall effects of the economic slowdown and the competitive nature of the computer industry are catching up with them,” said Steve DeLuca, an analyst at Cruttenden & Co., an Irvine investment banking firm.


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