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Co-Founder of AST Computer Firm Resigns

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TIMES STAFF WRITERS

AST Research co-founder Thomas C. K. Yuen abruptly resigned Monday as co-chairman and chief operating officer after an apparent dispute with the company’s board.

Yuen--the T in AST--was one of three immigrant engineers who founded the personal computer manufacturer in 1980 and built it into a Fortune 500 company.

Yuen declined to comment on his reasons for resigning.

Yuen’s resignation surprised the computer industry. Analysts and former AST employees said indications from management suggest that Yuen was asked to leave because of his tough management style.

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A native of Hong Kong, Yuen gave up his daily management duties but will remain a company director, AST officials said.

Safi U. Qureshey, chief executive and president, will assume Yuen’s management duties but will no longer serve as co-chairman--a title he shared with Yuen. Carmelo J. Santoro, an AST director who heads an Orange County’s semiconductor company, was named chairman.

Yuen’s departure is reminiscent of the abrupt resignation of AST’s third co-founder, Albert Wong, in November, 1988. Wong, who was AST’s chief engineer, resigned after an argument with Yuen and Qureshey about the launch of a new computer.

AST’s three co-founders named the company after the first letters of their first names--Albert, Safi and Tom.

Analysts said Yuen’s departure could signal that AST has reached a new stage in its development.

“I think it’s a sign they are becoming a big company,” said Andrew Neff, a computer industry analyst at Bear Stearns & Co., a New York investment bank.

“AST tended never to be trendy, never tried to copy Compaq (Computer),” a rival personal computer maker, Neff said. “As a result, they tended to do well.”

AST’s stock rose 62 cents a share Monday to close at $13.50 in trading on the NASDAQ market.

Qureshey said in a statement that the company will use the occasion to “assess our strengths, expand our management capability and enhance our position in the marketplace.”

Santoro, chairman of Silicon Systems Inc. in Tustin, said that although Yuen suffers from kidney problems, his departure was not health-related.

Nor would Santoro comment on analysts’ speculation that Yuen left because of disputes with AST’s board. He said Yuen’s departure was a consequence of an internal review of the company’s future direction that he and outside board member Richard Goeglein conducted during the last several months. The review, requested by Qureshey and Yuen, was presented to the company’s directors last week.

“We presented our recommendations to the board of directors about a week ago,” Santoro said. “This action is one result of that.”

Yuen had a reputation in industry circles as a marketing maverick who was responsible for AST’s meteoric rise from a three-man garage outfit in 1980 to a company with $688 million in sales for its 1991 fiscal year.

“Tom was the best intuitive marketing man,” said James Ashbrook, a former AST marketing executive who is now president of a software company in Sunnyvale. “He could sense the changes in the PC market and act.”

Ashbrook and others credit Yuen for knowing that the company had to exit its original business--making add-on components to boost a PC’s memory--because of fierce price competition. In 1986, the company began making computers compatible with the IBM standard.

The company lost money and laid off workers shortly after Wong’s departure. But under the leadership of Yuen and Qureshey, it recovered and regained Wall Street’s confidence.

Wong, who now runs a smaller PC company, Amkly Systems Inc. in Irvine, said Monday of Wong’s resignation: “I feel sorry it’s happening. Even though I was bitter in my departure, I think Tom brought the company to a new stage and made a lot of things happen inside.”


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