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Lewis Kornfeld, Made Radio Shack an Early Player in PCs, Dies at 97

August 15, 2013

Lewis Kornfeld, Made Radio Shack an Early Player in PCs, Dies at 97

By DANIEL E. SLOTNIK

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Lewis Kornfeld, left, became the chain’s president in 1970 and retired in 1981.

Lewis Kornfeld, who as president of Radio Shack helped the company become a major player in the early personal computer market in 1977 by releasing the TRS-80, one of the first mass-market and relatively affordable computers, died on Sunday in Fort Worth. He was 97. The cause was complications of lymphocytic leukemia, his wife, Rose Ann Kornfeld, said. When Radio Shack unveiled the TRS-80, personal computers mainly came in kits for aficionados to cobble together. Mr. Kornfeld presented a finished product that consumers could just plug in and use. The market for home computers was virtually untested at the time, but Mr. Kornfeld prided himself on having recognized their potential.“Nobody had a personal computer,” Mr. Kornfeld told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram in 2006. “I didn’t know about them. I walk into a buyer’s office, and I see him using a cathode ray tube screen and a typewriter keyboard. I said, ‘You let me know when I can play chess on it, and if it will, I’m going to put the damned thing in our line.’ ”

The TRS-80’s CPU was contained in its keyboard. It used a cassette deck to load and save data and came with a 12-inch monitor. The computer had four kilobytes of memory, the equivalent of about two double-spaced typed pages.

It retailed for $600 (about $2,300 in today’s dollars). Comparable computers released in 1977, like the Apple II and the Commodore PET, cost from $200 to more than $1,000 more, though costlier models often had more memory.

The TRS-80 was an immediate hit. The Tandy Corporation, Radio Shack’s parent company at the time, initially planned to manufacture about 1,000 of the computers, but by the end of the year 5,000 had been delivered.

By 1983, computers and accessories, marketed under the slogan “The Biggest Name in Little Computers,” were Tandy’s biggest sellers. That year the company released the TRS-80 Model 100, one of the earliest portable computers. Priced at $800 (nearly $1,900 adjusting for inflation), it could run on four AA batteries and was the last machine for which Bill Gates wrote much of the code.

I.B.M. broke into the market with its own PC in 1981, and by the late ’80s Tandy had stopped manufacturing its own computers and begun stocking I.B.M.’s in Radio Shack stores.

Lewis F. Kornfeld Jr. (he used a middle initial though he did not have a middle name) was born in Boston on July 31, 1916. He received degrees in English and journalism from the University of Denver and served in the Pacific with the Marines in World War II.

Mr. Kornfeld became Radio Shack’s advertising manager in 1948, when the company had only one store in Boston. In 1963 the Tandy Corporation, formerly a leather company based in Fort Worth, acquired what had become the Radio Shack chain.

He became the chain’s president in 1970 and retired in 1981, when Radio Shack had more than 7,000 locations.

After retiring he served on Radio Shack’s board until 2003. He wrote “To Catch a Mouse Make a Noise Like a Cheese,” a book on small-business marketing, published in 1983.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Kornfeld, who lived in Fort Worth, is survived by two sons, Nicholas and Hardy; two stepchildren, Ann and John McReynolds; two grandsons; a great-granddaughter; three step-grandchildren; and a brother, John. His first wife, the former Ethel Hardy, died.

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Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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