When I became a software analyst in 1981, MSA (Management Science America) was generally regarded as the leading cross-industry financial software vendor. Its CEO was the colorful John Imlay, best known for a variety of showman stunts, such as bringing animals to sales meetings. (He also was known as “the man who killed the keypunch” from his hardware days, when he took a sledgehammer on stage to a keypunch machine in a presentation introducing key-to-disk technology.) The president was Bill Graves, the most agile 300 poundish guy I’ve ever seen off of a football field, and still the only person at whose house I’ve held hands during the saying of Grace.
MSA software ran only on IBM mainframes. There were a limited number of modules. I specifically recall an ad campaign for the “Big Eight,” because they had eight modules, and the “Big Eight” were the public accounting firms in those days. The eight included payroll, human resources, and six financial modules, which were general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, purchasing, fixed assets, and probably inventory. That’s all, versus the hundreds of modules successor companies have today.
MSA obviously modeled its “persona” on IBM. Indeed, the MSA logo consisted of the three letters in a font that consisted of thin parallel horizontal lines, exactly like IBM’s of that day did. Another major slogan was “People are the key,” with little key lapel pins given to five- and ten-year employees.
MSA struggled with the technological move from batch to real-time packages, and lost ground to M&D (McCormack & Dodge) over those struggles, but made it in time to survive. Eventually, MSA was acquired by Dun & Bradstreet, which had already bought M&D, and the two arch-rivals merged into D&B Software. The whole thing stagnated – most mainframe software was doing badly by the late 1980s — and eventually was spun out to Geac, which recently has been LBOed, and another reshuffling is now underway.
MSA eventually diversified into industry-specific vertical market software. In particular, it bought MRP vendor Comserv. It also bought Information Associates, which sold software mainly to universities and other non-profit organizations.
MSA actually had a large collection of the software industry’s notable executives and characters. The head of development was Dennis Vohs, who most people thought might be better suited to be a sales guy. The head of sales was Don House, who most people thought might be better suited to be a development guy. Vohs’ chief lieutenants included Larry Smart and Pat Tinley, both of whom went on to be software company CEOs. Vohs, Tinley, and Joe Southworth (perhaps MSA’s brightest development exec) went on to run Ross Systems. Doug MacIntyre, later CEO of a couple of companies, was MSA’s first VP of marketing. Fran Tarkenton, the ex-football player, was allegedly an exec. So far as I could tell, this amounted mainly to their conference room being called “Fran Tarkenton’s office,” with some of his trophies kept there. Apparently, people liked being in Fran Tarkenton’s office, and this helped sales. Tarkenton later went on to found CASE vendor Tarkenton Software, which merged into James Martin’s pet CASE company Knowledgeware. MSA’s obligatory bankruptcy staving-off story is John Arnold (later Northeast region sales chief) making a sale that was contingent on a financial stability reference, then hanging out in a phone booth to take a call and fake the reference himself. Well, actually the early days of the company were a mess, which is why Imlay was brought in to fix it, but that’s so far back in the late 60s and/or early 70s that I never really knew the details. But at one time MSA stood for “Management Science Atlanta.”
The executive team Imlay replaced included Jim Edenfield and Tom Newberry, who went on to found American Software. Other notable ex-MSAers include Rick Page and other principals of his sales training company. And MSA also owned Peachtree Software for a while, which was a leading microcomputer accounting software vendor in its day.