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Money, Fame And Family

How Does Pamela Meyer Lopker Do It? (Well, the Middle Thing is the Most Recent and the One She Finds the Most Troublesome).

February 16, 1997|LISA LEFF | Lisa Leff, a former Times staff writer, is a free-lance writer based in Ventura County

But wrapped inside Lopker's pleasing, approachable exterior is an almost defiantly utilitarian outlook. She decided to go to UCSB because it was cheap and about the right distance from home. Limited edition David Lance Goines prints hang in QAD's offices and the Lopkers' custom-decorated home, not because she particularly likes them but because she got a great deal on them years ago. And she bristles at any Mary Tyler Moore comparisons, as if being known as nice might damage her bottom line.

It was that same eyeshade sensibility that led Lopker into the software field. Before her senior year in college, she assumed she would graduate into a career as a statistician or an insurance actuary. To expand her options, she enrolled in several computer programming classes. While she excelled at computers, Lopker said she never paused to ask herself whether programming lines of code was something she enjoyed doing. To her mind, that question was--and is--a luxury.

"People say, 'You must really love your job,' and I never think of that," Lopker says, chopping the air with her hands as if she were filing her thoughts into manila folders. "Even as a single person out of college, my goal was, what can I do that is going to allow me to make a comfortable living? And I just kept looking and applying what I'm good at to those jobs until I could find the right mix."

Her first job after graduation was as a programmer for a small Goleta defense contractor. It paid $24,000 a year, a healthy sum for 1977. Riding a bicycle to work so she wouldn't have to plunk down money on a car, she saved enough within the first year to buy a house in Santa Barbara with two other people. She eventually bought out her partners and kept investing in residential real estate.

Linda Chesterfield, a close friend, met Pam Meyer in 1979 when they shared that first house. Pam was fun and gregarious, Chesterfield recalls, but "she was always very directed in what she was doing."

Karl Lopker, Pam's boyfriend since college, was the same way. He was then running Deckers Outdoors Corp., the sandal-making company he had started in college. Deckers would go on to make millions marketing the ubiquitous Teva sports sandals after he sold the company to join QAD.

Pam and Karl "were always reading books about business and talking about business at a time when, like myself, I was just out of college and I was having a grand old time," Chesterfield remembers. "Even before they were married, you could look at these two people and see there was a very strong team at work."

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Forbes' snub notwithstanding, the idea for QAD actually came from Karl, who, friends say, is the family's more natural entrepreneur. Profitably running Deckers in 1979, he suggested that Pam, by then working at the Goleta firm, develop a program to track his sales, receipts, inventory and shipments. He offered to give her an office and make Deckers her first client while she developed a product.

In fact, the Lopkers' relationship began as a commercial one. They met 24 years ago in an Isla Vista leather store while both were at UCSB. Pam, a freshman, wanted to buy small pieces of material for crafts, but the store was out. Karl, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, offered to sell her scraps from his sandal business. They wed at the Santa Barbara Mission in 1981.

Karl's offer to help launch Pam's company produced a major hiccup in her meticulously laid plans. Quitting her steady job and giving up predictable paychecks threatened her deep need for financial independence. With additional prodding from Karl, she made the "painful" jump anyway.

By 1983, QAD--an acronym for quality application design--was doing well enough that Karl decided to sell Deckers and join his wife's venture as its head salesperson. Then, in 1985, the Lopkers made a strategic decision that put QAD on the road to international success. The company would write a software program that could run on multiple computer hardware systems instead of just one.

The gamble paid off. QAD's flagship product, MFG/PRO, was the first manufacturing software program utilizing the UNIX operating system, which went on to dominate the business world. Starting out in fewer than 500 factories, the software ran in more than 3,000 sites last year, about a third of them in the United States. The basic program that Pam Lopker wrote when she was pregnant with her son 10 years ago now comes in 24 languages, each new version boasting more bells and whistles to automate tasks that plant managers once did by hand.

As QAD grew, the Lopkers settled into their respective roles: She is in charge of research and technology; he runs marketing and sales. They similarly divide their duties at home. Pam drops the children off at school in the morning; Karl leaves the office first and cooks dinner.

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