Sandra Kurtzig was leaning in long before Sheryl Sandberg wrote a book about it.
During the Nixon administration, Kurtzig simultaneously launched both ASK Computer Systems and her family from a modest Mountain View apartment. ASK, an early enterprise software company, grew into a $400 million business. The family, sons Andy and Ken, grew into men who married and produced five grandchildren. Oh, and two more companies: Pearl.com and iReuse, which Andy and Ken launched respectively.
Chips off the old block.
Of balancing her business and her family, Kurtzig says, "To me, I can't imagine having one without the other."
For taking ASK public in 1981, Kurtzig is sometimes known as "the mother of Silicon Valley." For raising Andy and Ken and for encouraging their dreams, she will always be known as Mom.
"My two children are the most important part of my life," Kurtzig says. "What do I feel most proud about? One is Andy and Ken and the fact that we get along so well and we really like being together."
Mother's Day naturally is a day when we reflect on that most primal relationship: our relationships with our mothers and how those early years together made us who we are, for better or worse. It's funny, but it seems children either follow closely in their parents' footsteps or turn tail in the other direction and choose to do something that seems entirely foreign to the people who gave them life.
The Kurtzig boys are definitely follow-in-the-footsteps sorts. They grew up with an archetype Silicon Valley entrepreneur, a math and aerospace whiz who in her 20s started a multimillion-dollar business in a spare bedroom with a stake of $2,000. When they were young, their mother and father divorced, but they had a happy home, and relations among mother, father and kids were good.
Meantime, ASK grew like crazy. The Kurtzig boys learned from their mother not only how hard it was to start something, they learned the power of creating a business, of launching something that no one else had pulled off. Early in their lives they met people like Bill Hewlett and valley consigliere Larry Sonsini. They were eventually neighbors with Charles Schwab. And there is the day that Andy Kurtzig will never forget: the day ASK went public.
"I had gotten home from school and my mom comes home and I get a brand-new Apple (AAPL) II," says Andy Kurtzig, 40, CEO of Pearl.com, a San Francisco-based Web service that connects consumers and experts. "She drove home in a Ferrari and she was handing out Rolexes or some super-fancy watch."
To top it off, he got programming tips for his new computer from Steve Jobs himself.
"I started thinking, you know, this business thing is kind of cool," Andy Kurtzig said.
As ASK grew, Sandra Kurtzig worked insane hours, but she always made time for the boys.
"She was a wonderful mother," says Ken Kurtzig, 37, CEO of iReuse, a Marin County-based sustainability consultancy. "She was usually home for dinner and we were always her top priority. She loved ASK and she loved work and she was always saying things about it, but nothing came ahead of us."
There are certainly no scars from neglect. In fact, mutual respect and gentle needling seems to be the Kurtzigs' go-to mode.
I met recently with Andy and Sandra Kurtzig at the Redwood City headquarters of Sandra Kurtzig's latest startup. She came out of retirement and two years ago launched a cloud-based enterprise software company, Kenandy -- incorporating her children's names into her latest baby. Ken couldn't make the meeting and so I joked that Andy must be Sandra Kurtzig's favorite son. "Actually, Ken is my favorite," Sandra Kurtzig deadpans.
Seriously, Sandra Kurtzig knows better than to play favorites, especially when it comes to her children. And she knows that when it comes to juggling career and family, tough decisions have to be made. She understands the angst that many, and women in particular, feel about trying to be all things to their families and their bosses or investors.
But she is a woman at ease with her decisions. And that's just it, they're her decisions. She's not on a crusade. Her way is not the way for all mothers, but it was right for her. Kurtzig is unapologetic when she talks about how she didn't find the daily grind of parenting all that exciting. The diapers, the PTA meetings. Is that really what kids remember you for? Sure, Kurtzig says, hearing your kids' first words is a thrill, but babies aren't the most intellectually stimulating creatures on Earth.
"You missed my first words?" Andy interrupts. "Is that what you're saying?"
"No, I was there for your first words," his mother reassures him. "It may not have been the first time you said your first words."
In the crazy days when both the boys and ASK were newborns, it wasn't that the boys didn't come first. It was just that Kurtzig was convinced that if she wasn't doing what made her happy, she'd have a hard time making a happy life for her sons. "The advantage," she says, "is now I think Andy and Ken and I are closer than probably ever, because we have so much in common."
Yes, they talk business. And they trade advice, strategies and board members. But despite her pioneering success, Kurtzig insists that's not what it's all about. In the end, it's about being a mom, the mom she wanted to be.
"I guess I just say I'm lucky," Kurtzig says. "Being able to have a successful business and a successful career and successful kids is pretty damn good."
So true. And it makes for a damn happy Mother's Day.
Contact Mike Cassidy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 408-920-5536. Follow him at Twitter.com/mikecassidy.
You might say that the business of running a business runs in the Kurtzig family. Here are some lessons from mom:
-- "The kind of thing I learned from my mom growing up is the value of hard work. She was working very hard and I got to learn the trials and tribulations of being an entrepreneur. It s not always a straight line, so I got to see sort of all the good and the bad along the way. We talked about it at the dinner table frequently.
-- "I learned & the importance of putting the customer first, and the other thing I learned, well I learned a lot of things, was the importance of working with great people.
-- "The thing I appreciated, I think early on, and even more so now, she always has been focused 110 percent on customers and really listening.
-- "One thing that I learned was looking at what are people s strengths and weaknesses and feeding off of people s strengths.
CEO: Ken Kurtzig
Headquarters: San Rafael
Employees: Five full time
Annual revenue: Would not disclose
Product: Provides consulting to businesses on sustainability issues, such as energy efficiency, waste reduction, water conservation, e-waste disposal and recycling
CEO: Andy Kurtzig
Headquarters: San Francisco
Annual revenue: about $100 million
Product: A Web-based fee or subscription service that connects users with experts in fields such as medicine, law, auto mechanics and other specialties
CEO: Sandra Kurtzig
Headquarters: Redwood City
Employees: about 30
Annual revenue: Would not disclose
Product: Cloud-based enterprise software for managing supply chain, inventory, design, manufacturing, finances and other aspects of a business