Former Packard Bell chief buys AST

Beny Alagem, the co-founder and former chairman of Packard Bell NEC announced on Sunday that he had bought the AST brand name and technology for his new company, AST Computer Inc. The complex deal gives Alagem a 75 percent share in the new company, which will sell computers to consumers and small- and medium-sized businesses.

Beny Alagem, the co-founder and former chairman of Packard Bell NEC announced on Sunday that he had bought the AST brand name and technology for his new company, AST Computer Inc. The complex deal gives Alagem a 75 percent share in the new company, which will sell computers to consumers and small- and medium-sized businesses. "It is not just starting a new venture, but continuing the AST product line," said Alagem. "AST is a great and recognisable brand name -- we wanted to keep that."

Alagem bought the rights and technology from AST Research Inc., a subsidiary of Korean electronics firm Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. The parent company will hold 25 percent of the new firm, with an option to buy 10 percent in the future.

The new company will sell new computer products under the AST brand name, while AST Research will continue to support present customers. "Over time, we will acquire the parts of AST Research that we need," said Alagem. Eventually, both companies will merge under the AST Research name. Adding more confusion, AST Research had a division named AST Computer.

Samsung is confident Alagem can bring the AST brand back. "Beny has been a guiding force in the computer industry," said Soon Taek Kim, president and CEO of AST Research, in a statement. "We have every confidence that the new company will have a great future under (his) leadership." Alagem left Sacramento, Calif.-based Packard Bell NEC last July.

Aaron Goldberg, principal analyst and executive vice president of Infobeads.com, thinks Samsung made a good bet. "Beny brought Packard Bell from nothing to No. 3 in the industry," he said. "He has a proven track record." Still, Packard Bell NEC had problems under Alagem's watch -- problems that have continued. "It is hard to be CEO and be blameless," said Goldberg. "There are things he did that I am sure he wishes he could change -- now's his chance."

This time around the Israeli entrepreneur intends to make better use of the Internet. "We will use the Internet and its opportunities to offer the most innovative service and support to our customers," Alagem said in a statement. "That's one area that Alagem will have to work at," said Goldberg. "The Internet has never been his model -- it hasn't been Packard Bell's nor NEC's strength."

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