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America’s Richest Self-Made Woman In 1996 Is Back As One Of The Nation’s Wealthiest

By News Creatives Authors , in Billionaires , at January 1, 1970

A quarter-century after her one-time appearance on The Forbes 400 list of America’s richest, software company founder Pamela Lopker once again ranks among the country’s wealthiest self-made women, this time on a different list.

by Isabelle Bousquette

The cover of Forbes in October 1996 featured photos of seven newcomers to that year’s Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans. One of them, Pamela Lopker, was a little known software entrepreneur who had started a successful company in Santa Barbara, California called QAD Inc. By Forbes’ reckoning at the time, she was then the richest self made woman in America, worth an estimated $425 million. 

She didn’t hold the title for long: by the next year, Forbes had dropped her from The Forbes 400 after QAD had a lackluster IPO and Forbes determined that more shares of the company were owned by Lopker’s husband than previously thought.

Now, after 25 years of quietly building her business—and, crucially, holding on to her QAD stock—Lopker is back on a Forbes list. With QAD stock up more than 45% in the past year, and with the company on the verge of being acquired by private equity fund Thoma Bravo, Lopker, who declined to be interviewed for this article, is worth an estimated $725 million—landing her as a newcomer at No. 43 on Forbes’ new list of the richest self-made women in America.

Lopker’s rollercoaster journey began in the 1970s, when she was a math and economics student at UC Santa Barbara. There she met her future husband, Karl Lopker, an entrepreneur who cofounded the leather sandals company Deckers in 1973. When he asked Pamela to help him choose the right manufacturing software for Deckers, she decided to build the software herself and start her own company in 1979. (Karl Lopker soon joined QAD and served as CEO until his death in 2018.) 

As president and chairman of the company, she spent the 1980s and 1990s expanding QAD’s software offerings to include materials planning, forecasting and cash management for customers like Unilever and Ford. By 1996, the company was thriving—and that’s what landed her on that year’s Forbes 400 list, gracing the cover alongside newcomers including tech investor Joe Liemandt and fashion mogul Mossimo Giannulli. She was $10 million richer than Oprah Winfrey, Forbes calculated.

Two months later, Lopker made another Forbes cover, fronting the December 30 issue alongside a group of female Silicon Valley technology entrepreneurs. “Sudden fame as the richest self-made woman on The Forbes Four Hundred has been great for business,” the story read, “but also forced her to get an unlisted number and dump vanity license plates.” 

The next year, Lopker took QAD public. Forbes reported in its January 12, 1998 issue that “QAD’s $86 million offering was well received when it began trading in August [1997],” but that shares had fallen by a third in the months following. 

Initial filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission also revealed that Lopker shared all her QAD stock with her husband. By the time the 1997 Forbes 400 list came out, Lopker and her husband were jointly worth $425 million. Meanwhile, the cutoff for individuals for the 1997 list had climbed to $475 million. 

“She removed her vanity plates after making Forbes’ list last year,” read her writeup in the “drop outs” section of the 1997 Forbes 400, “You can put ’em back on, Pam.” 

Those first few years after QAD’s 1997 IPO were bumpy. Shares, which debuted at $33, had dropped below $2 by 2000 as the dot-com bubble burst. Lopker dug in, continuing to update the company’s software offerings over the 2000s and launching the QAD Global Enterprise Edition in 2005 with an eye on expanding further into Europe. Shares had recovered slightly, to around $8 apiece in 2009. That meant Lopker’s stock was worth about $150 million at the time—placing her far from the Forbes’ wealth rankings.

Since then, QAD has been on a tear. In 2010, the board announced recapitalization plans for a two-to-one reverse stock split, giving the company greater financial flexibility with its Class A shares. The stock rose more than 500% between April 2010 and April 2021, as the company continued to debut new software and expand its international offices. 

By early 2021, QAD had grown to $308 million in revenue (for the fiscal year through January 2021), with over 25 offices around the globe serving some 2,000 customers. Shares hit $51 in April—and then sharply leapt to $85 in late June, after Lopker agreed to sell the company to private equity firm Thoma Bravo for $2 billion in cash. The transaction is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2021. 

Lopker—who still lives in Santa Barbara and counts Sudoku among her many skills—will maintain a “significant ownership interest” in QAD, according to a company statement, and will keep a seat on its board. 

“Over the past four decades, we’ve grown QAD from a locally sourced, one-person start-up to a leading, trusted global provider of ERP solutions,” Lopker said in the press release. “Today we are beginning our next chapter of growth.” 


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