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L'Envoi: the First Six Years


There you have it: six years of Autodesk. While the record is far from complete and, like all collections of raw sources, lacks the balance and perspective of a historical narrative, reading these documents can't help but recreate the excitement, the fear, the exhaustion, the tension, the uncertainty, the exhilaration, and the feeling of accomplishment that we all shared as we lived through the times that these papers bear witness to.

I certainly know that collecting and editing them reminded me of many things I had forgotten. It's always easy to believe that things were much easier in the good old days, or to wish that we could get things done as quickly and easily as we used to. These papers show that at every point in the company's evolution we faced difficult decisions whose effects could not be predicted but which had to be made immediately based on incomplete information. They show our constant struggle to be responsive to our customers, dealers, and stockholders. They show that the process of getting high-quality products into the hands of users in a timely manner can never be ``easy''. They prove beyond any possible dispute that the one asset that is responsible for the success of this company is the people in it: people who have always been willing to exert whatever effort was required to get the job done and to do that job to the best of their ability because they believed in what the company was doing and they believed they would be rewarded for their exertions.

Sometime in 1984, when the company had begun to make a mark in the industry, a reporter asked me if the company had a ``philosophy''. I hadn't really though about it in those terms--it seemed to me that we were just doing what made sense. Like all reporters, this one pushed me for a pithy quote, so I said:

Make the best product.
No bullshit.
Reward the people that do the work.

A little more than six years ago Autodesk was all potential and no success. As the years have passed our efforts have brought us enormous success and have vaulted Autodesk into the first rank of small high-technology growth companies in the world. This success is both the well-deserved reward for what we've accomplished so far and the springboard that is creating new opportunities of unprecedented scale today.

It's easy to kick back and concentrate on meeting the sales and earnings projections on a quarter to quarter basis and to view our existing products as the centre of our business for all time, to be incrementally enhanced over the years. And we must do these things. But to remain true to the strategy that has brought us so far so fast we must also be constantly on the look-out for the next AutoCAD: the product that comes from nowhere, in an industry that doesn't exist yet, that all of the well-respected analysts say ``can't be done'', or ``can't be done on a PC'', or ``won't sell''. All of these things were said of AutoCAD.

In business you have to constantly try to expand the scope of your operations and move into new areas of opportunity. If you don't, your competitors will and you'll find yourself in a darkening corner of a market growing cold with obsolescence. If you run your business well and build the mainstream revenue sources while exploring the opportunities of the future, you can stay on the path to growth and success that dwarfs what we've achieved so far.

There was a day when General Electric, IBM, AT&T, Ford Motor Company--all of the Titans of industry, were the same size that Autodesk is now. Most of those companies took far longer to get to that point than we have, and few were in as strong a competitive and financial position when they got there. Like those companies, we're riding a technological wave which has been building for decades and whose limits cannot even be calculated today. If we continue to demonstrate the kind of creativity, productivity, and energy that we've shown so far, we can build Autodesk into a peer of these great industries. To take advantage of this opportunity we share will take vision, leadership, sound management, technological creativity, financial strength, a commitment to excellence in everything we do, and most importantly, the willingness to do the tedious work that turns opportunity into success.

Perhaps the greatest risk that faces Autodesk today is the tendency to think that our success to date is enough, or that now that we're a ``large, established company'' we can't afford the kinds of wild technological gambles we made in the early days. But it's those very gambles that will carry us from where we are today to the next plateau of success--and the next and the one after that. And there's one thing no reasonable person can doubt after reading this history: that the people who are Autodesk have what it takes to make it happen.

    As Arthur C. Clarke said in 1963,[Footnote]

``Despite the perils and problems we face, we should be glad we are here at this time. Every venture is like a surf rider, carried forward on the crest of a wave. The wave bearing us has scarcely started its run; those who thought it was already slackening spoke decades too soon. We are poised now, in the precarious but exhilarating balance that is the essence of real living, the antithesis of mere existence. Behind us lie the reefs we have already passed; beneath us the great wave, barely flecked with foam, humps its back still higher from the sea.

``And ahead?

``We cannot tell; we are too far out to see the unknown land. It is enough to ride the wave.''

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Next: Technological Leadership Up: The Autodesk File Previous: Valedictory

Editor: John Walker