Imagine what it would be like to go through life believing that others are motivated only by ego and greed, that people lie whenever possible, that personal achievement and a fulfilling career can be built only upon the ruined reputations and destroyed dreams of others, and that threats, bullying, innuendo, and falsehoods are the raw material of success.
In early 1992, participating in Autodesk's management, it was easy to feel like a punching bag. In rapid succession, we had the bad quarter, the stock price collapse, the New York shareholders' meeting (see page ), a shareholder suit, the SEC sniffing around for evidence of insider trading, a Release 12 project in trouble, and a CEO search that seemed to be progressing at a glacial pace. Then something bad happened. On January 31, 1992, I got a message saying that Greg Zachary of The Wall Street Journal would like to interview me as part of a ``profile on Autodesk.'' Zachary was referred to our P.R. firm, and told them that he had an extremely negative story already written, and that unless he was provided access to Autodesk's senior management and an exclusive interview with me, was ready to run it. The P.R. firm characterised Zachary as ``known for `ripping companies to shreds''', and provided samples of his recent work. Then I remembered. This was the guy who splattered Jaron Lanier of VPL, a pioneer in virtual reality, the one who ran the piece on bogus ``CD rot'' on the Technology page, the author of the relentlessly negative coverage of Microsoft over the years in which it became one of the most successful companies in America. On one occasion when Bill Gates was giving a speech, Zachary, in the audience, shouted out ``that's a lie'' repeatedly.
I obtained copies of most what he'd written in the last two years, and couldn't find a single story I'd characterise as positive. Another Bay Area journalist told me that, privately, some of Zachary's colleagues at the Palo Alto bureau of the Journal considered him an embarrassment, but since his tabloid-style writing sold papers, Dow Jones headquarters loved him. Basically, Zachary delivered the following threat to Autodesk--throw him Walker, or else he'd clobber Autodesk with his ``already written'' story. My first inclination was to tell him to, well, you know. My second and third inclinations were the same. Zachary's threat was genuine. In early February, Autodesk stock was in the mid-20s, a level not seen since 1988, and a further drop, spurred by an unrelentingly negative story delivered to two million readers, including essentially all of our shareholders, could easily move Autodesk stock into the territory where a takeover bid would finance itself from Autodesk's cash reserves and the ongoing revenue from AutoCAD.
So, we decided to do an interview with Zachary. With a looming ``copy deadline of February 14,'' we scheduled the interview for February 10, 1992. I video taped the interview in order to document any divergences between what we said and the interpretation in the final article. After the article appeared, I produced a video of the unedited interview with a brief introduction. What follows is a transcript of that video. (Multimedia being, as of this writing, insufficiently advanced to permit me to embed two hours of video in this book.) At the end of the interview, on page , I quote a few of the many egregious misstatements and body-slams that characterised the piece which finally ran on May 28, 1992. It's astonishing how little of the content of the two-hour interview he deemed worthy to include in the final story. Another journalist who viewed the video was amazed at how ill-prepared Zachary was--he didn't know that I had left the board in 1988, hadn't looked at most of the company's products, was unaware of the current release of AutoCAD, had never heard of the European Software Centre, etc.--all things prominently mentioned in recent press releases and Annual Reports, and highly relevant to the topics raised in the interview.
If I had it to do again, I wouldn't. I'd tell Zachary to publish and be Damned, and rely upon the wisdom of our investors to weigh his pronouncements upon Autodesk in the context of his other reportage. Besides, it's hard to imagine how he could have written anything more negative than the final ``profile.'' Seeing yourself turned into a caricature, the work of 10 years dismissed, the company you've helped build lampooned, takes a lot of wind out of your sails, especially when this is the first notice taken of the company after ten years of unbroken and record-setting success. Perhaps some day the anguish of Zachary's victims will be visited upon him, but I doubt it. I think he feeds upon it.
Editor: John Walker