Cut to John Walker facing camera, in front of Sun workstation. In the background is a HyperChem box.
Hi, I'm John Walker.
I believe that in many ways, print is the most dangerous of media.
They call 'em ``media'' because they ``mediate,'' after all. And while all kinds of trickery are possible in video, at least you get some sense of what really happened. In the press, all the information you receive has been assembled by a reporter and presented to you in a tidy package. Most times you don't have any way to determine whether the story represents reality or something else again. You might read, in The Wall Street Journal, for example, that I moved to Neuchâtel Switzerland in order to, quote, ``find more seclusion.'' The fact that I am one of the more than fifty Autodesk people who have come to Neuchâtel to work at our new European Software Centre here was left unsaid. Kinda changes the meaning, doesn't it?
I've done dozens of interviews over the years with a variety of publications ranging from local newspapers to Business Week, but I've never experienced anything like this, before or since.
I believe in thorough preparation for an interview. I always obtain copies of a reporter's recent articles, and I read them over to try to understand the direction the interview may take. I don't do this to slant my answers toward the reporter's prejudices, but instead to make a special effort to explain things the interviewer might have trouble with.
When you sit down across the table from a reporter and the door closes, your company's reputation, your personal reputation, and potentially the rest of your career are on the line. If you haven't done your homework, you won't know whether you're dealing with a prince of journalistic integrity or some little pencil-pushing thug bent on assassinating your character and destroying your company.
As I prepared for the interview you're about to see, I realised it would be a unique experience; the events in the company's recent history and the information I gleaned from studying the reporter's work made that very clear. And rarely are the stakes higher than a Page One profile in The Wall Street Journal when a company is perceived to be on the ropes, searching for a new chief executive officer, and at risk of a hostile takeover if its stock should fall much further.
What goes on in an interview like that, anyway? Wouldn't it be really cool to be able to eavesdrop on a session like that? I sure wished I could watch a video of some poor sucker on the hotseat to better prepare for what I was about to go through.
Not a bad idea, I thought.
And hence, this video. I set up the camera so what you see is what I saw, the reporter firing away at me. The whole senior management of Autodesk was present also, but as you'll see, they got relatively few questions even though they'd been the people running the company since I retired as president in 1986. I'm not terribly proud of my performance in this interview. I don't like being argumentative, and every other interview I've done has been entirely cordial. But you have to be careful not to let a reporter put words in your mouth which can then be quoted back in print, and you mustn't let the reporter's questions incorrectly define the reality in your company. Also, I don't believe in letting bullies get away with it. I learned that in the sandbox, not in engineering school.
You might find it interesting to compare the picture of Autodesk you see here with the impressions you get from reading The Wall Street Journal piece from May 28, 1992. If you're interested in what's really going on at Autodesk, I recommend an interview I did about a month later with Mary Eisenhart of MicroTimes magazine, which appeared in the May 11th, 1992 issue.
OK, so here we go. This isn't pretty, and you may decide that newspaper articles, like sausages, are best enjoyed if you don't know how they're made. As unpleasant as it may be to watch this tape, actually doing the interview was much further down the old cosmic fun scale.
Editor: John Walker