And yet, in one sense Autodesk has had it relatively easy since 1982. When people ask me about the ``key strategic decisions'' made while I was involved in managing the company, my response is that most of the crucial decisions: the ones which, in retrospect, were central in achieving the market position we have today, were not at all difficult to make. In fact, most of those decisions were arrived at simply because they were essentially the only courses of action open to us at the time. Other paths leading to alternative destinies for Autodesk were foreclosed due to lack of resources, prerequisites, or imagination. I refer to this as ``management by lack of alternatives'' and, although not conducive to one's being perceived as a super-manager, it has served Autodesk well.
One of the reasons so many decisions seemed obvious, and that Autodesk prospered from pursuing opportunities in a straightforward manner is that throughout our company's history the fundamental economic and technological trends that were in effect when Autodesk was founded have remained intact. The 1980s were a time of enormous, indeed mindboggling, change. Autodesk was organised at the absolute bottom of the 1982 recession--one of the most severe economic slumps since the Great Depression. As Autodesk's incorporation papers were being prepared and filed, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dipped below 800, marking a low point never reached since. Unemployment was over 10%, interest rates were declining from their 1981 peaks that shattered all records since the Civil War, and gloom was everywhere. Polish workers, near open rebellion against communist rule, were suppressed by a military junta installed to preempt Soviet intervention. For the first time since the 1950s, sober observers in both the East and West began to think of nuclear war as a real possibility. And IBM, to the bafflement of most onlookers, chose a virtually unknown architecture, the Intel 8088, an obscure operating system, MS-DOS, and brought to market a personal computer for which there was no application software.
Our perception that the advent of the mass-marketed personal and office computer, whatever the source, would create an enormous demand for application software led us to create Autodesk in 1982. In a way, even the founding of the company reflected a lack of alternatives. My prior company, Marinchip, was expiring from technological obsolescence and lack of aggressive management, and I had to figure out what to do next. Experience had taught me that software was a much better business than hardware, so that's what I decided to do....
Editor: John Walker