In the early days of Autodesk, I wrote status reports on the progress of the company for employees and shareholders (who were, at the time, the same people). These papers chronicled the triumphs and disappointments, the crises and their resolutions which are part and parcel of building a company. It's been years since I brought my view of the company to you in this way; since I removed myself from management in 1988 I've been concerned primarily with software development and identifying technical directions in which the company should move, not commenting on where it was going or how effectively it was getting there.
But now I feel compelled to speak out. I believe that our company is entering a time of great peril combined with unparalleled opportunity. Regrettably, I do not believe that Autodesk's management is positioning the company to emerge from this period stronger and better equipped for future growth. Indeed, it is my opinion that their current policies place at risk everything we have achieved since 1982.
First a few words about me and my relationship to the company. As you probably know, I initiated the organisation of Autodesk, was president of the company from its inception through 1986, and chairman until 1988. Since I relinquished the rôle of chairman, I have had no involvement whatsoever in the general management of the company. On occasion, management has sought my opinion on various matters, in the same manner they consult others with relevant experience and insights, and from time to time I have volunteered my opinion on various issues, both verbally and in writing. My view has always been one of many inputs weighed by management when reaching their decisions. Over the years I have agreed with many of their choices and disagreed with some, but all in all I felt our company was in good hands. In any case, I never doubted our senior management was doing a better job of running the company than I ever did when I was involved more directly.
Some people mistakenly believe I still ``call the shots'' in some covert fashion; that despite my repeated and sincere expressions to the contrary, somehow management either rubber-stamps my decisions or grants me veto power over their judgements. Nothing could be further from the truth; were that the case, I would certainly not be bringing these concerns to you today in this fashion. I have raised these issues that trouble me so deeply with senior management repeatedly and forcefully. My premises and the conclusions I draw from them have not been disputed. In fact, on numerous occasions, I was told action would be forthcoming to implement many of my recommendations. But nothing has happened. Well, something has happened: time has passed. And as the months and years go by, the difficulty of refitting Autodesk for the realities of a new era in the software market increases as its importance grows. Inaction in the face of a changing market and world is the chief cause of my concern for Autodesk's future. I see in it the same somnambulistic plodding to the precipice that preceded the demise of so many former leaders in the software market.
Also, let me state unambiguously that regardless of the sentiments I express herein and the direct manner in which I characteristically state my opinions, I have no desire whatsoever to see Autodesk's management removed from their jobs or to resume any rôle in management myself. What I want is for them to act: to act in the same way managements of other companies of similar size in comparable industries facing similar challenges act--to do what is necessary, not what they've come to believe is possible; to make the difficult choices they are paid to make and put the company back on the path to further growth and success. The decisions will not be easy, their implementation will not be simple, nor will the process be devoid of pain. But the alternatives are all much worse.
As you may know, for reasons largely unrelated to the matters I discuss herein, I have decided to permanently leave the United States. It was my plan to continue my work in software development at Autodesk's new software development centre in Neuchâtel Switzerland. That is still my intent, unless Autodesk responds to this message by silencing the messenger.
Finally, in this paper I will largely focus on AutoCAD, as opposed to the company's other products. First, the simple reality is that AutoCAD is where all the money comes from, and therefore developments which threaten it threaten the company. Utterly botching AutoShade, Animator, or Xanadu would be tragic, but would not bring the company down. Allowing AutoCAD to lose its leadership would. Second, the problems that I see afflicting AutoCAD are the same problems faced by the other products. For a number of years I believed that Autodesk's lack of success with new products stemmed from a dangerous fixation on AutoCAD; no other product received the attention necessary to make it a success because its near-term contribution to revenue was swamped by that of AutoCAD. Now, however, I believe that AutoCAD has suffered from the very same neglect, both in the product development resources committed to it and especially in marketing and sales aimed at expanding its market. The inaction that led to the lackluster performance of AutoSketch and AutoShade after their introduction is today threatening to destroy AutoCAD. The redirection of the company which must occur to rescue AutoCAD will benefit all our products.
It isn't possible to discuss the state of Autodesk and AutoCAD or to adequately describe the competitive risks I believe threaten our company and its products without speaking frankly of the shortcomings of AutoCAD, contrasting it with the products of other companies, and, in pointing out Autodesk's vulnerabilities, providing a roadmap a competitor could use to mount an assault against Autodesk. I have thought long and hard about the risks of bringing such information to the attention of a wide audience; surely, given the first- and second-hand distribution of this document, copies will fall into the hands of the press and competitors. Given that the author is a founder of the company, excerpts may be used in the short term to embarrass Autodesk or to promote competitive products. I have concluded, though, that these risks are unavoidable consequences of placing the issues I discuss here on Autodesk's agenda. If Autodesk acts as I believe it must, it will quickly render impotent competition based on its prior weaknesses. If Autodesk doesn't move to remedy these shortcomings, they will soon (if not already) be sufficiently obvious that competitors won't need me to point them out, nor my guidance to draw plans to exploit them.
Editor: John Walker