MicroTimes     Farewell, Xanadu

New Leadership for Autodesk

Autodesk's long search for a new CEO culminated in the announcement on April 14th, 1992 that Carol Bartz would become Autodesk's new president and chairman. After all the speculation about my supposed covert rôle in Autodesk management, I thought it essential to declare my enthusiastic approval of the board's choice of Carol, and my commitment to support her in the difficult task she had undertaken. I made the same remarks at the official press conference introducing Carol as Autodesk's new CEO, and at the general company meeting two hours later at Marin Veterans' Auditorium.

Remarks for the New CEO Press Conference

April 14th, 1992
by John Walker

Ten years ago, almost to the day, Autodesk was incorporated in the state of California and began the adventure that has, over the last decade, transformed the computer aided design industry and forever changed, for the better, the way millions of designers create tens of millions of products for billions of customers around the globe. I founded Autodesk in April of 1982 because I perceived an unparalleled and unbounded opportunity created by the continued exponential growth in the computer power available to the individual. It was easy to focus on the opportunity in those days; when a company has little money, no paid employees, no products, and no dealers to sell them, there are remarkably few distractions. Like the knowledge that one shall be hanged in the morning, it concentrates the mind wonderfully. Yet however long and hard the road before us might be, I never worried about failing; so large was the opportunity, so numerous were the paths to success. The only way we could fail would be to lack the vision to see where the technological adventure was taking us and the courage to do whatever it takes to play our part in the industry.

“Whatever it takes.”[Footnote] These are the three most liberating and empowering words in the world of business. To understand in fullness, to communicate, and to act in the spirit of “whatever it takes” is what divides companies who succeed and, along the way, spawn new industries, from those who shackle their own success through a lack of the will to win and insure their own failure through the renunciation of “risk.”

One year ago, almost to the day, I circulated Information Letter 14,[Footnote] perhaps one of the most widely-read internal memos of recent years. In it, I tried to sketch the ongoing changes in a desktop software industry now entering its third generation, define the challenges that rising user expectations posed to successful software companies like Autodesk, and contend that doing “whatever it takes” to remain competitive would require far more imagination and courage than simply continuing along a path laid out almost ten years before.

Some people have asked me, “why did you write such a memo; why did you circulate it so widely.” Well, have you ever tried to change the mindset and direction of a global company of more than a thousand people, with a commanding lead in market share, that's highly profitable, by talking only to a few people at the top? Reshaping an organisation to be competitive in a new era is something that has to be done both from the bottom up and the top down. Last year, with Information Letter 14 I undertook the bottom-up process of education. The 25 new products Autodesk are shipping this year demonstrate what we have already accomplished.

But vision isn't enough; management alone can't do it, and administration of what is falls short when it comes to realising what needst be. To succeed and fulfill the potential created by all our work over the last decade, Autodesk needs strong, decisive, bold, intelligent, perceptive, imaginative and thoroughly professional leadership. That is what Carol Bartz brings to Autodesk now in her rôle as president and chief executive officer. With the announcement today that she has accepted that challenge, my view of the future before Autodesk is one of confidence and optimism; my concerns are laid to rest.

I do not mean to say that the task that Carol now undertakes is easy, simple, or assured of success. Leading Autodesk into its second decade and next generation will require extraordinary talents, indefatigable dedication, and an unquenchable will to win. It is precisely those characteristics that Carol Bartz brings to Autodesk; that is the kind of leader Autodesk needs; it's the kind of person we sought; it's the kind of president we found.

It is my honour to welcome Carol Bartz to Autodesk. Ten years ago, when I became the first president of Autodesk, I knew that as the company grew the demands on the person who led it would increase. Hoping as I did, and as I continue to do, that Autodesk could grow, in time, to be one of the major industrial enterprises of the globe, I realised that leading this company, realising this opportunity, achieving this goal would require an individual with extraordinary qualities. Autodesk has found such a person to lead us into the next decade. Carol Bartz has my total and unqualified support in this endeavour.

Since the press of Autodesk business in Europe makes it impossible for him to be here today, I'd like to relay Volker Kleinn's support for Carol, and his eagerness to work with her in developing Autodesk's business in Europe and Asia over the years to come.[Footnote] Volker's confidence in the destiny of Autodesk has sustained us all in the difficult months behind us, and his strength and wisdom will continue to form the foundation of Autodesk's success in Europe and Asia, the largest global markets for CAD.

Twelve months ago, I asked whether Autodesk's immediate future would, in the end, be considered its final days. I asked that question hoping to spur the changes that would equip Autodesk for the challenges of an industry that's bursting the bounds of its customary definitions. Today, as our products, our vision, our mission, and our new leadership converge to define the Autodesk of the next generation; the next century; there can be no doubt. These are not our final days. These shall be our finest hours.

How could we possibly fail, except by caution born of cowardice, or lassitude stemming from lack of knowledge of a destiny as simple to plot as a straight line on a schoolchild's notebook?

The wave we are riding has scarcely begun to raise itself above the horizon of human history. Centuries from now, schoolchildren will study our age and daydream, as is their right, “to have been there, then.” We are here, now. The Golden Age of Engineering is not something in our heritage—not the legendary accomplishments of ancestors, but something that is ours to build: today and tomorrow and tomorrow.

Where is all going? What lies upon that distant shore?

Who knows? Who cares?

It is enough to ride the wave.[Footnote]

The wave continues to mount. The challenges grow apace. Over the next thirty years, to meet the needs of our five billion new neighbours on this planet, we shall have to manufacture as many artifacts as all of humanity have created since Pithecanthropus.

The human destiny is not constrained by food or fuel or any of the other conventional causes for despair. Our future is defined by our imagination and wisdom. The mission of computer aided design is to amplify those native human faculties to ensure we succeed. The mission of Autodesk is to bring those tools to every designer, in every industry, in every nation. Autodesk is in the very best of hands—the able hands of Carol Bartz. Our future could not be brighter. I shall support her in whatever it takes to achieve it. Onward to the Golden Age of Engineering.

MicroTimes     Farewell, Xanadu