Carl Bass stepping down as Autodesk CEO - will remain on the Board

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Carl is the antithesis of the Dilbert manager.

I first met Carl Bass when he picked me up at the Oakland Airport in June of 1990. I was interviewing as a software developer for his HOOPS 3D graphics software. I hadn't developed on a PC before, didn't know the C programming language, and didn't know 3D graphics, but other than that, I was perfect for the job. I am grateful that Carl saw other qualities that I had to offer.

Here is Carl's letter to the employees.


Many of you have seen the announcement we made this morning, but I wanted to take this opportunity to share my thoughts and plans with you directly. For the last couple of years, I’ve been having discussions with the board about stepping down as CEO, and today we announced that I will do so. I’m pleased that I will be leaving the company in Amar [Hanspal] and Andrew [Anagnost]’s capable hands while the board searches for a new CEO. I know they’ll do a great job at holding down the fort—and I’ll be honored if either is chosen to be the next CEO. I’ll continue to serve on the Autodesk board and I will be here to help them and the board through the transition.

I love Autodesk and am immensely proud of what we have created together, but it’s time for me to do something new. Autodesk is doing very well and the financial markets are noticing. Our leadership team is strong, and our strategy is in place to go further and accomplish more than we could have ever imagined when I took over day-to-day operations as COO 14 years ago. Our transition to an all-subscription business model is well underway, we’re enjoying early but strong success in the cloud, and we have settled with our activist investors. Now seems like the right time, for both the company and for me.

I am not leaving to spend more time with my family—that presumes my family wants to spend more time with me. I will, however, be spending more time in my shop with my robots. I also have some other plans and will have more to say on what I’m doing in the next few months.

It’s been a privilege to lead Autodesk, and I feel very grateful to have worked with so many talented and passionate people. Together we have built a fantastic business and developed products that literally have changed how entire industries get their work done.

Great, Good and Important

When I first became CEO, people asked how I wanted to define Autodesk and I often answered somewhat cryptically, “great, good, and important.” In my mind, great companies are defined, first and foremost, by their financial performance. Good companies are defined by their values and culture and how they treat their employees, their customers, and the communities in which they do business. And important companies make a real difference in the world.

Being able to do all three is the most critical and difficult task any executive team faces. By almost any measure, I think we've done very well on all fronts.

  • Great: About 14 years ago, we formed a new executive team and since then we have significantly increased the financial performance of the company on every metric. Following the global economic meltdown of 2009, our investors have enjoyed 6x financial returns. When the team was formed, the market capitalization of the company was slightly more than $2B—today, it’s more than $18B.

    More importantly, the decisions we’ve made have always been about building long-term sustainable financial success—something that many in the investor community shun in favor of short-term returns. As a devout capitalist, I truly believe that producing strong financial results while also keeping an eye on the horizon builds great and enduring companies.

  • Good: Good companies are not solely about financial performance and shareholder returns. We have taken a stand on issues that affect our employees, our customers and our planet. I’m proud of the kind of culture we’ve built, where diversity of background and experience is valued. We’re inclusive, and we respect each other and value what the individual brings to the team. We win awards every year that speak to our great culture, but more important than those awards are the ways you embody the same thing every day with your words and actions.

  • Important: Autodesk is in the privileged position of being the tool makers to the people who design, make and build everything around us. Over the last few weeks as my decision to step down became more real, I’ve begun to even more keenly notice around me all the truly incredible things our customers have created using our tools. From buildings to cars and movies, workflows from conception to fabrication, we’ve made a huge impact on the industries we serve, and I’m proud of the respect we have for our customers and honor the trust they’ve put in us.

My Awards Speech

When I first became CEO, people asked me what it was like and I joked “I immediately became smarter and funnier.” So, starting tomorrow, I’m expecting the opposite. I’ve been honored to be in this position, but I have tried very hard to never forget the difference between my job and who I am. At the risk of sounding like a bad Academy Awards speech, I’d like to end by thanking some of the people who have been critical to my and Autodesk’s success.

First, I’d like to thank Carol Bartz for believing I could do this job and saying so more forcefully than those who thought I couldn’t. I learned so much from her. She and the founders created the amazing base we built upon.

Thanks to our customers, who are really the reason we exist. We’re so proud to be your toolmakers and to be a part of the incredible things you’ve designed, built and made in the world.

Thanks to our partners around the world who’ve been so critical to our success. I’ve appreciated the dedication and focus you’ve put into representing Autodesk and serving our customers.

Thanks to our long-term shareholders—you’ve always had your eye on sustainable growth and returns and I truly appreciate your ongoing support.

Thanks to the CEO Staff and the broader leadership team who have done such a phenomenal job. None—and I really mean none—of the company’s accomplishments would be possible without your vision, leadership and professionalism. We’ve worked together for a long time, most of it very good, but we’ve been through some difficult times as well. Despite my inability to express it regularly (or maybe at all), your encouragement, support and friendship means everything to me. And I’m going to add one final plea to never stop striving to be the absolute best in everything we do.

And finally, and I’d say most importantly, thanks to the thousands of smart, devoted and passionate employees who have contributed to Autodesk’s success. As CEO, I got used to taking outsized credit (and blame), but I never once forgot who does all the hard work. I have cherished my interactions with you and that’s the thing I will miss the most.

I have always believed that the best leaders have the vision to see what's possible and the courage to make it happen. I hope in some small way I’ve held up my end of the bargain, because you have all done more than your fair share to make Autodesk a great, good and important company.

Thanks for everything,

Carl


Thanks, Carl.

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Carl could be fun but also knew when to say "No."

Suddenly, Amar Hanspal (Senior VP of Products) and Andrew Anagnost (Senior VP and CMO for Business, Strategy, and Marketing) are smarter and funnier. Kidding aside, both of them are terrific leaders too.

True leadership is alive in the lab.