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Autodesk CEO search is on, as Bass exits

Autodesk CEO search is on, as Bass exits

  • Handoff: Bass (left) stepped down, giving way to Interim co-CEOs Hanspal (center) and Anagnost.

by ROB McMANAMY  | February 14, 2017

The third time may be the charm for former Autodesk CEO Carl Bass, 59, who last week resigned from the San Rafael CA-based AEC software giant for the third time since 1995*.

This time, however, the genial 3D-computer graphics pioneer who has led Autodesk since 2006, will remain on the board of directors while two longtime SVPs step in as interim co-CEOs, until a new full-time CEO can be found. Autodesk non-executive chairman of the board Crawford W. Beveridge announced February 7 that chief product officer Amar Hanspal and chief marketing officer Andrew Anagnost will now share the CEO role moving forward. The changes took effect February 8.

The new CEO, and Amar and Andrew in the interim, will be focused on ensuring that our cloud-based technologies and subscription-only business model continue to be successful
— Crawford Beveridge, Autodesk Board Chair

“Carl and the board have determined that now is the right time for Carl to step aside and let someone else guide the company into its next phase," explained Beveridge. "The board and I have the utmost confidence in Amar and Andrew to lead our business and continue our strong operational performance as we look for Carl’s successor. The new CEO, and Amar and Andrew in the interim, will be focused on ensuring that our cloud-based technologies and subscription-only business model continue to be successful. The board has established a comprehensive search process, which will include internal and external candidates.” Also, the executive search firm Egon Zehnder has been retained to assist.

Meet the interims...

Together, Hanspal (above) and Anagnost boast more than 50 years of experience at Autodesk. Hanspal joined in 1987, serving in a succession of product leadership, marketing, and customer success roles, both domestically and internationally. Of note, he led Autodesk’s technology shift to the cloud platforms and to software as a service (SaaS), as well as investment in construction and manufacturing growth opportunities, and currently oversees all worldwide product development.

For his part, Anagnost (below) began his career in aeronautical engineering at Lockheed Martin. He joined Autodesk in 1997 and has focused on marketing, product management and product development. Of note, he led the company’s transition to an all-subscription business model, and now also oversees all of marketing and business strategy for Autodesk.

saying 'good-bye', sort of

Beveridge also lavished high praise on Bass. "Carl has always been a driven and passionate change agent for the company, and under his direction, Autodesk has seen exponential growth in the last decade, both in the business and in Autodesk’s market opportunity."

Some had speculated that Bass's departure may have been linked to his unusually vocal and public reaction to the results of last fall's U.S. presidential election, which Bass had permitted BuiltWorlds to post here. But a company spokesman said there was no connection. On the contrary, the leadership transition had been in discussion for at least the 18 months, according to Autodesk. "We are grateful that Carl has agreed to remain on the board of directors and serve as a special advisor to support the CEO transition and cloud and subscription business model transition,” added Beveridge. 

Never at a loss for words, Bass, the 6-ft-4-in, hulking renaissance man who will turn 60 this spring, posted his own farewell to employees on his personal blog. Here is an excerpt:

Bass in his robot shop. Photo: James Martin.

Bass in his robot shop. Photo: James Martin.

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... 

...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.

 

CHESS MOVES and tea leaves

Autodesk also announced a new agreement between Autodesk and Sachem Head Capital Management LP. It calls for two of Sachem Head’s 2016 director nominees, Scott Ferguson and Jeff Clarke, to resign from the board of directors either later this year, or upon the appointment of a new full-time CEO, whichever comes first. In the meantime, the board has begun a concurrent search for a new independent director candidate, who will join when Ferguson and Clarke both step down.

Other industry observers are reading even more into the tea leaves. For instance, 3D-printing industry blog ALL3DP.com believes Autodesk is now in the midst of a "major transition", driven at least in part by frustrated investors. Observed the blog on Feb. 9:

Bass’ decision to step down comes at a time when the identity of Autodesk is rapidly shifting. In October 2016, the hedge fund Soroban Capital Partners doubled their stake in the company from 4% to 8%. This expansion made the venture capital firm Autodesk’s largest shareholder, putting them in prime position to direct the future of the company.... A future, which according to last year’s early financial statements, needs to look brighter. Autodesk racked up $98 million in losses for Q2 2016 (source: Engineering.com) and the new subscription-based business model is yet to be proven successful... There’s a valid concern that Soroban Capital will focus more on return on investment (ROI) rather than long-term innovation.

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*Bass's two previous Autodesk resignations?  (1995, 1999)

In 1981, Bass co-founded Flying Moose Systems and Graphics Ltd., which five years later became Ithaca Software, based in Ithaca NY. Autodesk acquired that firm in 1993, making Bass its chief architect for AutoCAD. In 1995, he left after an internal power struggle atop Autodesk, only to be rehired by the board five months later. That held for four years, until Bass again left Autodesk to launch Buzzsaw, an online service for construction project management. But Autodesk followed along, liked what it saw, and reacquired Bass when it purchased Buzzsaw in 2001. (Source: Wikipedia.)

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