Career Profile: Carol Bartz, Autodesk CEO

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Carol Bartz led Autodesk, the PC CAD/CAM pioneer, through a period of professionalization, diversification and growth beyond its CAD roots. And she is probably the only software company CEO to fire a top lieutenant, then rehire him as her successor. But only after they came to an agreement about how he would change his ways.

Slide Show: Carol Bartz
Bartz is most definitely the only tech CEO who has been a cheerleader, a majorette and a math whiz. She once said she loved and did well at math because no one ever told her girls weren't supposed to be good at it.

Coming from a small town in Wisconsin—Alma, population 800—folks had to do a lot of different things and Bartz took her cue from that. She studied computer science at the University of Wisconsin, moved next to mini-computer pioneer Digital Equipment Corp. and then spent a decade at Sun Microsystems, rising to the rank of vice president of worldwide field sales before moving to Autodesk. She became CEO of the CAD leader in 1992, stepping back from that role last May with Carl Bass as her successor. She remains executive chairman.

To consider Bartz's achievement, it is remarkable to note that of the early PC software pioneers—Lotus Development, WordPerfect, Software Publishing, Ashton-Tate—only Autodesk remains independent. The others either were bought out or disappeared altogether. Two other pioneers, Novell and Borland International, were decimated by Microsoft's Windows/Office onslaught. But Autodesk, which Bartz calls the second-oldest PC software company after Microsoft, survived and thrived as it rode the Windows wave. It is now a $7 billion company.

Bartz credits the decision to consolidate development on Windows, leaving Unix in the dust, as a major turning point. In the early days, AutoCAD ran on all variants of Unix.

"When I got to the company 14 years ago, we were so diverse that we spent all of our time moving the same product around—not innovating. It always seemed so simple to say this word 'port.' I'm going to port to SGI Unix, port there. Port and piracy are my two [hot-button words]. Piracy is stealing, and porting is development. You always have to do a lot to be true to the platform and that takes away from making sure you have innovation in functions and features," Bartz says.

Having said that, Autodesk has moved to support Linux in some of its media and entertainment software and is looking at the platform for its CAD wares. It will move to support the technology if the market develops, Bartz says.

Aside from that laser focus, several VAR partners credit Bartz with a decision to nurture the dealer model that in turn has nurtured Autodesk. Like Microsoft, the company relies heavily on the partner channel. Solution providers agree Bartz came to a company that already held an important position and elevated the business to another level.

Emilio Krausz, president of Microsol Resources, a longtime New York AutoCAD reseller, says Bartz transformed a culture that was pretty laissez faire and made it professional.

"People were bringing their dogs to work and some of that still exists, but if you went to a meeting with an Autodesk person, there'd be a good chance they'd be in khakis and a T-shirt. Today they'd be in regular pants, a jacket and possibly a tie," he says.

There is more accountability now within Autodesk's internal ranks and thus more efficiency, Krausz adds.

Sandy Hagerman, vice president of sales at Hagerman & Co., a Mount Zion, Ill., reseller agrees. She says Bartz offers a solid combination of passion and compassion.

"If you needed something, she'd come to your aid. She's a real person ... but having said that, she is not a pushover. She doesn't mince words and is very able to say 'no' and maintain it," Hagerman says.

She cites the oft-quoted example of Bass, the executive who left the company under a cloud during the dot-com implosion but this year became Bartz's successor as CEO.

"She did fire Carl and brought him back and it turned out to be the right thing. Even he admitted he had been out of line and unhappy and had time to cool his heels and think," Hagerman says.

Bartz's innate toughness also surfaced in her very public battle with breast cancer. She was diagnosed just before joining Autodesk and disclosed her condition soon thereafter. Still, she managed to do her new job, have surgery, get chemo and remain sane. No small feat.

According to a profile published by, when Bartz announced she would be undergoing surgery and would be out for a month, one reporter asked, "Which breast?" "What an asshole," she recounted to

Fast forward to today. Recently, Autodesk was ranked No. 62 on Fortune's list of the 100 Fastest-Growing Companies for 2006, based on its soaring revenue and profits for the past three years. During a tough industry transition, it has managed to expand beyond its 2-D and 3-D CAD roots into data management, collaboration and animation through a series of carefully planned and executed acquisitions. Autodesk now has a firm foundation both on the architectural and manufacturing drawing boards and in Hollywood where its Discrete and Alias products, which it acquired, are used to animate films and commercials.

At 58, Bartz has plenty more to-dos on her management agenda, including making the most of her spot on President Bush's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and board seats with Cisco Systems, Network Appliance and the Foundation for the National Medals of Science and Technology. Like several of this year's Hall of Fame inductees, Bartz has declared reforming education a mission in the years to come. In her capacity as Autodesk's executive chairman, she'll be turning her attention to the company's review of stock option grant policies: Autodesk is one of many technology companies grappling with this issue, and it has already stated that it expects to record a "non-cash stock-based compensation expense related to stock option grants."

Still, she's definitely turning the reins over to Bass on a strong financial footing. On Nov. 16, Autodesk reported revenue of $457 million for its third quarter, ended October, up from $378 million in the year-ago quarter.

What's more, the company showed progress in its bid to grow revenue not related to its franchise AutoCAD business. Its media and entertainment segment revenue hit a record $64 million for the quarter, a 50 percent increase over the previous quarter, the company said.

Bartz credits the company's ability to weather past storms, including the dot-com bust, to Autodesk's "maniacal passion" for its end users, which have traditionally included architects, engineers of all types—and now the animators and story boarders who populate Hollywood production shops. No matter the economic climate, there's always a need to build, to design, to create, to tell stories.

"These people really love making products, building things," Bartz says.

A favorite catch phrase of Bartz is, "If God didn't make it, one of my customers did." And her passion has been to give them the tools to enable that.


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