Autodesk Founder Returns as Manager
Five years after he stepped down as chief executive of Autodesk Inc. in favor of working as a programmer, John Walker, the brilliant, iconoclastic co-founder of the Sausalito-based software firm, is temporarily resuming a management role in the company.
Walker, who wrote an eloquent 44-page memo to Autodesk employees last spring that criticized the company as “stuck in the past,” and “paralyzed by unwarranted caution,” will assume the post of manager of technology for “at least the next 90 days.”
In addition, Volker Kleinn, head of Autodesk’s European operations, will become acting chief operating officer while the company conducts a previously announced search for a new chief executive. Kleinn, who has a close relationship with Walker, will share responsibility for day-to-day management with Chairman and Chief Executive Alvar Green, who plans to retire as CEO.
Although Autodesk remains highly profitable by most standards, the company still gets almost 90% of its revenue from AutoCAD, a sophisticated and expensive personal computer design and modeling program that is widely used by architects and engineers. AutoCAD sales have been hurt by the economic downturn, and Autodesk’s efforts to diversify into multimedia software, consumer-oriented modeling products and other areas have met with limited success.
Walker’s April memo, titled “The Final Days,” called for “rapid and comprehensive top-to-bottom change” at the company, which he accused of neglecting its flagship product and misunderstanding changes in the software industry. He even sketched out a “nightmare scenario” in which Microsoft topples AutoCAD from its dominant position in the CAD software market.
Green also said Monday that the company planned to invest “substantial additional funds” for “technology development and acquisitions as well as more aggressive marketing and promotion of current and future products.”
Walker’s memo criticized the company for skimping on investment in favor of maintaining high margins, even though Autodesk had more than $186 million in cash and reported a profit of $16.2 million on revenue of $73.6 million for the quarter ended Oct. 31.