When I first contacted Autodesk in 1983, the vice president of market and sales answered the phone. I doubt the company had more than a couple dozen employees at the time. It was founded just a year earlier. Fast forward to October 2014. Autodesk now employs 10,000 people, generated $2.3 billion in its most recent fiscal year, and has a market cap of $12.2 billion. Not bad for a company that started with software for computer-aided drafting.
I had the privilege of spending 1.5 hours, one-on-one, with Carl Bass, Autodesk’s president and CEO, last Thursday. He is not your prototypical corporate chief executive. Carl dresses casually, is down to earth, and gives his full attention to you. Not once did he check his phone or seem preoccupied, even though he was going to greet and present to U.S. Navy admirals directly after my departure.
We were less than two minutes into our meeting at the impressive Autodesk Gallery when Carl asked if I wanted to see the company’s Pier 9 Workshop. Gonzalo Martinez of Autodesk had told me about the facility around the time it was being launched, so it has been on my “must see” list since then. Getting to visit it was a treat, but having Carl serve as my personal guide made it even more special.
I was surprised by the size and amount of equipment at the facility. The place is filled with large and advanced CNC machinery, and nearly everything you’d need to manufacture a product in metal, wood, or plastic. The number of high-end 3D printers, alone, was unexpected. See this video and these images to get a look inside. The 120 mostly young and energetic employees at the site made the place buzz with activity. The workshop includes some of Autodesk’s own photopolymer-based 3D printers, which are being developed as a part of the Spark 3D printing effort. The resolution and detail that is possible with the small machine is impressive.
When leaving the Autodesk buildings, I bumped into some business acquaintances on the street and they reminded me that Carl himself uses a lot of the workshop equipment. He knows how to program the CNC machines and run the 3D printers. In fact, he has been running a 3D printer at his home for many years. I asked Carl if he knew how to operate his company’s software products, such as Inventor and 3ds Max, and he replied with a firm Yes. With so much going on and so many people wanting his attention, I don’t know where he finds the time. If I worked for a company, such as Autodesk, I’d want to be close to the Pier 9 Workshop, and have Carl as my boss.