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Autodesk is Now the Giant

August 3, 2008

Filed under: CAD/CAM/CAE — Terry Wohlers @ 07:01

The first time I phoned Autodesk (1983), Mike Ford, then vice president of marketing and sales, answered the phone. That’s how small the company was at the time. Autodesk’s most recent annual revenues were $2.17 billion, making it the largest CAD company in the world. Who would have ever guessed that it would go so far?

Through the 1980s and much of the 1990s, Autodesk was viewed as a “second-class citizen” among its high-end competitors and many of their customers. Their comments would imply that if you wanted to do serious drafting and design work, you’d need expensive software from CADAM, Calma, Computervision, Dassault, or Intergraph running on high-end, proprietary, and expensive hardware. Even in the mid to late 1990s, when personal computers and software products, such as AutoCAD, were becoming quite powerful, they were not seen as real solutions to many.

I recall meeting with an established company in Japan in 1997. The company CEO was seeking advice on the future of design and manufacturing. I was surprised when he would not accept the belief that PCs could power his CAD software in the foreseeable future. He tried to convince me that his company could not do intricate design work using anything less than software running on UNIX workstations. At the time, his company was running hundreds of seats.

It’s been interesting to watch the migration from mainframe computers, to the VAX and MicroVAX, then Apollo, Sun, and HP workstations, and now to PCs. Autodesk strengthened and gained respect each step of the way, especially in the last couple years. It goes to show you that one should never underestimate a small company surrounded by industry giants and expensive products. When complacency sets in, almost anything can happen.