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You see that face? Get ready to see it on an infrequent basis and perhaps in your head as you lie awake at night. That is the new face of SolidWorks. The new CEO, Bertrand Sicot. Executive power has been shaken up in Dassault Systemes much like a whale launching itself from the deep while mixing a cocktail.

Regardless of that being the best analogy you’ve ever heard, leadership changes are in play, new positions are being created and Dassault Systemes is on the hunt to push their software and their ideas for 3D CAD Tech into every region of the globe.

I talked with Jeff Ray and Bertrand Sicot over the phone earlier today. Here’s what they had to say about the change and what it means for SolidWorks customer and Dassault as a whole. Plus, we catch up with Jeff about the “kill SolidWorks” comment, what’s happening with the Labs group and see where Bertrand wants to take SolidWorks.

SolidWorks – Under New Management

Here’s a breif background for you on the SolidWorks leadership. SolidWorks has seen 4 CEO’s over it’s 16 year existence. Starting with Jon Hirschtick, then John McEleney. Jeff Ray took over in 2007 and now, just 3 short years later, Bertrand Sicot will be heading up the company. Today, Dassault Systemes announced the promotion Jeff Ray to Executive Vice President of Geographic Operations. (He’ll be moving over to Paris, France with his wife this week.) Bertrand Sicot, will be the new SolidWorks CEO, bringing in experience from his former position as Executive Vice President of Sales. The change took effect as of January 1st, 2011.

I’ll comment on all of this at the end, but I’m wondering if you think this will push SolidWorks ahead of the other CAD software developers, closer to the DS side or if it’s not going to make any difference at all. Here are Jeff and Bertrand’s comments on the change:

Why was the decision made?

(Jeff Ray) It’s certainly is a result of lots and lots of discussions I’ve been having with Benard [Charles] for some time, about making sure that we’re positioned, and when I say we I’m talking about the entire DS company, not just SolidWorks, for growth. This is something Bernard feels very strongly about. He’s one of those rare people who constantly reassesses all aspects of the business.

The most visible thing to the community is obviously the technology platforms. They’re on their 6th generation of platform and he has no fear at all of embracing new technologies when they make sense for the community. But the same thing goes on inside the company – constantly assessing the organizational structure, the way decisions are made, where people are and what they’re doing and it’s always been focused on growth.

He wants to makes sure that all barriers to growth are removed and that the company is positioned to continue to grow. He’s not interested in being the CEO of a 2 billion dollar software company. He wants to be a CEO of a 4, and then 8 and beyond company. He’s one of those rare people who is very, very comfortable not only reassessing things, but also talking about what the future can be and look like. It’s just a natural part of that.

So, it’s very much a natural step in the organization evolution of the company. For me it’s exciting, because it gives me an opportunity to have a seat at the table on how decision are made in DS. It gives me a chance to be an advocate for all the members of the field community around the world and ultimately the goal is to give the right people the power and authority and the tools and technology and skills that they need to be successful.

It’s something that Bernard has been working on for a better part of the year. He and I began our discussion in earnest around thanksgiving time and we agreed that the best time to do this was after New Years. Who should take the lead for SolidWorks was the easiest part of the discussion with Bernard. Bertrand is absolutely the right person for the job. He’s got the skills, he’s got the credentials, he’s absolutely trusted and respected by the reseller community and they represent us everyday in front of customers.

He also has the trust of the leadership team here, so that was a very, very easy decision to make and I think when we look back on this we’ll see this as the smoothest transition in leadership in the history of the company. We’ve had a few, Jon Hirschtick to Johnny Mac, Johnny Mac to me and now Bertrand.

(Bertrand Sicot) It’s clearly going to be an evolution, so we have things already underway and my role will be to take this new initiative for preparing the future and making sure we complete them to an end. Clearly, the past 15 years at SolidWorks have been great, but the next 15 will be different and the goal here is to make sure the company is positioned to face these challenges in the future to develop the new technologies that are coming. You’ve seen last year at SolidWorks World a presentation of what we are working on and it’s clearly where the future will be. So, I envision clearly taking over the key initiative here and making sure we lead them to their completion.

Who will be taking over Bertrand’s former position of Executive Vice President of Sales?

(Bertrand Sicot) So far nobody. I’m keeping my original VP’s reporting directly to me. That is something I will sort out in the next 6 months to see who can take over that position in the future.

Here Jeff asked me if this was my request to be interviewed for the position. Laughter was had. I responded I would be sending my application in. More laughter.

In the press release, Jeff, it says your are responsible to “empower the Dassualt Systemes local teams” and to “exploit the market growth potential.” Can you explain that a little more?

Sure. First of all, nothing is broken in the business. The business is very, very healthy. You’ve seen it in the last 3 quarters of earnings even in a really, really brutal marketplace. So, this isn’t a matter of saying, ‘Well, things are broken, we’ve gotta change everything.’ It’s not a matter of turning the business upside-down or inside-out. It’s just the next natural step in making sure that the business continues to grow.

The best evidence of that is the investment the company is making in regional leadership. There are 12 geographies that have been identified as the key geographies where we do business and what we want to do is have the right people in the right jobs with the tools and technologies that they need, and the skill that they need, to be able to provide very localized solutions and to be a very visible presence in the community.

Even though it’s an international company, business is still done between two people who look one another in the eye and trust each other… or over the internet, in the case of online technologies. That local relationship has never been more important and we want to make sure we are strengthening that. And in doing that, removing any barriers to growth.

If you have a well done, highly localized business, you’re executing at a much higher speed, customers are happier because you’re more responsive and quick to respond with something that fits their needs. And, employers are happier too, because they’re solving customer problems and they’ve got the power, authority,skills and tools they need to do it.

Which of the geographic areas are growing fastest?

(Jeff Ray) It’s what you would expect for anyone. Certainly the emerging countries or the Asian countries which are seeing the greatest growth albeit on a smaller base and I think we’re structured properly to take advantage of that.

For me personally, and for SolidWorks professionally it’s important what we’re doing, particularly in Rwanda. You can’t put a spreadsheet on this and justify what we’re doing from a P&L basis. It’s something, my guess is, our children will see the benefits of one day and it’s something we’ve gotta do. We’re not doing it for any kind of immediate gain and we don’t expect to see anything that justifies it, certainly in my lifetime, but it’s the right thing to do.

The ‘Kill SolidWorks’ comment you made a few weeks back drew a lot of comments. A company developing internally from a competitive standpoint certainly isn’t unheard of, and the idea of killing SolidWorks makes sense in that context. Will this direction still be pursued?

(Jeff Ray) The key word you said was context. Our competitors thrive on taking things out of context, because they can’t seem to take us on toe-to-toe. This is the only way they can handle it and it gives me great pleasure to watch it happen. The message there, and I do think Deelip got it right, was that no company in the technology world can stand still. You choose to stand still and be comfortable, ultimately you’re going to hurt your employees because you will stop growing; someone will kill you. It’s inevitable.

Your employees ultimately suffer and it happens in the forms of layoffs, downsizing and restructuring. Your customers suffer because you fail to deliver intriguing, exciting technology that help them get their jobs their jobs done, so they have to go  get it from someone else. And it makes them look foolish when they’ve made significant commitment to you and you’ve failed to continue to refresh the technology and make it alive and relevant.

We aren’t going to be that kind of company. My point in the discussion is that if someone is ultimately going to kill off the SolidWorks product that we know, it’s going to be us doing it. We’re not going to allow someone else to do it. There was never any intention to say that we’re going to kill it tomorrow or next year or 10 or 15 years from now. It’s simply that we are going to be the kind of company that is comfortable with continuing to assess the technologies that are out there in the market, and picking the ones that are helpful to our customers.

When Hirschtick founded the company, he did not found the company to be a great Windows-based software company. It just so happen that Windows was the most liberating platform at that time to deliver on his dream which was to deliver really powerful CAD technologies to the common person. We felt that is shouldn’t be in the exclusive hands of the biggest companies in the world and that means you’ve constantly got to assess what’s going on in the platform marketplace. When you have that kind of culture, you’re open-minded enough to see new kinds of platforms and the online platform is really intriguing.

So, it’s not about killing off SolidWorks. It’s really about giving customers choices. We will get to the point where if they want desktop platforms running on Windows, we’ll continue to have the best in the market. And we’l continue to refresh it every year as we have for the last 15. If they want online or mobile apps because it better respects the way they do business, or makes it easier for them to communicate live and real-time with people around the world, they’re going to be able to get it from us. They won’t have to go to someone else.

Bertrand, along the same line, are there new directions and new technologies you want to explore as you go forward?

(Bertrand Sicot) With the demonstration at SolidWorks World last year, you know what we’ve been working on, so there is nothing new per se, but those initiative are still alive and more than ever these new technologies are really promising. So, as far as going in a different direction from where Jeff has taken the company, it’s going to be a evolution, not a revolution.

There was an update on the SolidWorks Labs website today as well (after more than a year with no updates.) Is this a sign that R&D in the SolidWorks Labs group is restarting?

(Jeff Ray) The Labs activity is going on at a higher rate than ever before, it’s just that it’s not being evidenced visibly in Labs, it’s all internal now. When we showed what we did at SolidWorks World last year, we went way, way out there on the bridge. We pushed ourselves way beyond the normal comfort zone that an R&D firm would pursue.

So, all efforts and energies in R&D now, under Austin [O’Malley], have been in bringing all those technologies to market. It was a discussion Austin and I had and over the next 2-3 years we’re going to bring more new products to market than in the history of the company, over the last 15 years combined, that I just didn’t want the R&D team to feel distracted. Now, it doesn’t mean that from time to time, when something really cool pops up, that they don’t take advantage of it and post it on Labs.

The point I want to make with Labs is that the activity, the culture and the habits associated with Labs, is occurring at a much higher rate than ever before and will be evidenced in amazing, new commercial products, not necessarily in little technology previews.

I’m not saying Labs isn’t critical. I’m a huge believer in it and was glad to see it hit the market while I was here. I think I can speak for Austin – I also want to make sure the R&D team has all the resources available, which they do, and have the ability to focus on all the technologies they’re bringing to market. We could have trickled all of these things out instead of standing up at SolidWorks World last year and demonstrating true, online collaboration.

We could have taken that path, but we felt strongly that the online platform was so profound and so relevant to the engineering community that we wanted to take a stronger stand and show a lot more to the community. The team is very much intact, engaged and excited about what they’re working on right now and if they find things that are cool, they’ll show it. We’ll show something cool at SolidWorks World that we haven’t shown before in a few weeks. So, the innovation is going on at a much higher rate, it just hasn’t been presented through the Labs media.

Of course there were more questions I wanted to ask afterward.

  • What will be the community reaction?
  • >How do employees inside SolidWorks feel about this?
  • What’s with ENOVIA and the convergence of the DS brands?

Those will all have to wait for another time. About this change, I don’t see a big reaction in the user community. (Few of the users I work with could even name the former or current CEO of SolidWorks much less, even care.) Jeff took the company one direction, for the most part, aligning it with Dassault and positioning it for growth in that context. Bertrand, being the second person hired on with Dassault Systemes, I believe will follow that strategy. In that sense, DS SolidWorks Corp. stays separated from the customers. Whereas before, with Jon Hirschtick and Johnny Mac, it felt more personal, like a friend was running the company. My one hope is that Bertrand gets a sense of this. Go ahead, finish pushing SolidWorks into DS, but remember the roots man, remember the roots.

The DS Press Release.
More from Jeff Ray on the SolidWorks Blog.
More from Bertrand on the SolidWorks Blog.

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