Just when we thought we had a break from the executive level changes in some of the biggest 3D printing companies, from MakerBot’s CEO to the CFO of Stratasys, we have learned that the CEO of Autodesk, Carl Bass, will be stepping down, along with two board members, Scott Ferguson and Jeff Clarke. This happens less than a year after the 3D software company made a deal with two of its activist investors to change things up. Bass was the company’s CEO for over ten years; though his resignation is effective today, he will stay on as a special adviser, in support of the transition to a new CEO. He will also remain on the Autodesk board of directors, and will be nominated for re-election at the annual shareholders meeting.
Crawford W. Beveridge, non-executive chairman of the Autodesk board of directors, said, “I’ve worked with Carl though his tenure as CEO of Autodesk, and I’ve always valued his focus and vision, as well as his rare combination of business and technical expertise. We have seen exponential growth in the last decade, both in the business and in Autodesk’s market opportunity. Carl has always been a driven and passionate change agent for the company, and under his direction Autodesk has transformed from a 2D design company into the worldwide leader of 3D design and engineering software.”
“With Carl at the helm, the company has led its industry’s move to subscription and Autodesk was the first to recognize and embrace the implications of cloud and mobile technology on design and production across countless industries around the world. Carl’s leadership has opened up tremendous opportunity for Autodesk. We are grateful that Carl has agreed to remain on the board of directors and serve as a special adviser to support the CEO transition and cloud and subscription business model transition.”
Beveridge will continue as the non-executive chairman. The board of directors formed an Interim Office of the Chief Executive to oversee daily operations, and has started an official CEO search, with executive search firm Egon Zehnder, to consider new candidates from both inside and out of Autodesk. Amar Hanspal, senior vice president and chief product officer, and Andrew Anagnost, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, will head up the Interim Office for the time being. Hanspal joined Autodesk in 1987, while Anagnost came on in 1997.
Last March, Autodesk made an agreement to appoint three new board directors, including Scott Ferguson, managing partner of Sachem Head Capital Management. As of September 30, 2016, Sachem Head, and another activist investor, Eminence Capital, were two of Autodesk’s largest top five holders, with each holding nearly 6% of the stock. A standstill agreement made between Autodesk and Sachem Head required Sachem Head to support the board, and the company, for a specific period of time; Sachem Head has agreed to continue both the earlier voting agreement provisions and the standstill until June of 2018. As part of a new agreement, Ferguson and another Sachem Head appointee, Jeff Clarke, will resign from the Autodesk board.
In a letter posted on the Autodesk website, Bass writes, “I love Autodesk and am immensely proud of what we have created together, but it’s time for me to do something new. Autodesk is doing very well and the financial markets are noticing. Our leadership team is strong, and our strategy is in place to go further and accomplish more than we could have ever imagined when I took over day-to-day operations as COO 14 years ago. Our transition to an all-subscription business model is well underway, we’re enjoying early but strong success in the cloud and we have settled with our activist investors. Now seems like the right time, for both the company and for me.”
“Since joining the board, I have been impressed with Carl’s vision and leadership,” said Ferguson. “I am confident that through this transition, we will identify a leader who can further propel the company’s progress and drive Autodesk’s growth and value creation well into the future.”
The board of directors has also started searching for a new independent director candidate, who will join once Clarke and Ferguson both step down; this will happen once a new CEO has been appointed, or at the 2017 annual meeting, whichever comes later.
While Bass’s resignation may seem surprising to us, he began discussing the possibility of a CEO transition with Autodesk over 18 months ago, as part of a CEO succession planning process by the board. In late 2015, when Sachem Head started acquiring company stock, the board and Bass decided that Autodesk instead needed stable leadership to successfully steer through the investor negotiations, and tabled the discussion. The company was also continuing its transition to a subscription-only business model, as well as the cloud-based technology Forge Platform. But once the new Sachem Head agreement was finalized, Bass and the Autodesk board of directors decided that it was the time to, according to Autodesk, “identify the individual that will lead Autodesk’s next stage of growth.”
“It’s been my honor to lead Autodesk through this exciting period of growth and change. I’m very proud of everything we accomplished – from both a business and technology perspective,” said Bass. “Our cloud and subscription business is well underway. The company’s strategy is working, the management team is strong and it’s the right time for me to step aside. Autodesk is poised for even greater success as it enters this next phase. I’m looking forward to my next adventure but will continue working with the company through my role as a board member and am committed to ensuring that the cloud and subscription business model will continue to be successful.”
In his letter, Bass hints at this next adventure, saying only that he will be “spending more time in my shop with my robots” and that he will have further to say on the subject in a few months. Discuss in the Autodesk forum at 3DPB.com.
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