WisBusiness: Autodesk CEO urges entrepreneurs to embrace change

By Brian E. Clark

MADISON – Companies that want to thrive must exercise their “change muscles” or they will stagnate and fail, the latest inductee into the UW-Madison Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame said Tuesday.

“It doesn’t matter what size of business you have, you must remake yourselves to stay viable,” said Carol Bartz, CEO of Autodesk and a 1971 UW-Madison computer science graduate.

Bartz, whose company had $1.2 billion in sales this year, has headed Autodesk for 12 years, four times longer than the average lifespan for a person at similar-sized companies. She has been described by Forbes Magazine as one of the most powerful women in the country. The publication also calls her company one of the 100 best places to work. Bartz previously held positions at Sun Microsystems, where she was vice president of worldwide field operations and an executive officer of the company. Before joining Sun, she held product line and sales management positions at Digital Equipment Corporation and 3M.

She was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame last year and has received many other honors.

Autodesk, which had sales of $285 million when Bartz took over, sells its software to 100 countries in 17 different languages.

Bartz said she has had to remake Autodesk three times during her tenure.

“Yes, that means we were not running it right at times,” she said in a moment of candor. “Over time, we had to diversify and make other changes to meet the needs of clients, for our stakeholders and to keep our employees motivated.”

Bartz said at one point, she thought she and her company had fallen off a cliff and were headed for oblivion.

“We were part of the old economy,” said Bartz, a self-described math nut as a child.

“The Internet hit – remember that? – and we had to move to the information economy and become effective with network connectivity,” she said.

Bartz told her listeners they must try to think five or even 10 years into the future to sell their wares around Wisconsin, the country and the globe.

In response to a question, she said she was especially excited about the changes nanotechnology will have on science, information technology and manufacturing.

“I can’t even imagine the changes it will bring about,” she said. “But I know it will have a huge impact.”

Bartz also bemoaned the dearth of women in the computer sciences and engineering and said too many girls stop paying attention to math and science by age 10.

“It’s a shame to lose half of our human capital,” she said. “And it’s something we must change, even if we have to do it daughter by daughter.”

In addition, she told her audience she becomes incredulous when she is told there are no other “killer applications” for computer software.

“There is always another puzzle to solve,” she said. “That is why I love this business.”