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 What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.

Aart de Geus: Smartest guy in the room

October 16th, 2013 by Peggy Aycinena

Several years ago, after a phone briefing about a new product launch, I received a call back from the PR counsel who had organized the meeting. She asked me if I had all the info I needed regarding the product and the company. I said yes, and offered a minor apology for asking too many pointed questions of the marketing manager during the interview.

She said, “Oh, that’s okay. Talking to you is like talking to Aart de Geus. It’s clear you both think you’re the smartest guy in the room.”

That comment has come to mind multiple times since then, for two reasons. One, you never really know what impression you leave with people until it comes out at some capricious moment. And two, Aart de Geus isn’t the smartest guy in the room, just because he thinks so. He’s the smartest guy in the room, because he really is the smartest guy in the room.

That’s particularly applicable today with the EDAC event celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the EDA industry about to commence this evening in Silicon Valley. Per the Consortium, a plethora of industry luminaries will be in attendance. Per this writer, none will be more luminary than Dr. de Geus. If you’re reading this, you’re probably pretty well versed in both the history of EDA and the history of Aart de Geus. Nonetheless, here’s the latter in a nutshell.

Born in Northern Europe and raised in Switzerland, he was a celebrated jazz musician while still only a teen. He earned an MSEE at EPFL in Lausanne and a PhD from SMU in Dallas, where he studied under Spice-legend Ron Rohrer. At Rohrer’s suggestion, de Geus then worked for several years at GE on the East Coast, streamlining logic design at the company and assembling a team to support the effort, including delving deeply into the vagaries of synthesis.

That team and knowledge-base catapulted de Geus into close association with a group of interested parties on both coasts, who aggressively shaped a business plan and sought out investors, including GE and Harris Semiconductor, and thereby founded Synopsys in 1986. The decision was made to headquarter the company on the West Coast, Daisy veteran Harvey Jones was brought in as first president, and Synopsys made its initial appearance at the Design Automation Conference in 1988.

Aart de Geus was named president in 1992 and the rest is history. Since its founding in 1986, Synopsys has grown from glimmer to global behemoth. In the last several years alone, through fortuitous business moves, the company now employs over 8000 people and touts a market valuation in excess of $5.8 billion. Compare that with the next biggest players in the industry: Cadence at $4 billion and 5200 employees, and Mentor at $2.6 billion and 5000 employees.

So think about it. Tonight’s event at the Computer History Museum is set to celebrate 50 years of EDA, and this year’s DAC in Austin celebrated 50 years of the conference, yet the company that virtually defines the industry today is just over 25 years old. Okay, so why does that make Aart de Geus the smartest guy in the room? Well, consider these things.

Aart de Geus has been a leader of the company he helped found from the beginning. Under his unflagging, disciplined guidance Synopsys has grown to be the biggest EDA player on the block, by a mile. Over the last several decades, he’s also served as president of EDAC, as a director at Applied Materials, is on the board of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and the GSA, and he’s an IEEE Fellow.

In and around those involvements, he’s continued to pursue music with his blues band, Legally Blue, has established his chops as a painter, has raised a family, has been a regular participant at Davos as an internationally recognized thought leader, and his company has promoted several highly admired women technologists including Synopsys SVP Deirdre Hanford and Karen Bartleson, currently serving as President of the IEEE Standards Association. None of the other big companies in EDA can even begin to match that record. Then there’s the regional science competition de Geus’ company founded, the Synopsys Silicon Valley Science and Technology Championship for students in grades 6 to 12.

Are you keeping score? Decades of industry leadership, music, art, culture, family, Davos, promoting women in technology, and supporting regional math and science education. And all of this, while also establishing a hyper-dominant market share within the industry.

Yeah, Silicon Valley is full of wunderkinds. You know who they are. They’ve made billions and become icons within their own carefully crafted Cults of Personality. Wouldn’t any one of them qualify as the smartest guy in the room?

Not really, because what truly makes Aart de Geus the smartest guy in the room is his restless intellect. When you talk to him, he’s right there in the moment. He’s willing and able to hear and respond to nuanced ideas and opinions. His is a nimble mind, and a mind that’s clearly and continually refreshing itself. Undoubtedly, he’s massively proud of all he’s accomplished, while never forgetting the obligations he shoulders day-in and day-out, but that’s not the impression you get when you talk to him.

The impression you get when you talk to Aart de Geus is of someone who’s never lost a thirst for knowledge, someone who never fails to embrace that special opportunity for compare and contrast that life offers to those for whom ideas and the world around them are of endless interest. The impression you get when you talk to Aart de Geus is that he is indeed the smartest guy in the room.


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