What Would Joe Do?
Peggy Aycinena is a freelance journalist and Editor of EDA Confidential at www.aycinena.com. She can be reached at peggy at aycinena dot com.
Executive Privilege: Presidential Libraries at DAC, LBJ to AdG
June 15th, 2016 by Peggy Aycinena
Of course, the difference between Presidents and CEOs is that the former get libraries built in their name to commemorate their contributions, whether or not they’re able to conquer a past legacy left to them by predecessors.
CEOs, on the other hand, don’t get libraries when their tenures end. They either get tons of criticism, or occasionally tons of praise – but no library. They do, however, often get millions of dollars in compensation and stock during their administrations, and usually a pretty golden handshake when they’re done. Something that goes a long way to easing the pain of criticisms they may endure during and after their years in power.
The last time I toured a Presidential Library it was at the 40th DAC in Anaheim in 2003. That year, Cadence hosted their annual Press/Analyst dinner at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in nearby Yorba Linda.
At some point in the evening, then-company CEO Ray Bingham stood up and reminded his guests that there’s no such thing as a free lunch: We were all enjoying a posh spread and open bar thanks to his company, and Bingham expected volumes of positive coverage of Cadence in return. A supremely inappropriate request that dovetailed well with a Nixon presidency frequently awash in such things.
Now fast forward 13 years to the 53rd DAC. Despite the towering thunder heads arrayed across Texas, my plane arrived safely on June 4th in Austin. Straightaway I headed to the campus of the University of Texas to tour the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library housed there.
A formidable building from the outside, it’s dramatically laid out inside, and combines a vast archive of documents from LBJ’s 40-year political career with an extensive museum detailing the life and times of the 20th century.
A particular emphasis in the exhibits is the 1960s and the Vietnam War, a war LBJ is closely associated with. In a painful and troubling homage to countless, ghastly mistakes in leadership and several million deaths, the museum reminds that the war was devastating in its time and even worse in retrospect.
One comes away from the LBJ Library with a heightened sense of history, and not just for the profound. Mixed in with discussions of war, racial discord and poverty, are references to other cultural sign-posts of the era: The Beattles, The Sound of Music, Mohammad Ali, and Dick Van Dyke. The Human Comedy and the Human Tragedy too closely intertwined to rationally separate in the LBJ Library. And Ali had just died the day before my visit there, so that message was all the more poignant.
But enough with the tourist thing, I was in Austin to attend the Design Automation Conference.
Sunday morning, June 5th, DAC 2016 commenced bright and early at the Austin Convention Center. My day was consumed by a 9-hour workshop on Cyber-Physical Systems, the 5 pm Gary Smith EDA industry update, an opening reception from 5:30 to 7 pm in the hallway on the 4th floor, and a CEDA-sponsored career panel from 7 to 9 pm. Busy day.
And then it was Monday, June 6th, the Plenary Session, Keynote, and Exhibit Hall. An even busier day as people got down to the serious business of seeing and being seen at DAC.
By late morning, Semiconductor Engineering’s Ed Sperling and Synopsys’ Aart de Geus were settled into comfy chairs and a Fireside Chat on stage in the DAC Pavilion located mid-span in the Exhibit Hall. There, Sperling spent 45 minutes throwing softballs at de Geus, questions that in truth anybody in the building could have answered. Nonetheless, a few paraphrased pearls of wisdom from the co-CEO of Synopsys:
* Moore’s Law is not dead, no matter what people say. It’s habaeus corpus, show me the body. There’s another 10x improvement still possible.
Clearly, if you needed additional proof that the co-CEO of a publicly traded company is always on-message, on-point, pleasant, intelligent, humorous, and superficially profound, this June 6th Fireside Chat offered that proof. More darkly, if you were inclined to ask: Fireside Chats, what are they good for? You’d have further proof that the answer is, Absolutely nothing. Like war.
At least that’s what I was thinking as I stood on one foot and then the other at the back of the shifting crowd attempting to harvest the afore-mentioned pearls of wisdom Sperling and de Geus chose to unearth between 11:15 am and noon in the Austin Convention Center.
But then it happened. That always-annoying Mr. Sense of History sauntered up and murmured something about a quote I’d scribbled two days prior on the margin of the map of the LBJ Library. I pulled that map out of my satchel, rotated it around until I found the scribble, and read a relevant and timeless quote from LBJ himself: “Every president has to deal with what is, what has been, and what could be.”
And that gave me pause.
Aart de Geus has been associated with Synopsys now for 30 years, almost 6 times as long as LBJ was President, or Richard Nixon. If Presidents Johnson and Nixon were burdened by historical circumstances when they came into office – a past that served frequently as an impediment for what they wanted to achieve – de Geus has been burdened by the past six times over, with a critical caveat.
Unlike the legacy, good or bad, that Johnson and Nixon inherited when they took their oaths of office in 1963 and 1969 respectively, most of the past that Aart de Geus deals with is of his own making.
The foundational ink of Synopsys was still wet on the paper when AdG became President in 1986. Over the last 30 years he’s crafted an organization gradually, methodically, incorporating new ideas while working to keep the old ideas alive, acquiring companies with new technologies – increasingly these days, companies associated with forward-thinking concepts in software – while still protecting market share of the technologies that his original company was founded upon, attempting to deal with the here-and-now of a vast, legacy customer base while also working to satisfy tomorrow’s customers, new process nodes, new applications, and new investors interested in a future where Synopsys continues to be a profitable leader – despite the leaden shoes of its corporate past, which can appear to prevent the company from moving super-nimbly into that future.
Today after 30 years in the driver’s seat, Aart de Geus is Chief Executive of an organization with over 10,000 employees, dozens and dozens of products, countless lines of code, a stock price perched at an all-time high, and a market cap of $8 billion.
He’s personally at the helm of an organization – along with Chi-Foon Chan, of course – that’s made an impact on the modern world arguably orders of magnitude more grand, more profound, more far-reaching than anything a poor, cocky, country hick from Texas, or a poor, insecure, Quaker boy from California ever made. Yet these two latter Chief Executives have whole libraries/museums dedicated to remembering their life and times – and their contributions, both soaring and sorrowful.
So where is the Aart de Geus Presidential Library? And were it actually ever to be built, would it be full of superficial pleasantries and easily remembered catch phrases like technomics, or would there be long galleries of hard-nosed analysis dissecting the daily, monthly, and yearly decisions AdG has made over the course of his 30 years at the helm, complete with photos, illustrations, videos and sign-posts of his ever-expanding ship of state?
Some years ago, I sat at a table full of strangers in the back of the room at a Kaufman Award Dinner in Silicon Valley. Steve Jobs had just died and my nine dinner companions launched into a round table discussion of the merits and demerits of Jobs’ contributions to the arc of history in technology. In the midst of the debate, I asked: If they were conflicted over Jobs, what did they feel about the merits and demerits of the then-leadership of the Big Three in EDA, those leaders all seated at the front of the room. (The same leadership, by the way, which is in place today.)
One of the men at our table took my question as cue to launch into a full-on diatribe of compare and contrast between Steve Jobs and Aart de Geus. According to this guy, as opposed to Jobs, de Geus had been cautious to a fault over the decades, indefensibly conservative, responsible for not only holding back his own company, but for keeping all of the EDA industry from soaring into heights of accomplishments that could have been achieved under more courageous leadership.
“Aart has never done anything daring with Synopsys in all the years he’s been in charge,” the man said, as I jotted his comment on the margin of my Kaufman Award program and stuffed it into my satchel.
The passion this guy brought to his broadside attack on de Geus was intense, and in retrospect an interesting comparison to the antipathy some still hold for LBJ and/or Richard Nixon, both men virulently accused of a failure of leadership and vision. If there were to be a Presidential Library honoring AdG’s leadership of the United States of Synopsys, would the Kaufman Dinner guy’s unflattering summation also need to be included? Such things are certainly on display at the Nixon library and the Johnson library – not.
The LBJ Library is an homage to a poor man who became a rich man, and along the way crafted the Great Society. The Nixon Library is an homage to a pious man who honored the family dog and simple cloth coats, and opened the way to China. Yes, the bungled proxy war at the heart of the Cold War and the chicanery of Watergate are in those libraries as well, but they are not portrayed as keystones of the respective histories. Wives, children, family values, military service, civic duty, and global visions are the keystones, not failures of leadership.
Which brings us full circle back to the Fireside Chat, the Exhibit Hall at the 53rd DAC, and the carefully crafted, unscripted conversation between Ed Sperling and Aart de Geus. Like a Presidential Library, it was the Chief Executive’s grand vision and his fierce optimism that our technology will make the world a better place that were meant to be the take-aways, not any past which might include aggressive acquisitions or hardball corporate maneuvering.
Aart de Geus, like all Chiefs of State, is a visionary of major significance, the Fireside Chat his Presidential Library. His legacy is now safely in the hands of those who will write the history – and for that particular task, only winners need apply.