Before I get to my incredible talk with my new BFF Aart de Geus, let me tell you how thrilled I was to hear from so many of my readers about your thoughts on my column. Your support is appreciated more that words can express. The comments I heard over and over again, from CEO’s down (CEOs down is easier to say than all the rest of you up), was that this is the only non-technical, optimistic and almost always positive column about our industry. The fact that it addresses so many relevant pressing issues like careers, hiring, start-ups, DAC, and general but yet relevant issues surrounding EDA, makes this column an extremely valuable asset.
As for the job market, I can honestly say that my business has been consistently gaining momentum over the past year and certainly, exponentially, even more as the year continues. When you get unsolicited calls from company after company looking for good candidates, you know the industry is doing well. Qualified people are becoming harder and harder to find (I will focus more on that in my next column). For the first time in years, long-term career EDAers feel comfortable enough to look for new opportunities, choosing to leave the comfort zone of the major players. Overall EDA seems to be doing as well as it has in a long time; the growth seems sustainable for at least the near future and we should all be embracing the positive things that are going on throughout our industry. (Did you notice the Apache-Ansys deal?)
So to Dr. de Geus…While I would never dare to encapsulate or paraphrase my private conversation with Aart…(that would be unfair to him and to my memory as well), there were some issues worthy of comment. So I will work hard to deliver an outline of our talks and state as much information as possible without betraying the private talk Aart was nice enough to have with me.
So as I endlessly stroll up and down the aisle at DAC, to/from meeting after meeting, I constantly run into clients, candidates, and old friends. Sometimes I get an even bigger treat and run into someone special, as has happened before with Aart de Geus, Chairman and CEO of Synopsys. In the past we have exchanged the usual pleasantries and he goes his way and I mine. NOT THIS TIME! I once again introduce myself and say that I hope you do not take umbrage with anything I have said about you or Synopsys in my column, to which he answered “who the hell are you”? Just kidding! He said he had no problem with what I write and went on to ask me about the motivation of my writing. From there the conversation ensued to a dead on, one on one almost 30 minute discussion with the top dog himself, talking as directly and matter of fact as I have personally ever encountered from him. We stood in the middle of the main aisle at DAC, my eyes not moving from his for a second. As I said to myself “damm, what did I get myself into”, the questions and answers started escalating, as did the tension.
Dr. de Geus is without question one of the true legends of EDA, a man of immeasurable respect, a man so vital to our industries growth, achievements, and success. Aart is to EDA what Brad Pitt is to movies…both handsome, both superstars in their respective industries. (As a side note, I have previous major media interviewing experience and have interviewed some of the biggest names in politics and entertainment. While these are the skills that allowed me to conduct this mini-forum it was in absolutely unchartered waters for me). I had none of the usual time for preparation to make me look my normal quasi-intelligent self; I had to totally wing it. To my amazement I do not think he ever saw me sweat…it was like I was playing one on one with Michael Jordon and, as unbelievable as it might sound, making a few key points which would rile Michael, like I felt my questions did Aart. I humbly felt like I was holding my own.
Anyway, as much as I was uncomfortable (thinking I might be getting in over my head) asking such in-depth industry questions, I kept opening my mouth asking more. We discussed pricing, start-ups and their future in EDA, and to my absolute amazement he respectfully discussed, answered, and debated every one of them. My questions were those that I have talked about with so many of you through the years, whether at DAC in the aisles or the chatter of a million phone calls, and all of my questions were answered earnestly and totally. As our talk ensued it was evident that he had strong feelings for the industry, but it seemed clear to me that he is a company man first, (not that it should surprise me, after all he is the CEO of the largest EDA company in the world). I guess I hoped that as the All Powerful Career EDA guy, he would have more support or should I say compassion for the plight of the entrepreneurial spirit that has always permeated EDA. The fact that he more vigorously defended his company at every turn when discussing start-ups concerned me, and is clearly what gave me that impression.
So here is a SYNOPSIS of my thoughts after talking to DR. de Geus. First let me say that it is clear that Aart is an articulate true genius of our industry- certainly that is no secret. But I also found him a man (as I have before) who is incredibly humble; a down to earth individual that lacks any of the pomp one would expect from a man of his magnitude. It is evident both from our talk and whenever I have heard him speak in the past that he has earned his place as the most respected man in our little world, and surely the broader semi-conductor (etc) world as well. But having said that, it is my hope that he realizes while it may not be in the best interest of his company, Synopsys, Start-Ups are the lifeblood of innovation on so many levels. The importance of the cultivation of start-ups is crucial and I could not help but feel that he did not feel that quite as strong as I had hoped he would. Though his answers were clear and for the most part politically correct, I could not help but think that being the pseudo-head of an industry must conflict in some way with being the CEO of that industries biggest company. The conundrum of complications in his answers has to be called into question. How do you support start-ups that are going against the many revenue producers of your company? Which comes first, the industry that you stand in front of or the company you head? And here I can disclose a small piece of his thoughts that clearly make sense. He felt (and I so hope I got this right) if a company is going up against a stalwart tool with no real measurable innovative differences, that type of competition is troublesome for him. But if a Start-up comes up with a new twist or a new approach, or takes a product to new heights, that to him is the true basis for the purpose of a start-up. Even hearing that I could not help but feel that the fact that so many of their overtly successful tools originally came from start-ups. In my opinion, that fact seemed to have not been realized. It was those developers with that Start-Up spirit that are the foundation of so much of the success of Synopsys (and of course other major companies). Having said that, I did not walk away feeling that start-ups were held in the highest regards from the Chairman, nor did I feel that he thought the exit expectations of those start-ups were realistic.
Let me paraphrase further about our talk on exit strategies. He agreed with me that the successes and multiples of yesterday are for all intents and purposes gone. The pay off multiples have changed for acquisitions (except for our friends at Apache) and he clearly felt that expectations of many start-ups were unrealistic. IPO’s doubling or tripling on release are far and few between and probably something that will never be seen in EDA. He also agreed with the premise I have been preaching for a long time and have written about several times in my column… Companies that build good products need to build equally strong infrastructures to support that product- meaning a company must build a business that can sustain on its own and have staying power. Companies must run their business like a business…with real sales, real fiscal responsibility and strong oversight. EDA is fortunate to have many incredible small companies that have lasted a long time by adhering to those practices. Lastly I can say that Dr. de Geus seemed to take umbrage with my comments of the Buy 2 get 1 free analogy even though I told him it was his people who told me last DAC (2010) they were trying to clean that practice up. He stated emphatically that it was not true, that they do not bundle giving (in essence) tools away. He was adamant that the only reason it might seem that way is because of (in short) flow compatibility which makes certain bundling a necessity. Tell that to the companies competing with them (or Cadence)…even with a better product it is pretty darn hard to sell over “FREE”. All in all, I would love the chance to one day sit down with Dr. de Geus and actually have an on the record real talk with him where he fields mine and many of your questions. Perhaps that will happen one day but either way I was still honored to get the time I did.
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