Freesteel Blog » When did Autodesk become a Turd?

When did Autodesk become a Turd?

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016 at 5:03 pm Written by:

Continuing our coverage of Autodesk corporate chaos, we read this from the latest Autodesk Earnings Call:

Carl Bass (CEO): Yeah. I just wanted to say one thing…

The first thing is that I think a number of the 13D filers as well as some of the activist investors have raised legitimate concerns…. I think too much credit is being given to them and not enough credit is being given to our long-term investors, who have asked for a change in a constructive way…

Many of my problems with sort of some of the more activist investors is that their focus is extremely short-term and somewhat simplistic. They just ignore some of the complexities of running a business…

[M]y concern is people who like essentially want to turn Autodesk into Men’s Wearhouse. If you look, I don’t think any of the people who got involved in Men’s Wearhouse intentionally meant to do damage to the company. I don’t think they meant to screw it up, but I think they had some simplistic views and what troubles me is seeing those same views expressed about our business.

Actually I got one little funny story here. I looked at Men’s Wearhouse the other day and they changed the name of the company and the symbol and what I thought was interesting is changing the name makes it actually hard to track the price and how poorly it’s performed. But the symbol is a little bit of a telltale sign because if you just look at it, it’s spelled TURD, it’s actually TLRD, but it’s what it looks like, and it’s probably more like it.

Basically, the investors had declared a truce with the management which involves inserting three of their guys into the chain of corporate command, such as it is.

This is probably the first time in 30-odd years that these folks have had people not of their own choosing within the system. And chances are they’ll find the processes ludicrously informal and ineffective, as they appeared to me lower down.

The three interlopers are:

Scott Ferguson (associations with Sachem Head, Pershing Square Capital Management, McKinsey & Company, Robin Hood Foundation) who joins the
Compensation & Human Resources Committee of the Board.

Rick Hill (associations with Tessera Technologies Inc, Novellus Systems, Tektronix Corporation) who joins the Corporate Governance & Nominating Committee of the Board.

Jeff Clarke (associations with Kodak, HP, Compaq Computer, Red Hat) who joins the Audit Committee of the Board.

SEC source [1] [2]

The SEC documents contain lots of provisions to prevent the company from packing these committees with further appointees to outvote the new appointees or establishing new committees without these appointees to take on the roles from these current committees.

In light of the crisis, I was reminded to re-instate two of the blog posts that I wrote in 2013 during my employment, which I took down within seconds of anonymous individuals within the company complaining about them via my line manager — whom they somehow deemed was responsible for the problem, rather than myself.

My overwhelming feat of insignificance
Watching the CEO 20% of the time

Admittedly these posts were on the edge. But as far as I was concerned they were within the bounds of the 24 page Social Media Policy document that I sourced somewhere on the company’s shambolic Sharepoint intranet. The complainants evidently knew nothing of such a document, and there was no process for deciding on how to deal with such social media disagreements. It’s only about power, influence, and strong uninformed unquestioned opinions of those in power. Ongoing intellectual degradation occurs when everyone has to play it safe and tread on eggshells. There is no fun or chance of an independent arbitration to keep it fun should it be necessary to push the bounds in a direction where they need to be pushed. And boy do they need pushing.

I got to move on. Here are some thoughts of what is going to happen next.

As one of their long-standing directors says: “Autodesk is an acquisitive company.”

They sure keep buying things. But they don’t actually have a process for bringing them in and making use of them. Take Delcam, which does CAM software exactly like I was doing. Six months after the acquisition the programming staff were still under the impression that they shouldn’t be talking to me about exchanging tech and general know-how. And when I dared to chase it up with the managers it seemed they believed that it ought to be happening, except that such trifling matters were so far below their pay-grade they didn’t actually get round to telling anyone.

Autodesk acquisitions are normally done under cover of darkness, just as a deal between need-to-know executive directors and their lawyers, so that the first anyone knows about it is on the morning when it’s suddenly happened. The staff are not consulted and there is no counseling for the shock that occurs. Such trifling matters are too far below the pay-grade of the numpties who have organized the sale. Normally the main stupidity is on the Autodesk side who eventually discover that they have bought a turkey, like Socialcam, because the small team who worked it out in secret lacks the competence to determine whether there is anything actually valuable in the tech that’s being acquired.

The official explanation for the confidentiality is that it’s because Autodesk is a listed company and such deals would be subject share speculation and insider trading laws. This claim is bogus because these acquisitions don’t seem to change the share price when they are published, and when the law does apply (for example in the case of Delcam) it is actually tilted in favour of disclosure of the proposed acquisition.

The actual reason for the confidentiality is to keep the price down and the acquisition easy. For if the staff found out they were being sold out by their managers they’d demand a stake in the sale, especially if they’d been in the business from the beginning. It also prevents other buyers coming in and bidding up the price. In general I’d expect that the prices to be lower than they should be, but for a larger percentage of the money to go to the bastards who were in the position to sign off the sale in secret in way of compensation. There is no such thing as company interest. The company is an imagination. There is only people interest.

I would therefore expect that a lot of money could be made by selling bits of the company back onto the open market where they could get a fairer price. And it might be something big, like Maya or 3DStudioMax, which are two products that do completely the same thing but still, 10 years on, are developed wholly independently because the useless management don’t know how to get it together.

Secondly, they’ll play hardball with all the resellers that operate in the CADCAM industry between the suppliers and the customers for these high priced products and squeeze a huge chunk of their money.

And thirdly, they’ll probably install some people who have actually seen what effective software development looks like in another company enough to bring some of that in-line. This will include trusting the developers to speak out and make changes to the processes and removing the know-nothings from the cycle who are there just to gum things up and prevent progress from happening.

I wonder if these guys have had a secret meeting with the former CFO who resigned suddenly in 2014 after cashing out an obscene number of shares to flesh out some of the figures and reorganization opportunities.

But that would be insider dealing and breaking of confidentiality, etc, etc. We can’t have that sort of thing about spilling the beans on former employers. Yeah right. And there’s no drug doping in competitive sports. I know one thing for sure: there ain’t no blood test for this sort of behavior.

And I don’t even know why it’s wrong. Supposedly these organized hedge fund investors would be able gain unfair advantage over the other investors in the company by breaching the insider knowledge known to the former CFO. But if that’s the case, what is it all about when three of these guys now acting inside the inner workings of the company, eh?

Clearly, the rule is only there to prevent mere employees from taking advantage of their knowledge and ostensibly taking money from the capitalist class. This is what’s unacceptable.

As always, we end with an excerpt from Henry Ford:

If we cannot produce we cannot have — but some say if we produce it is only for the capitalists. Capitalists who become such because they provide better means of production are of the foundation of society. They have really nothing of their own. They merely manage property for the benefit of others. Capitalists who become such through trading in money are a temporarily necessary evil. They may not be evil at all if their money goes to production. If their money goes to complicating distribution — to raising barriers between the producer and the consumer — then they are evil capitalists and they will pass away when money is better adjusted to work; and money will become better adjusted to work when it is fully realized that through work and work alone may health, wealth, and happiness inevitably be secured.

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <strong>