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Max Q


While ``The New Technological Corporation'' focused on largely on the theory underlying the special strategies appropriate to a company like Autodesk, this memo, circulated to senior management in the fall of 1990, concentrated on details. It seemed obvious to me that the boom of the 1980's could not go on forever, and that there were specific danger signs on the horizon. It's much easier to see trouble on the horizon than to know precisely when it will arrive, but fortunately a company in Autodesk's position need not forgo opportunities in order to protect against turbulence.

To: Central Committee
From: John Walker
Date: September 7th, 1989

Subject: Autodesk at Max Q

Max Q. In aerodynamics, particularly rocketry, maximum dynamic pressure; the moment when velocity, trajectory, altitude, and ambient atmospheric temperature and pressure combine to exert the maximum stress upon the vehicle. Most catastrophic failures occur at this moment.

Viewing the history of Autodesk's growth, as outsiders do, by examining a chart of sales, earnings, units installed, market share, stock price, or any other aggregate metric of performance gives the impression that Autodesk has achieved its success with relatively little difficulty. Indeed, other than blips in the stock price triggered by exogenous events such as the Crash of 1987,[Footnote] almost every measure of Autodesk's performance is a monotonically increasing curve, devoid of both gut-wrenching plunges and giddy, unsustainable spurts of growth. It's the kind of performance that tempts one into believing that change of this magnitude can be managed--that one can guarantee this kind of performance in the future--forgetting that we're simply trying to ride a wave of technological change without drowning, slipping off into stagnant backwaters, or being dashed on the rocks by excessive assumption of risk.

Having lived through the hundreds of thousands of individual events which collectively add up to the numbers on the chart, we know very well that nothing about Autodesk's success came easily. Building the company required ignoring conventional wisdom, willingness to improvise in the face of inadequate resources, and to do whatever was necessary to make our products meet our customers' needs, even if it meant undertaking technical tasks rarely attempted by ``application vendors'' or scratch-building entire channels of distribution, training, and support where none existed before.

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Editor: John Walker