LAS VEGAS, NV (PlanetPTC 2011), June 14, 2011 – A chance to address your top customers is not an opportunity to be missed. CEO Jim Heppelmann has taken the main stage during the annual PTC user group meeting. He wastes no time. He talks fast.
“I’m an engineer,” Heppelmann tells us. He has already been introduced as a tinkerer, someone with a “big workshop” who “loves to visit customers.” It’s a tough sell. The crowd has been rather reserved. It is their second or third day in Las Vegas. By now people are moving a bit slower in hallways of the mega-complex that is Caesar’s Palace casino. I’ve had to go around them. I guess even engineers just wanna have fun. It is Las Vegas, after all. Don’t ask; don’t tell. During breakfast, the coffee runs out.
Heppelmann has been in the top position for 9 months. He replaced Dick Harrison, who is nowhere to be seen.
So what does Heppelmann bring to the show, his first big public user gig as CEO? A boundless energy, for one thing. His words come quick, like a machine gun. Only once did he stumble and that was over which one of the new PTC products does what. But who isn’t confused?
PTC has blown up the old brands Pro/E and CoCreate in favor of a myriad of Creo products. Why would PTC throw a grenade in its own house? One might argue CoCreate, a MCAD also-ran, might have needed a boost. But why mess with the venerable Pro/ENGINEER? Why “abandon a name that’s synonymous with 3D?”* If anything, change the company name. The “Parametric” in PTC no longer tells the whole story.
Heppelmann tells how sales had been stagnant for years. A high level meeting was called. Hard questions were asked. Those who suggested the status quo was due to a mature market were challenged with the question: “Have all the problems been solved?”
But it was a rhetorical question. A trap.
“No, they have not,” he answers himself. “These products are fundamentally hard to use! It was the elephant in the room.”
He is not done. The problem was deeper.
“Once upon a time, we were the innovators. We had a great product. We had the only product. Somewhere along the way we became complacent.”
“We have the best parametric modeler in Pro/E,” he said. “We have CoCreate.” He lists other PTC applications. “Why don’t we think outside the box, put all them in the blender and see what frappe comes out?”
Those that didn’t share the vision may no longer be in PTC’s employ. Heppelmann had climbed to the his vaunted position to wait for consensus. “Only 2 of our executive staff were there 2 years ago.” I’m thinking if you don’t agree with Heppelmann, you don’t stick get to stick around too long.
Heppelmann is on a roll. He is taking a shot at the term CAD itself.
“We don’t call it CAD anymore. I think we can assume that all design is now computer aided. It’s not 1970.”
Elephants. Frappes. Questioning “CAD” itself. Amidst the distraction of wildly clashing metaphors, a lapse into subjects that usually put me to sleep (PDM, ERP), shaking the bedrock of TenLinks (a CAD site) and typical CEO bombast (“We are the leader and we’re opening our lead”), I have to mentally withdraw to preserve my sanity. But I think I’ve got what I need.
Basically, PTC, under Heppelmann, has put all its wood behind the new products. For better or worse, the old brands are going away. The new programs (apps) are smaller, lighter…modern! It’s a move that ought to be applauded. Sure, the hard core Pro/E users will bitch. However, most CAD insiders have been saying for many years that PTC needed to wake up and react to its shrinking influence in the market it once owned. PTC was the frog in the pot of water slowly heating, but never summoning the will to jump.
Well, the frog has jumped. We can guess how it will land, to be sure, but credit must go to Jim Heppelmann for not only recognizing the need to adjust course, but also being able to push it through the organization.
See entire keynote, PTC Corporate Strategy & Customer Executive Panel Discussion
*Sean Dotson, on Twitter