View from the C-Suite: Autodesk CEO Carl Bass

Autodesk is a world leader in 3D design software for the manufacturing, building, engineering and entertainment industries. Since introducing AutoCAD in 1982, the company has grown from 16 to over 7,000 employees and $2 billion in annual revenues. Autodesk sells a broad portfolio of software tools for designers and engineers in over 10 million companies -- including 99 of the Fortune 100. Their products are instrumental in shaping much of the built world -- from buildings, roads, utilities to entire cities as well as cars, electronics, packaging and shoes. Autodesk sees tremendous opportunity to address the world's most pressing environmental problems through technology.

Greenbiz.com's Heather King talks with CEO Carl Bass about how design software helps advance building and product efficiency, the company's 'investment' in clean tech, and their drive to teach kids like Max and Maya in Oakland, California how to build anything better.

Heather King: Autodesk is ubiquitous in many mature markets. In what ways is sustainability a market opportunity for Autodesk?

carl bassCarl Bass: The real value of our software is that it allows people to better understand the things they build before they build them. Sustainability is a perfect example. Information about the design and building process makes a huge difference in terms of energy efficiency and other sustainability factors.

For example, a builder may ask, "If I took this building and I rotated it 20 degrees on the site, would it take more or less energy to heat or cool?" Most engineers and architects cannot adequately answer this question. Replicate this challenge in thousands of building design decisions such as the size of the eaves and the selection of materials. Our technology helps people make informed decisions at the beginning of the process. We are in the unique position to offer tools that help our customers build more energy-efficient, sustainable structures. This applies to manufacturing as well as construction processes.

Early on, the greatest interest and opportunity has been in building and construction. Architects and engineers have taken up efficiency challenges strongly. Manufacturers have been more divided; some are wholeheartedly endorsing the idea and others give a blank stare when asked about the sustainability of their products. We see that changing.

HK: Autodesk appears to be playing a "venture role" in the Clean Tech industry by "granting" valuable software to clean tech startups. How does this program dovetail with Autodesk's business strategy?

CB: Clean Tech is particularly interesting for us. It involves the manufacture of products that materially reduce energy needs. We launched a program in July, 2009 to grant software to clean tech start-ups. These companies are at the very early stages of an idea. They're just raising venture capital. We provide the most relevant software to their needs. If they're doing biomass the technology tools are completely different than if they're designing an electric vehicle. The program has been well received. We now support over 500 U.S. companies. As of Spring 2010, we're offering the same program in Europe.

The reason for this program is two-fold. First, we want to do our part and give the best tools to people who are working on important issues -- like climate change and the environment. Second, certain of these companies will become successful over time. If they become successful using our products, it's likely they'll become real customers.

HK: Autodesk has a history of amplifying its growth through strategic acquisitions. Do you expect to grow your position in clean tech and sustainability through acquisition?