13 Oct Entrepreneurial Profile — Carol Bartz, CEO of Autodesk, shares secrets of success
Madison, Wis. — Carol Bartz, the CEO of Autodesk, was inducted into the University of Wisconsin Madison’s Entrepreneur Hall of Fame on Tuesday. Bartz graduated with a UW-Madison computer science degree in 1971.
The honor was bestowed by the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Business. Before the luncheon awards ceremony, Bartz spent several hours on campus, mingling with students, providing advice to entrepreneurs, and sharing her life story.
The most valuable thing Bartz shared with the students and alumni was not the advice that she gave, or the information that she provided. Instead, it was the manner in which she interacted with the various groups who demanded her attention.
Bartz began each lecture with some background information about her life, and some details about her company. For example: AutoDesk is on track to bring in $1.2 billion in sales this year. Software made by engineers at AutoDesk has been used to create special effects used in movies like Lord of the Rings and Matrix, in television commercials, and in the composition of television shows.
After summarizing her company’s most impressive accomplishments, Bartz turned the meeting over to the audience. Equipped only with a felt-tipped marker and a large white pad of paper, Bartz, the CEO of a large, publicly traded corporation, invited groups of undergraduate students and technology entrepreneurs — populations not known for their tact or diplomacy — to ask her anything they wanted. She wrote each question on the pad of paper, then asked for another. When the audience had exhausted its supply of questions, Bartz studied the list and came up with a series of anecdotes that both satisfied her audience and portrayed her company in a positive light.
The amazing thing about Bartz’s pen-on-paper technique for handling a potentially stressful public interrogation was that it allowed her to remain in control while simultaneously providing audience members with an opportunity to make themselves heard.
Instead of scowling at a question she disliked, or providing an answer that had nothing to do with the question that was asked, Bartz’s felt-tipped marker technique gave the sense that everyone’s concerns would be addressed, if only there was enough time.
Bartz’s technique was reminiscent of the martial art known as aikido, in which a person defends himself against attack by stepping aside and allowing the attacker to direct his aggression toward a wall, or toward the ground.
Because Bartz knew in advance which topics her audience wanted her to address, she could avoid wasting time on irrelevant subjects. Because the list of questions was rather long, Bartz was able to answer only those questions she wanted to address.
It seems likely that this technique of allowing people to vent, and then examining the issues that have been raised, may be one of the skills that has allowed Bartz to remain at the helm of AutoDesk for the past thirteen years, a period of time she describes as “three or four CEO lifetimes.”
Teresa Esser is a contributing columnist for the Wisconsin Technology Network and author of the book, The Venture Café. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.