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Synopsys' de Geus opens up on sharing CEO position

Posted: 25 May 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:EDA? IP vendor? Aart de Geus?

Does the fact that Aart de Geus suddenly has company at the top of Synopsys' org chart after nearly 20 years alone at the helm indicate he's laying the groundwork for his retirement?

"It's a legitimate question," de Geus acknowledged in an interview following Synopsys' fiscal second quarter report and the bombshell announcement that longtime chief operating officer Chi-Foo Chan was promoted to co-CEO. "But the answer is just the opposite."

Instead, de Geus said, the structural change?prompted at least in part by the growth of Synopsys in terms of size, product lines and markets served?was a re-configuration intended to help nurture the next phase of growth for Synopsys, which he said was like "a $1.75 billion startup."

De Geus also insisted that sharing the proverbial corner office with Chan would not be much of a change from the way things have been at Synopsys for years. "It's not a structure that many companies adopt," he said. "For us, it's not a big change because Chi-Foo and I have been working hand and glove for over a decade."

The official line at Synopsys is that the promotion was an acknowledgment of Chan's work and leadership after more than 20 years as an executive at the firm, including 13 years as president and chief operating officer. Cynics will see it as de Geus paving the way to ride off into the sunset, or as a signal that Chan got a job offer he wasn't prepared to pass up without a little more juice.

While not exactly what you would call trendy, more firms have in recent years seen fit to split the CEO role among two people. High-profile examples in the electronics world in recent years have included Motorola Inc., which eventually split into two companies, one for each CEO (one of which is now looking for work), and Research in Motion Inc., which eventually showed both co-CEOs the door and handed the reins to its COO, Thorsten Heins.

That two firms attempting to navigate the undulations of the handset and tablet markets in recent years might believe the more the merrier in the CEO chair is one thing (though some may joke that this explained their sometimes schizophrenic behavior). But it seems a curious experiment in EDA, a cottage industry in many ways with its three $1 billion+ companies and dozens of smaller ones. It seems even more curious that within EDA, the CEO with the most tenure and success is the one that offered to job share.

Aart de Geus

de Geus: For us, it's not a big change because Chi-Foo and I have been working hand and glove for over a decade.

It should be noted that German enterprise software vendor SAP AG has had co-CEOs for the past couple of years and that that seems to be working out just fine by all accounts. Even so, the term co-CEO seems like an oxymoron in a business culture where the buck has to stop with someone. What happens when, at a critical juncture for a business, the co-CEOs are at loggerheads over the path forward?

"The whole point is to make that happen," de Geus said. "It is very important to seek out contrarian opinions."

De Geus said that he has found over and over again that when he and Chan don't see eye-to-eye on an important point, the ensuing discussion�while sometimes intense�is ultimately constructive and for the better of Synopsys. There is no question that those who solicit and entertain opposing opinions are ultimately the wiser. And if there is any executive wise and confident enough to make such a bold and unconventional move if he believed it to be for the benefit of his company, it's de Geus.

There is also no disputing that Chan has paid his dues. Several have speculated that he would ultimately end up driving the Synopsys bus, but very few could have imagined it would be with de Geus riding shotgun.

- Dylan McGrath
??EE Times

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