Adobe CEO Chizen has company on track, exceeding expectations

In a four-part exclusive interview with Bruce Chizen, Adobe Systems CEO and president, in May 2001, we reported on his five-year goal in an article titled ‘Adobe CEO Chizen hopes to build Acrobat PDF legacy.’ At the time he said:

"In five years, I hope people can look back and base my legacy on what we were able to do with Acrobat."

Bruce Chizen, CEO, Adobe

The respected Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania offers a status report of sorts on Chizen and Adobe’s efforts to date in a feature interview titled ‘Getting Reorganization Right: How Bruce Chizen Drove Change and Innovation at Adobe Systems
.’ (The full-text of the article featured in the April 7-20, 2004 issue of ‘Knowledge@Wharton,’ the school’s bi-weekly online resource offering timely business insights, information and research is only available for two weeks. It’s thereafter archived for subscribers.)

In noting that ‘brilliant technology does not necessarily create a successful business,’ the Wharton article reviews Chizen’s key role in helping Adobe pull out of a troubling period that resulted in a major corporate overhaul in August 1998. Chizen ‘led a drastic restructuring of Adobe’s business, including instituting several rounds of layoffs and defending the company from a hostile takeover attempt by rival Quark,’ and in 2000 became the company’s CEO and president, following in the large footsteps of industry pioneers And Adobe co-founders John Warnock and Charles Geschke. Years later Chizen is facing another corporate makeover, Wharton explains:

‘Now Chizen is hoping to remake Adobe again — betting that by combining the core electronic document capabilities of its Acrobat products with a new collection of server-based products, Adobe Systems can become a major supplier of application solutions to enterprise businesses.’

One particularly interesting exchange in the Q&A explores the notion of Open Source software versus Adobe’s approach to Acrobat and PDF:

Knowledge@Wharton: ‘You’ve documented a number of your key architectures: PostScript, PDF, and — albeit somewhat reluctantly — the Type-1 font format. But these are not open source initiatives, nor are they ‘official’ standards controlled by standards bodies like the Worldwide Web Consortium. Although Adobe documents these formats, you, alone, still control them. Have you found a profitable middle ground between proprietary architectures and open source?’

Chizen: ‘With PostScript and PDF we found that publishing the specifications, making them open — but not open standards, but not providing open source — is the right path for us. Once something becomes a standard driven by a standards body, it moves at a glacial pace. And innovation slows down significantly, because you have to get everybody to agree, and there’s lots of compromise. If you make it totally open source, you don’t get a return on investment.

We believe that by opening up the specification, we allow other people to take advantage of it. But because we still own the source, we get to innovate around that standard more quickly than anybody else. We have found that to be a great balance. PDF is the best example of that. We work on Acrobat, we work on PDF, we announce the product, we ship it, we open up the specification. We’re already working on a whole series of applications, and we’re already working on the next version of PDF. It seems to work. Customers are willing to pay a price, and even a premium, if they believe what they’re buying is innovative and reliable.’

Chizen concludes by offering Wharton an updated five-year outlook, one that dovetails nicely with the Acrobat/PDF-empowered outlook he provided us in mid-2001:

"(Five years from now) … we will be the enterprise software company, providing document services to bridge that document-to-backend workflow. The opportunity is so big. It’s unique and exciting."

Bruce Chizen, CEO, Adobe

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