Adobe CEO Chizen hopes to build Acrobat PDF legacy

With his first-hand knowledge of, accomplishments within and personal
experience across much of the company, Bruce Chizen had positioned
himself as something of a shoe-in to lead Adobe Systems following the
successive retirements of its co-founders.

In March, he stepped up to his new lone President and CEO role – and into a couple very
large pairs of shoes, following in the twin tracks of Silicon Valley legends John Warnock and Charles Geschke.

Bruce ChizenIn a recent interview with Planet PDF, Chizen acknowledged the challenge
inherent in succeeding two publishing industry pioneers. ‘John and Chuck were unique individuals,’ he says. ‘It’s not my intent to try to fill those shoes by myself.’ Chizen said he plans to ‘tap into all the talented people at Adobe’ to help fill at least one pair.

Noting that his potential success hinges to a considerable degree on his ability to nurture and expand on the success of Adobe Acrobat and PDF, Chizen aspires to leave his own mark — utilizing his strengths and beliefs in a marketing-based management style — on Adobe Systems.

It’s an organization and staff he knows well, having joined the company’s consumer division in 1994 — closely following the merger with Aldus Corporation — and gradually worked his way to and through a variety of key management positions. After a stint as the head of all graphics products, Chizen became head of all product marketing and engineering. He played an important role in helping to guide Adobe through a turbulent financial period, one that culminated with a hostile — and eventually failed — takeover bid by chief rival Quark, Inc. In early 2000, he ascended to president when Geschke retired; his climb was complete when Warnock decided in March 2001 that time had come to pass the torch.

‘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 Systems Incorporated

Chizen’s arrival at Adobe was preceded by interludes at Mattel (‘first wave of video games’), Microsoft (‘pre- and post-IPO days’), Apple (led its Claris software division) and — briefly — Aldus Corporation. It also closely followed Adobe’s late-1993 launch of a new cross-platform software product called Acrobat.

Not unlike Chizen, Acrobat has slowly moved its way toward the forefront at Adobe. Judging by comments he and his management team made recently during Adobe’s Q1 2001 financial analysts meeting, both the software and the new CEO are in — as well as under — the spotlight. In fact, Chizen has hitched much of the company’s future growth on the rising Acrobat/PDF star.

‘In five years,’ he told Planet PDF, ‘I hope people can look back and base my legacy on what we were able to do with Acrobat,’ adding that it represents Adobe’s ‘next level of success.’

As the end of 2000 grew near, analysts pondering the company’s most recent level of success wondered if Adobe would be able to continue its hot streak — two years of record-setting earnings reports — in the face of a worsening economy and technology sector. With cautious optimism, Chizen predicted Adobe would be able to maintain its previous forecast of at least 25 percent growth in the first quarter and the 2001 fiscal year. A then-pending major upgrade of Acrobat was partially responsible for his confidence.

‘Acrobat will be our fastest-growing product [in 2001],’ Chizen said. Even in the event of ecomomic uncertainty, Adobe reasoned, companies were not likely to defer purchases of software products like Acrobat that actually enhanced productivity and reduced costs.

Even dubious analsyts seemed willing to suspend their disbelief [that Adobe might be less impacted by a troubled economy] given the seemingly inexplicable, steady growth rate of the two-year-old Acrobat 4.0 version during previous quarters.

AdobeAdobe’s record-setting, fourth-quarter 2000 revenue growth was largely driven by sales of Acrobat and Photoshop. Citing the 60% year-over-year sales of Acrobat (ePaper Solutions) — in spite of the product having been on the market 20 months — an analyst at U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray said: ‘The growth of Photoshop was expected, but the continued strength of Acrobat defies software logic.’ Typical software lifespan is about nine months, he said.

Another added: ‘Despite the weak print market and the dotcom blowout, the 18-year-old company has defied gravity, in part because it has pushed itself from its dependence on the print market to include growing revenue from Web publishing.’

However, the forces of financial gravity did eventually prevail early in 2001.

‘At this point in the quarter with one month to go, we can see that the deteriorating economy, particularly in the U.S., is starting to affect us,’ Chizen said in a written statement. But he added there was no evidence of a pullback by corporate customers who use Acrobat to streamline their publishing activities.

At the Seybold Boston 2001 Conference in April, Adobe announced during the special PDF Day programs that Acrobat 5.0 was shipping. In his keynote address at the conference, Chizen addressed the company’s lowered, second-quarter revenue growth forecast of 15 percent and the uncertainty beyond.

‘It’s still early in the quarter to make long-term predictions,’ he said. ‘Obviously, acceptance of Acrobat (5.0) will play a big part in terms of how high the company’s growth will be.’

As much as anything else, the Seybold Boston 2001 conference in early April turned out to be a major showcase event for Adobe Systems — on several levels.

There was significant industry buzz resulting from the company’s well-timed announcement on the first of two ‘PDF Day’ special programs that its recently announced Acrobat 5.0 software had begun shipping. Adobe spokesfolks staffed several panel sessions during the two day-long, PDF-oriented programs, regaling the audience of likely buyers and opinion makers with new feature highlights.

As it had done a year earlier in a magnanimous farewell to Adobe co-founder Charles Geschke a year earlier, Seybold organizers arranged a similar accolade-filled sendoff for retiring CEO John Warnock, a frequent conference speaker.

Network Publishing

In a move that helped to symbolize the transfer of power and responsibility, Bruce Chizen then stepped to the microphone — first to add his own words of praise and appreciation to the Warnock ceremony, then to share his vision for the PostScript- and desktop-publishing-built company.

Chizen used his opportunity to demonstrate that Adobe was now poised to move from its traditional, maturing base to a position of leadership in the new world of instant, global communication — a ‘third wave’ of publishing that allowed users to be connected electronically and ‘publishers’ able to distribute digitized, visually rich content to a wide-range of devices using an efficient, ‘handle-once’ workflow. In Adobe’s own catchphrase: ‘Anytime, Anywhere, on Any Device.’

To illustrate the company’s new ‘Network Publishing’ mantra, philosophy and focus, Chizen and Shantanu Narayen, Adobe’s VP of Worldwide Product Marketing, demonstrated wireless printing from a hand-held PDA.

While Adobe sees its current and future products all playing a role in this multi-purposed content environment, Acrobat is clearly at the core of the company’s new vision and marketing theme.

Network Publishing

Network Publishing Example: Multi-Purposed Content

With long-time cash-cow products like Photoshop nearly maxed out on market share, so dominant that further growth prospects are marginal, Adobe has been looking for a new star to guide it into this new era in Internet-based publishing. Enter Acrobat and the portable document format, described by Chizen in the company’s Q1 2001 meeting with analysts as ‘all about increased efficiency and improved workflow.’

‘The growth potential is significant,’ he says, adding that Adobe’s ePaper strategy calls for aggressively expanding [Acrobat] into new markets.’

A review of the new and enhanced features of Acrobat 5.0 — MS Office integration, PDF Forms, collaboration, annotation, digital signatures, increased security, text extraction, reflowed text, etc — underscores that corporate uses and users are high on the target list.

Not surprisingly, the heavily Windows PC-based business community fits Adobe’s Acrobat sales profile — while across its entire product line Windows products account for 65 percent of sales, for the ‘cross-platform’ Acrobat alone the sales split is closer to 90 percent Windows, Chizen says.

Chizen cites the use of forms as a critical part of every business, and it follows that Adobe hopes to convert many of those core applications to Acrobat 5.0-based PDF Forms. Adobe appeared to send a mixed signal on its commitment to forms users when it quietly discontinued sales of its Acrobat Business Tools product with the launch of Acrobat 5.0. As the free Adobe Acrobat Reader does not allow a user to save a completed, PDF-based form to a local drive — a frequent request — many had adopted Business Tools as the missing link between the free PDF viewer and the full commercial Adobe Acrobat product. While it had only a portion of the full product’s functionality, it did allow form-entered data to be saved with the form.

Adobe responded to disgruntled users, some who already had Business Tools-dependent projects, by temporarily making the product available for purchase again. However, the long-term plan still calls for it to be phased out this year.

‘It was the wrong product for most of our customers,’ Chizen says, pointing to belated internal research that revealed what the majority actually said they wanted was a way to ‘get the full version at an attractive price.’ Adobe has responded, he says, with a new ‘aggressive site licensing’ plan for Acrobat.

Acrobat Fillin

Those who really only wanted a tool for saving PDF Forms data may also soon get their wish, Chizen says.

‘In the future we’ll have a specific product for that market,’ he says. It will be similar to a product that was developed for use by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) — a scaled-down Acrobat Fill-in’ tool. Release date: ‘Possibly as early as this summer,’ Chizen says.

Without providing any details, Chizen hinted at a few other things to expect in future releases of Acrobat, such as adding more multimedia capabilities — allowing PDF to accommodate all kinds of media types. In keeping with the ‘anytime, anywhere’ Network Publishing theme, he says Adobe will strive to ‘make Acrobat Reader as pervasive as possible.’ Adobe has already launched a public beta of a Reader for the Palm OS and has established a partnership with the likes of mobile phone leader Nokia.

One area of lingering confusion for some people is the distinction between the free Acrobat Reader and the commercial Adobe Acrobat software. Adobe added to that situation recently with its release of an Adobe eBook Reader, an outgrowth of its acquisition of Glassbook last year that is intended for reading and buying specially prepared (secured), PDF-based eBooks. Chizen says a future release of Acrobat Reader will resolve any uncertainty about which Adobe viewer to use for which type of product.

‘There will be one (Adobe) Reader,’ he says, a single product with two different interfaces under the hood. ‘The publisher will be able to decide which version gets launched with a particular PDF file.’

In this fledgling eBooks industry Adobe and PDF are competing with no lesser foe than Microsoft and its own .LIT ebook format. Chizen believes PDF will prevail as the preferred format for digital books. ‘Microsoft has shown they don’t understand publishing,’ he says.

‘It’s hard to argue objectively why PDF is not the right format,’ Chizen says. ‘Publishers get it — they prefer to have a single standard format.’

At the same time, he’s quick to make another important distinction.

‘Adobe has a much broader vision,’ Chizen says. An ebook is more than words and trade novels on an LCD display. At least for the near term, Adobe’s focus will be on ‘econtent’ rather than eBooks, with a particular emphasis on textbooks and other educational materials. Adobe recently launched an eBooks university project with several leading institutions of higher education.

As Chizen strides forward, leading Adobe into the mobile, multimedia future, it’s clear he views the company’s print-oriented history as something of value, not a burden of its pre-Internet days. The bottom-line — and clearly Chizen is someone who’ll be watching that — is that it’s all still about publishing, about communication.

That’s something Adobe prides itself in knowing something about.

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About the Author: Kurt Foss

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