A day after calling Trump ‘somewhere between a dictator and a small business owner,’ the CEO of an $18 billion company steps down

Carl bass autodesk
Former Autodesk CEO Carl Bass Wikimedia Commons

On Monday, Carl Bass, the CEO of $18 billion Autodesk, gave an interview with Pando Daily’s Sarah Lacy where he described President Donald Trump as “acting
somewhere between a dictator and a small business owner.”
On Tuesday, Bass announced that he’s stepping down as Autodesk CEO, effective immediately.

He’ll stay on the Autodesk board and assist with the search for a new chief executive, with senior executives Amar Hanspal and Andrew Anagnost holding down the fort as interim co-CEOs.

Autodesk is best known as the company behind AutoCAD, the ubiquitous design software for the worlds of architecture, manufacture, and construction.

In a blog entry, Bass says he’s been discussing the possibility of this move “for the last couple of years.” Still, the timing of his departure is interesting, given the explicit nature of his criticisms of Trump.

“I’ve known Bass for a while, and I am used to his outspoken nature. But even I couldn’t’t believe he said some of this on the record,” Lacy wrote in preface to her interview that was published on Monday.

Tech companies like Google and Netflix have spoken out against Trump’s policies, particularly the recent order temporarily suspending immigration from predominantly muslim countries. But those comments have focused on Trump’s policies, whereas Bass’s comments were aimed directly at the President’s character.

“We are talking about a guy who likes belittling people. He really is a bully. Look, everyone I talk to, the tech guys, who went to that first meeting, well, you saw what they looked like. They didn’t want to be there,” Bass told Lacy.

It’s possible that Bass felt more free to express his opinion knowing that he was about to step down from the CEO job.

An Autodesk spokesperson told Business Insider that Bass and the board had a pre-existing succession plan that dates back 18 months.

Asked whether Autodesk had ever previously publicly announced or mentioned to shareholders the long-running plan for Bass to step down, the spokesperson replied: “No, we did not communicate the succession plans by Carl and the board externally.”

“These discussions were put on hold last year when the Board decided the Company would benefit from the stability of Carl remaining in his role as Autodesk navigated negotiations with activist shareholders and continued its SaaS business model transition,” the spokesperson said.

“With our subscription and cloud business well underway and having settled with the activists, Carl and the board have determined that now is the right time for Carl to step aside and let someone else guide the company into its next phase.”

Shares in Autodesk were up 2% at the time of market close.

What’s next

Bass has been with Autodesk for some while: He first joined the company in 1993, after it bought his startup Ithaca Software, and stayed through 1999 when he left to lead a new company called Buzzsaw. Autodesk bought Buzzsaw in 2001, and since rose to several high-ranking executive positions before becoming CEO in 2006.

Now, he writes that he has some plans in the works, but won’t be ready to share them for some months.

“I am not leaving to spend more time with my family — that presumes my family wants to spend more time with me. I will, however, be spending more time in my shop with my robots,” Bass writes.

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