Autodesk takes big plunge

by: Vern Uyetake, 
Buzz Kross, senior vice president for Autodesk, examines one of the high tech screens that help make the company’s Lake Oswego showroom such an awesome exhibit. Below, Kross makes like Eric Clapton with a spectacular guitar developed by Autodesk.

When you tell Robert 'Buzz' Kross that you have not heard of his company Autodesk, he is not surprised or offended.

'I guess that's the way it is with a lot a people,' said Kross, senior vice president and director of the Autodesk Manufacturing Division. 'We're everywhere, but a lot of people haven't heard of us.'

In Lake Oswego, that situation is changing in a big way. The software giant recently opened its first customer briefing center and manufacturing headquarters, right on Meadows Road in one of the premier business locations in Oregon. For some very key reasons this is a business milestone event for this city.

n The city benefits from the prestige of hosting a $2 billion company that has connections with corporate giants across the globe.

n The customer briefing center will bring in travelers from all over the world, since more than two-thirds of Autodesk's customers are from Europe or Asian-Pacific nations.

n Two hundred jobs will be added to the Lake Oswego economy, which is pretty much a reason to do handsprings all by itself.

Allen Alley, deputy chief of staff for Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, attended Autodesk's special opening celebration on Jan. 10, and he noted, 'These jobs are the pinnacle of the kind of jobs we can create in this economy.'

But perhaps the biggest reason to cheer the coming of Autodesk to Lake Oswego is that it is a place of inspiration. The customer briefing center's showroom - with its spectacular guitars, high tech wheelchair and demolition robot - has that glossy but comfortable 'Tomorrow Land' feel to it. Only people don't even have to wait until tomorrow to encounter the future.

'Our intent is to inspire our customers,' Kross said. 'This is a place we can really do that. The whole center is about inspiration. It will be really good for our customers to come in and tell us what they like.'

A world leader in 2D and 3D design software for manufacturing, building and construction, and med-ia and entertainment markets, Auto-desk launched the customer briefing center as a way to in-spire designers and engineers. It is a place that stim-ulates creativity, increases collaboration and fosters greater innovation.

One of the results is the spectacular special effects seen in the 3D movie epic Beowulf, which can knock your proverbial socks off.

But just as impressive in its own way is Magicwheels, a special two-gear wheelchair that gives independence and new hope to people who have lost their capacity to walk.

'Customers show us their design problems and what they want to add, and we show them our plans,' Kross said. 'This creates a big shift in the way people design. It's a shift from the usual blueprints. It's digital prototyping.

'We have our customers build their prototype on a computer, then we build it for them.'

This can be a great big product, like an automobile. The Ford Auto Company is one of Autodesk's biggest customers. Or it can be a golf club. A customer can use the remarkable technical facilities of Autodesk to design a club that fits the peculiarities of his or her swing.

A tour of the customer briefing center reveals lots of technological goodies, like a state-of-the-art conference center.

'It cuts down airfare, and it also cuts down wear and tear on employees,' Kross said. 'Including myself.'

Yet while Autodesk has some technological features that seem to have come out of the movie 'Minority Report,' it is also a company down-home enough to allow employees to bring their dogs to work.

'This has always been a special company in that way,' Kross said. However, he added, 'My own dog wouldn't qualify to come here. He's not well-enough behaved.'

A special company indeed, and Lake Oswego has it. How did this come about?

'We looked at a bunch of places,' Kross said. 'We wanted a place where our customers could walk, have dinner or lunch or a good cup of coffee. We also wanted a property with contiguous space.

'Kruse Way is a premier location and certainly the property is more expensive. But having a premier location is good for customers.

'We decided we could locate either here or in downtown Portland. We thought our customers would have a better experience out here.'

As Kross sees it, the new center can only help Autodesk increase 'the really big growth' it has enjoyed in recent years. The company made nearly $600 million in revenues last year. There was a 30 percent revenue growth for Financial Year 2007, but that was not unusual for Autodesk.

Setting the stage for even greater growth is the fact that the company's manufacturing headquarters is located in the heart of sustainability country - a perfect spot to push its green initiatives.

'This will be great for designers who design green,' Kross said. 'What is the carbon footprint for our designs? This will help engineers make the right choices.'

In fact, the impact of the center in Lake Oswego is expected to be so great that Autodesk already has more customer briefing centers on the boards, including one in San Francisco and another on the East Coast, possibly in New Hampshire.

But for now, Kross, a resident of West Linn, plans to bask a little bit.

'This is probably the state-of-the-art facility on the West Coast, even though it's not too big,' he said. 'It's just sort of Oregon sized.'

To find out more about Autodesk, especially its sustainability projects, go to its Web site .