Netezza Chief Talks About “Formative” PTC Days, IBM Deal History, and the Future of Big Data

3/8/11Follow @gthuang

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an amazing culture, an amazing group of people—amazingly smart, talented, young entrepreneurial people who really knew how to get things done, with tremendous leadership.

I say that because it was very formative for me. That was my MBA. I don’t have a formal MBA—I earned it at PTC. And I learned it in a variety of roles. I started out as a field-based engineer working with customers on the application of the technology. If you remember the original Motorola flip phone, the big square thing that flipped open, we did that. That was one of my clients, we were working on the program for developing that thing. There were some funny stories about it. The reason it looked the way it looked was not because the industrial designers wanted it to look like a brick, it was because that was the capability of the [design] software at the time. Obviously the [computer-aided design] technology has come a long way.

In most tech startup companies, and PTC was no exception, the founder is the product manager. And he’s also sometimes the CEO, and the VP of sales, and everything. At PTC, Sam was the technologist and the product visionary. Therefore he very closely controlled the product. Not long after I started, we had released a new product, and it was terrible. Sam was somewhat intimidating to most people—he was a tough guy, very smart. (We just had a retirement party for [former PTC chief executive] Dick Harrison, and we took a poll in the room of 40 people, “How many of you have been fired by Sam Geisberg?” Like 80 percent of the room raised their hands. He’d get mad at you, call you an idiot, he’d fire you, and then he’d go away. But you’d come in the next day, and you’d walk down the hall, you’d see Sam and you’d say good morning, he’d say good morning, and you figured everything was OK, so you just kept going.) One day he asked me to become a product manager. The company’s first product manager. It was an interesting and lucky opportunity.

X: What did you learn in that job, specifically?

JB: I think product management is the best job in the company, because you get to see everything. You get to steer the direction of the product, analyze and understand the market, fit the product to the market. You’re close to engineering, close to sales, close to marketing. It’s a wonderful place to learn how a company works, how a market works, how a technology works. I did that for quite a while, and that job of initial product manager turned into the job of managing all of product management for the company.

I went on to other roles, I managed marketing, managed engineering, was a general manager for a while. For the last couple years I was the general manager and executive vice president of the Windchill program—it was all about enterprise information management for product development companies. We were instantiating a vision around a complete suite of data management and applications around that infrastructure to deal with every aspect of product development. We built that business based on an acquisition of a competitor in 1998, Computervision. It was an enterprise software role. I did that for two or three years. Then I left and went to [e-commerce search startup] Endeca.

X: So the dot-coms were calling you…

JB: It’s killing me. This is the year 2000. The bubble’s about to burst. We’re feeling like we’re standing outside this window with our noses pressed to the glass, there’s this great party going on inside, and we’re not invited. Here we are, a billion-dollar revenue company, and Furniture.com has a higher market cap than we do with 18 customers and a trick duck. It made no sense whatsoever. … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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