A Two-Part Q&A with Carl Bass – Part Two
From the desk of Justine Crosby, Brand Director
July 17, 2019
I recently sat down with ex-CEO, Bright Machines board member and all-around manufacturing enthusiast, Carl Bass, for a conversation about what makes Bright Machines unique, advice he has for students and his criteria for joining a board of directors. As a fellow skier, I couldn’t resist a question about this topic too!
Below is part two of a two-part series – read part one here.
Bright Machines isn’t quite a start-up, but we’re still a new company. What do you think our competitive advantages are?
There are three things that Bright Machines does really well. One, you have immense domain expertise from all the years being associated with Flex and the variety of products and projects these people worked on while they were there. They have huge industry know-how in a super competitive industry, which has led the team to hone best practices.
And then the second part is that Bright Machines has built a world-class software team. Being able to build that kind of team, I think that’s what’s going to distinguish you. Compare this to the incumbents, where you’re never going to be able to get this level of talent and expertise on the software side.
Finally, you have leaders who have been in other industries and who have revolutionized those industries by looking at them and saying, “this can be done completely differently.”
How do you see Bright Machines changing the industry?
I believe you will set the standard for the kind of cost savings and flexibility that manufacturers want; resetting people’s expectations about understanding what’s going on in the factory by having access, not only to the data, but the intelligence yielded from the data. Bright Machines has the opportunity to help manufacturers really understand what’s going on in their factories, including what can be improved.
You’re on the board of several companies, including Bright Machines. What is your rationale for joining a board?
My rational starts with me being interested in the company, its people, and its vision and if I believe it can make a real difference in the world. These days, I’m mostly spending my time with companies that are somehow at the intersection of software and the physical world. I’m involved with Bright Machines, Zoox, an autonomous vehicles company, Built Robotics, which makes self-driving heavy equipment, and Planet, which is putting small satellites in space and imaging the Earth every day. These are some of the companies I’m involved and interested in.
When you say, “make a difference,” do you mean make a difference in an industry, or in the world?
There are certainly people who can build good businesses out of many things. For me, being able to build a business because it’s a big opportunity is the given. What I’m looking for is something more than being able to just build a business. I’m looking for people and companies who have some kind of revolutionary or renegade idea. I want to hear, “we can do this completely differently.”
I’m much less interested, at this stage in my career, in kind of the incremental improvements, the marginal stuff where someone says, “yeah, we’re 2% better than we were last year.” It’s interesting, but it’s not that interesting to me.
What do you tell students who are interested in manufacturing?
I give them a big thumbs up. I think it’s great. And I have a philosophy that says not only should people be interested in manufacturing for manufacturing alone but tying together engineering with manufacturing is really important.
A huge part of the problem you’re solving here at Bright Machines comes about because we have an engineering education system that allows engineers to graduate without knowing how stuff is made, which I think is one of the most ridiculous things ever. You go into a factory, or a machine shop, and the people are pulling out their hair and thinking, “if the engineer just understood how this was cast, how this was machined, how a piece of metal is bent… and if they just changed this, it could be so much easier.”
So, it’s important for a coming together of the disciplines. Manufacturing is incredibly important, and as you look to the future, manufacturing is this really interesting combination of mechanical, electrical, and almost everything else that has some kind of computing that involves software. The future of manufacturing is these much more integrated products, where you can hardly distinguish a car from its hundreds of microprocessors. Have you looked at the complexity just in a sideview mirror these days? Or if you look at the autonomous vehicles which, by the way, don’t need sideview mirrors at all, you think it’s basically somewhere between a supercomputer and a small data center on wheels.
The future of designing and engineering things and how they get built is this real complex web of disciplines that’s going to be much more interesting and ultimately make for much better products.
Last question, 2019 was an epic year on the ski slopes! So, just how many ski days did you get in?
Way more than when I was CEO of Autodesk.
More about Carl Bass
Carl Bass was president and CEO of Autodesk from 2006-2017. He spent 24 years at Autodesk where he held a series of executive positions including chief technology officer and chief operations officer. Bass co-founded Ithaca Software, which was acquired by Autodesk in 1993. Bass serves on the boards of directors of Zendesk Inc., Formlabs, Built Robotics, Zoox, Planet Labs, Bright Machines and as Chairman of the Board of Velo3D Inc.; on the board of trustees of the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Art Center College of Design, and California College of the Arts; and on the advisory boards of Cornell Computing and Information Science, UC Berkeley School of Information, and UC Berkeley College of Engineering. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Cornell University. Carl spends his free time building things—from chairs and tables to boats, and most recently, an autonomous electric go-kart and some robots.
You can find Carl on Twitter: @carlbass