It was a well-kept secret, revealed with impeccable timing. In the first week of the new year, SolidWorks announced that Jeff Ray, who has been the company’s face and voice since he took over as CEO in July 2007, is stepping aside for a new man, Bertrand Sicot.
The change is immediate. Yesterday, just as the announcement went online, Sicot published a blog post greeting readers as the new chief. Today, on SolidWorks’ corporate info page online, Sicot’s photo and bio have been shifted up and relabeled as CEO.
Bertrand Sicot, New Chief of SolidWorks
The plan to appoint him CEO was revealed to him “yesterday,” said Sicot, adding “but I was planning to become SolidWorks CEO since I was ten,” That’s characteristic French humor, a lighthearted attitude with which they’re known to approach life, love, and work.
Sicot is not an outsider. He joined SolidWorks in 1997. Until yesterday, he was executive VP of global sales for SolidWorks, a position he took in 2007, the year his predecessor Ray became CEO. He holds an engineering degree from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Arts et Métiers, Paris, France. His first engineering project, undertaken at age 13, was a remote-control boat he built.
Soon after college, Sicot served as a French naval officer on-board a mine hunter stationed near Iran, considered war zone at the time, as he recalled. “The human relationships you had when you’re 25, serving for 18 months on that kind of ship — you’re building yourself with that kind of experience. That is definitely something I will always remember,” he said.
In his debut blog post as CEO, Sicot wrote, “Online delivery mechanisms mean that we can provide our products and services in new ways, and give customers the power to work how they want, where they want. In effect, we’ll have three platforms — desktop, mobile, and online.”
Sicot explained, “If you’re thinking about the entire process [of engineering], CAD is only one piece. Accessing the CAD data before, after, at the beginning of the process, or later on in the process is something everyone wants to do … Clearly the world is changing, so we need to make sure that users, when they need applications, whatever the device they choose, they can access the data they’re looking for.”
His personal feelings, Sicot revealed, is in alignment with the sustainable design movement. “I’m a big believer that we cannot continue to produce products without thinking about these products’ impact on the environment,” he said. He takes his cues from his own kids as well. “They don’t like my big car,” he said. “They told me, Dad, your car is too big!” The next generation, he deduced, would prefer restraint and efficiency in design over showiness and muscle.
Jeff Ray Joins Dassault Systemes Executive Committee
Outgoing CEO Ray now has a new role at SolidWorks’ parent company Dassault Systemes (DS), as executive VP of Geographic Operations. The post makes Ray a member of the DS executive committee. His promotion and Sicot’s appointment, explained Ray, are the results of “a series of discussions that have been going on for some time in Vélizy [DS' headquarter].”
Ray is brushing up his French and getting ready to move to Paris. “I feel that, to do this job properly, at least for the next 12 months, I need to be there with the people who have the most say in the transformation … a year from now, if I feel we’re executing at the level I expect us to, I will move back to Boston, and I will take up residency in our new office in Waltham.”
In the middle of this year, SolidWorks plans to relocate its headquarter to a 320,000 sq. ft. complex on Wynman Street in Waltham, Massachusetts, also the site of the new DS North America headquarter.
As he prepares to leave, Ray reminisced, “The thing I will miss the most is just hanging out with customers. It is so much fun to visit them and sit down and see what they do .. the incredible things they create, the ways they make life better for people.”
The next SolidWorks World customer conference, scheduled to be held in San Antonio, Texas, later this month, will be the last event where Ray appears on stage as a SolidWorks executive. But parent company DS’ growing involvement in SolidWorks’ operations suggests Ray may return from time to time to make cameo appearances.
For more, listen to my conversation with the SolidWorks CEO Bertrand Sicot and his predecessor Jeff Ray below: