Huw Roberts: the New CEO of GRAPHISOFT
Roopinder Tara posted on April 24, 2019 | speaks o Huw Roberts, the newly appointed CEO of GRAPHISOFT.

Huw Roberts was recently appointed CEO of Graphisoft. Roberts is best known in the CAD industry for his time at Bentley Systems, where he served almost 18 years at the company’s Exton, Pennsylvania headquarters. His last position at Bentley was VP of Marketing, which ended in November of 2015. He spent some time being his own independent chief marketing officer, then a year as chief marketing officer for BlueCielo (once known as Cyco), which was acquired by Accruent, before finally landing the CEO position at Graphisoft.

It is blue! We imagine this as the view from Huw’s new office, overlooking the Danube in Budapest, Hungary, HQ of Graphisoft. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)
It is blue! We imagine this as the view from Huw’s new office, overlooking the Danube in Budapest, Hungary, HQ of Graphisoft. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

The effusive and engaging Roberts started his career with a degree in architecture and spent 10 years designing buildings, racking up a solid base of real-world experience that would eventually lead him to a top spot in an AEC software company. It was a long time coming. CAD insiders had bet on Roberts from knowing him at Bentley. His championing of Bentley, the company, products and philosophy, were tireless and convincing. His brain seemed to hold every detail of Bentley’s vast portfolio and why it was perfect for the world’s infrastructure. He was a Bentley man in all ways—except for one. Bentley Systems is family-owned and operated and Bentley blood did not flow in Roberts’ veins.

Roberts has plunged into his new role as CEO, one that can’t’ help but pitch him against his old company. We have to know how he’s going to handle it, so we catch up with Roberts on a phone call.

When asked if he’ll be moving to Budapest, Roberts responds, “I’m already there. I have an apartment here. My wife is joining me after she finishes the school year.”

Roberts spent most of his career in the Delaware Valley, as the Philadelphia metropolitan area is known. It’s not too bad commuting along the Danube looking at a castle, a palace and church steeples instead of the Schuylkill,” he adds, referring to Philadelphia’s notorious jam-packed expressway, the subject of every traffic report.

He is also learning Hungarian with a private tutor, though English is widely spoken in business circles.

Viktor Várkonyi, who served as CEO since early 2009, had been with Graphisoft for almost 27 years, after getting a degree in electrical engineering, of all things.

“Viktor is now taking on a leadership role at our parent company, the Nemetschek group. He will be leading a newly-formed planning and design division, which is focused on the customer needs in the design phase of the building or project lifecycle, and brings together all our brands, including Graphisoft,” says Roberts.

Parent company Nemetschek has a growing family of products. Recently added was the well-known cloud-based BIM developer BlueBeam. The group also has BIM products that would seem to compete with Graphisoft, namely Vectorworks and Allplan. This raises an interesting question: how will Roberts handle the internal competition?

Before answering this question, Roberts proceeded to differentiate between products that focus on supporting the design process for architecture, engineering and construction (AEC)—such as Allplan, Graphisoft’s ARCHICAD and Vectorworks—and those that help tie them together or aid the overall workflow, such as Solibri, Maxon and dRofas.

“We still have separate products and separate companies, but now we are saying, ‘Hey, we should be able to leverage the strength of the products’ workflows. We're all in the same family. Let's work together at a higher level, and look at the customer workflows and needs that span these product lines, and let’s develop some synergies amongst our products and in how we go to market and how we serve those customers,’” Roberts explains.

Sure, a push toward synergy, but there must be at least some friendly competition between the product lines. For example, who’s going to win in 2019, Vectorworks or ARCHICAD?

“Well, I guess there is some competition, but really the customer profile will prevail,” Roberts answers, adding that whether a customer uses Vectorworks, Allplan or ARCHICAD is about fitting the product to the customer. “Vectorworks is very focused on workflows for drawing and presentation and has some fantastic capabilities for that. Allplan is really much more focused on an infrastructure and engineering workflow and style of design. And ARCHICAD is really well-aligned with the architectural [workflow], as the inventors of BIM and leading the BIM charge—really the integration of 3D data, drawings, presentation, and visualization for architects.”

The U.S. market for BIM is dominated by Autodesk, with its AutoCAD and Revit platforms, which Roberts acknowledges. But Graphisoft is strong in the U.S., too, he insists. Europe is clearly their strength. Japan, too.

“The U.S. is home turf for Autodesk, and the marketing, lobbying, sales activities and everything is very much heavily weighted there. We have the advantage in countries like Germany, Austria, other parts of Europe and Japan. We consistently win and are significantly more successful there. We know why. Our customers see in ARCHICAD what they don't see in other products. We understand how to fit into their workflows. We understand how our relationship with them is different and more appreciated by the customers,” Roberts says.

“We're going to bring some of that into the U.S. market and apply those lessons there,” he adds. “In the U.S., there are an awful lot of architects who have gone through the cycle with another choice,” Roberts says, carefully not to mention Autodesk or Bentley. “They aren't really getting what they thought they wanted and are coming to us.”

AutoCAD, with its millions of users, continues to be in wide use among architects. Autodesk has been successful in converting its AutoCAD user to its BIM product, Revit. AutoCAD users are absolutely a target for the company, according to Roberts.

The new CEO believes that Graphisoft can offer AEC users a number of advantages related to how they work, what work they can deliver, and the efficiency and productivity they can accomplish, as well as the relationship they have with their clients. What those advantages will be, of course, different on a case-by-case basis.

“There are some people still using an old 2D AutoCAD workflow that may have a fine relationship with their customers and may be used for creating perfectly good buildings, but they're incredibly inefficient and they're just burning up time to get that done. So, there it's a productivity issue,” Roberts says. “There are other people who are maybe even using Revit or another BIM solution and they're being relatively efficient, but they're really locked in on their design flexibility and they're not able to really explore the designs that they want, or share those designs in compelling ways with their customers.”

Graphisoft will then approach those users with that information in mind, determining what a potential customer’s needs are and where they might be missing something with their current solution. To provide something that will meet those needs will necessarily involve advancing the company’s own products. So, we ask Roberts about his plans for ARCHICAD.

Naturally, Roberts couldn’t speak to all of the specifics in the pipeline, but he did discuss his approach to taking the reins of the company and how he sees the direction of ARCHICAD moving forward.

“One of the things that really attracted me to Graphisoft in the first place is the passion and the loyalty of the ARCHICAD user base. As an outsider, it was a little bit of a mystery to me. I was pleasantly surprised by how well-run the company is and how solid the software is. That passion and that loyalty of the user base is basically because the company really knows how to make software and really knows how to service its customers. So, I think that is a great platform for this company to grow from. We’ve solved the hard part,” Roberts explained. “Now, it will be about improving on marketing and improving some of our go-to-market strategies, partnering with other companies, leveraging innovations in technology. That can’t be done if you don't have a great backbone and platform to work from.”

Roberts ended the interview by dropping a hint: “We’ve got some really interesting things coming. Join us at some of our upcoming events and find out.”

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