Leadership Transition At National Instruments

Leadership Transition At National Instruments

Dr T

James Truchard, “Dr. T”, co-founder and CEO of National Instruments has announced his retirement effective January 1, 2017. This is no surprise. The company has transitioned from a small, hungry, engineering-driven company to a large corporation during the past 5–7 years. It appeared during NI Week 2015 that a transition was imminent. Also no surprise is his replacement, and the person I perceive as the architect of the new NI, Alex Davern, who has been COO/CFO.

Alex Davern NIDr. Truchard will remain as Chairman of the Board. The Board of Directors plans to appoint Mr. Davern to the Board by the end of January 2017. This transition is being undertaken as part of the Board’s succession planning process.

“It has always been my goal for NI to be a company built to last,” said Truchard. “Over the last decade, in the face of a weak industrial economy I have focused my efforts on helping to ensure that we were making the long-term strategic investments necessary to set NI up for future growth. I believe these major platform investments, in key areas like PXI modular instrumentation, RF measurements, CompactRIO, and our entire software platform, will continue providing NI with disruptive platform capabilities needed to expand our long-term market opportunity. Given our significant progress, much of which was showcased at NIWeek earlier this month, I believe NI is well-positioned for the coming decade.”

Truchard continues, “It is the right time for me to retire as CEO. I have worked with Alex Davern for more than 20 years. He is an exceptional leader and business strategist, with a demonstrated track record of success. I have complete confidence in Alex and the rest of the senior leadership team at NI to continue delivering on our consistent track record of innovation, growth and profitability.”

“As a company built to last, Dr. Truchard has built an extremely capable senior leadership team over the years, and I am honored and excited to lead NI into its next phase of growth and profitability,” said Davern. “Our differentiated platform and ecosystem coupled with our strong business model, give us the opportunity to be the preeminent company in test, measurement and control.” Davern has served as Chief Operating Officer of NI since 2010, and Chief Financial Officer since 1997. Davern, and the rest of the senior management team, including Jeff Kodosky, co-founder, Fellow, and Board member of NI; Eric Starkloff, Executive VP of Global Sales and Marketing; Scott Rust, Senior VP of R&D; and Duncan Hudson, Chief Platform Officer, have over 100 years of experience at NI, working closely with Dr. Truchard.

“Countless entrepreneurs have great ideas and start companies, but very few have accomplished what Jim has – from moonlighting out of our garage and kitchen in 1976, to self-funding the business, to a successful IPO in 1995, to the $1B+ revenue company we are today with over 7,000 employees around the globe,” said Jeff Kodosky, NI co-founder, Fellow and Board member. “But more than just financial success for the company, what truly stands out is the impact that Jim and NI have had on engineering and science over these last four decades. The innovation he has enabled across so many industries inspires me to this day. I look forward to his ongoing contributions as Chairman.”

In light of Mr. Davern’s promotion, the company will start the process of considering candidates to serve as Chief Financial Officer and expects to complete the process by the end of 2016.

I had the pleasure of chatting with Dr. T a little every year at NI Week. He impressed me with his immense curiosity and humbleness. He’s a fantastic leader. I feel a sense of loss at the way NI used to be, but it is positioned to survive long term as an engineering leader. I missed this year’s NI Week. Judging from the announcements, the company’s direction and mine have diverged. But it is still a company to watch.

And all the best to Dr. T in his retirement.

Internet of Things Center Stage at NI Week

Internet of Things Center Stage at NI Week

A large gathering, hinted at around 6,000, crowded the ballrooms to hear the first two days of keynotes. This is always an eclectic gathering of engineers and scientists and academics from a variety of industries, specialties, and interests. Contrary to the emphasis of many trade journal pieces you read about age and gender of engineers, there was an amazing number of females in attendance. They were engineers and scientists, not PR and admins. The age range of attendees was gratifying. And the geographical diversity was apparent–although they were all introduced to Texas food.

The keystone of the first day’s general session is always Dr. T’s talk (James Truchard, president, CEO and co-founder). He didn’t sound as evangelical about virtual instruments and the like this year, but he introduced an interesting idea about timing (in programming). Later I heard a talk on cellular data communications where the speaker noted that the issue was becoming less bandwidth and more about 1 msec response. Timing issue. Interesting.

NI Week (this is my 17th) is always a great conference filled with much energy, passionate (for engineers) hallway conversations about technologies and applications and sessions full of curious attendees. And, Texas BBQ.

IoT, Cyber-physical Systems, Bid Analog Data

The foundation idea of The Manufacturing Connection is the idea of a connected manufacturing enterprise. Note the latest posts about the Internet of Things and its application to manufacturing. So imagine my delight about the conference theme of (Industrial) Internet of Things, Cyber-Physical Systems and Big (Analog) Data.

I have been trying to get my mind around integrating the ideas from Industry 4.0 in Germany, the US Smart Manufacturing Coalition, and now what NI is talking about–especially relating to cyber-physical systems.

Unlike what I’m hearing from Germany, NI’s emphasis this year on cyber-physical systems involved the relationship of physical devices, computation and communication. Wireless as the foundation communication platform was evident everywhere. (I noted that the ballroom where the keynotes were held was ringed by WiFi access points. Thank you very much, NI.) Most of the talk was cellular, especially what will define 5G systems. One major NI interest is improving speed and lowering cost of test for the semiconductor manufacturers in the wireless space.

NI’s emphasis on Big Data, which it calls Big Analog Data, is in the process. Although the process can be geographically dispersed, such as an application by CIH (Case International Harvester to us old farming people) who instrument Case combines (the machines that harvest corn and wheat and soy beans), send the data to the cloud and then analyze that data to help farmers and their own product development.

Another interesting application story was that of Airbus where engineers are researching some far out ways to integrate technology and humans in the building of aircraft. Hopefully I can get a deeper dive on that. They are using video feedback from instrumented tools and looking at virtual reality tools for better control of robots that extend the work of humans into areas difficult for human reach.

My prejudice coming in about Big Data relate to integrating into the MES/MOM Layer 3 and the enterprise layer. Not much talk of that–yet–at NI Week. But I bet in the future we start to see more of this.

I am not going to list all the new products. LabView has been upgraded, there is a CompactRIO with an Intel Atom processor, reconfigurable oscilloscope, faster data acquisition (naturally). You can read the press releases online here.

Leadership Stability and Vision Drive National Instruments Success

NI Leadership with vision and stability

Dr. James Truchard, NI CEO

The bags are packed and the driver is on the way. I’m leaving Austin and my 16th NI Week–the user conference of National Instruments. Attendance probably was greater than 4,000. Only a few years ago, the number floated around 2,000. This is tremendous growth.

Let’s look at some important factors in NI’s growth.

Stable leadership with vision

James Truchard and Jeff Kodosky founded the company and continue to lead it. They are geniuses (in my humble opinion) in science and engineering. Yet, quite humble gentlemen. They have had a vision of creating a platform and products to help engineers solve ever larger engineering problems that continues to this day.

Not only are they technical gurus, but they also have tremendous organizational skills. They have loved to hire young engineers and turn them loose on problems that stretch their talents. On the other hand, they add a healthy mix of experience and wisdom on the teams to balance the inexperience. Oh, and another important ingredient that has made NI one of the top companies to work for as Truchard told me this week in a conversation is to have fun. Every NI person I’ve met over the past 15 years (with only a few exceptions who self-selected themselves out of the company) has embodied intelligence, creativity and the joy of work.

These concepts extend to the senior leadership team that is also a mix of older / younger members.

There are a few other companies I cover that have had stable leadership. They also are doing well. Maybe not the same audacious vision, but focus all the same. Then I think of the companies I cover with constant turmoil in the executive suite, no real vision, good employees who struggle for meaning. Success for these companies despite having tremendous talent within remains elusive. There is definitely a leadership lesson to be gained.

Putting it all together

Keynotes on Day 2 traditionally feature Kodosky, the father of LabView, expressing some thoughts on computer science and things LabView could be doing. This is followed by featuring people who have accomplished big, hairy, audacious goals using the LabView platform and NI hardware.

Deviating somewhat this year, Kodosky discussed some of the major big science projects (such as CERN) using LabView. He did pitch one thought–the challenges NI (and everyone) face with communication and synchronization. Imagine synchronizing mobile devices on a project. Difficult, but necessary for many problems.

NI Fellow Mike Santori followed with many demos of projects that should spark the creativity of the rest of the audience into accepting new, big engineering challenges.

Day 3 keynotes focus on education. VP Ray Almgren, the Day 3 fixture, brought out a 10-year-old master LabView programmer, a robotic team that developed a robot that could fling frisbees with incredible accuracy, a NASA astronaut who now leads the agency’s education outreach program and the leader of a team that intends to land a robot on the moon in 2015 and explore a deep hole. All featuring LabView and NI hardware based upon its “reconfigurable I/O” or RIO platform. NI has done more to exploit the power of FPGA technology than anyone else I’ve seen.

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