Knowledge@Wharton today published an interview I did with Adobe Systems co-founder and co-chairman Charles M. (“Chuck”) Geschke, whom I met over lunch near his home in Los Gatos, CA. While it’s impossible to compress 26-years of leadership into a single conversation, the discussion covered a wide range of topics encompassing much of the history of the company he founded along with John Warnock.
Geschke talks about his first meeting with Warnock and how Adobe’s original business plan was shaped, in part, by a meeting with Apple’s Steve Jobs (who, once he saw what they were working on, wanted to purchase the company).
Geschke speaks candidly about several difficult periods in Adobe history.
In 1989 former partner Apple joined forces with long-time competitor Microsoft to challenge Adobe’s technologies for fonts and printing. As Geschke put it, “That was pretty scary for us.” Adobe had attempted to license its technology for on-screen font rendering to Microsoft at no cost but, in a phone call that Geschke duscusses, Bill Gates turned down the offer (for reasons Geschke declined to detail).
Geschke also has a few pointed comments about what he perceives to be Microsoft’s tendency to elaborate on the innovations of others. “[Microsoft has] never invented anything that I am aware of. They clone someone else’s idea and use their market position to try and force their way into the business.”
In the summer of 1998 Adobe faced a sagging stock price, a hostile takeover attempt from competitor Quark, and a management crisis that ultimately resulted in Geschke and Warnock firing three of the company’s top executives in a single day. This experience drove Adobe to consciously think about the company’s core values and corporate culture. In August 1998 Geschke composed a document titled “Adobe Culture” that is still circulated inside Adobe to delineate the values of the company. Geschke and Adobe Systems were gracious enough to allow Knowledge@Wharton to distribute this document publicly for the first time in conjunction with the interview.
For those interested in reading the full interview or Geschke’s original memo on “Adobe Culture,” both are online at:
Knowledge@Wharton: Driving Adobe: Co-founder Charles Geschke on Challenges, Change and Values