A Year Ago: Adobe's chief exec talks to ZDNet

First published: Fri, 23 Jul 1999 13:33:12 GMT
Written by Richard Barry, Contributor

John Warnock, chief excutive of Adobe, granted a rare one-to-one interview with ZDNN UK's Editor, Richard Barry. He speaks frankly about Quark's failed takeover bid, his plans to launch a portal Web site, open source, and just like the celebrity guest, he has two new product launches to plug in the shape of a InDesign and a new version of Photoshop.

Only the paranoid survive may be an aphorism made famous by the boss of a certain chip manufacturer, but for Adobe's chief exec it's more of a real life experience thing than something cool to say to reporters.

Very much the quiet man of an industry dominated by the egos of Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, and Scott McNealy, Adobe's John Warnock rarely makes headlines but commands one of the most influential software companies in the world.

Just last August, Warnock's control over Adobe was threatened when he received a "hostile letter" from his opposite number at rival publishing software firm Quark, outlining its intention to buy Adobe -- quite a feat given Adobe's size in comparison. Analysts at the time put Quark's revenue at $200m (£122m) compared to Adobe's $912m, but Warnock admits Quark's attentions were both unwelcome and worrying. "We had dropped [stock] to $24 [Adobe had previously hovered around $50] -- essentially you could have bought Adobe with its own money."

The creative software giant was having a rough time and paranoia was indeed setting in. But according to Warnock, Quark messed up by failing to take expert advice on the purchase. Adobe escaped but was reeling from the experience. "We don't want Adobe perceived as a weak company," says Warnock. "We're never going there again."

It's a time he is keen to forget but you just know that underneath the grey beard and behind the gentle smile, Warnock wants revenge on the impudent Quark. "At a time when our stock was down and we were focusing on restructuring, [Quark's takeover bid] was a real nuisance." Warnock was annoyed at being kicked when he was down, or as one analyst commented at the time: "Quark wants to slit their throat while Adobe's down."

But a year is a long time in technology and Warnock's charge has since gathered strength. In the second quarter this year, Adobe raked in $45m on sales of $245.9m earning 70 cents a share -- Wall street expected 65 cents a share. The analysts are happy, worldwide operations have been trimmed with more than 500 jobs shed and new strategies are being fleshed out.

Adobe is about to launch a multi-pronged attack to ensure the bad times don't come again, and has a sharp focus on the Web. "The trick with the Web is to get the short-term goals in place to feed the long term goals.

"The short-term goal is to have the number one professional Web authoring tool on the planet and we're putting all the work behind GoLive to make that happen. Adobe does have a commanding share of the Web because 93 percent of Web developers use Photoshop. On the Mac platform GoLive is the preferred product, we've just released it on the Windows platform and we want GoLive to be number one. Period.

"We've just released Photoshop 5.5 which integrates ImageReady and the reviews have been awesome, so now the trick is to integrate Photoshop and GoLive in a way where the workflow is really seamless. Those are our short-term goals. Longer-term goals mean looking at authoring on a global basis where large companies have many content authoring problems and lots of assets. The trick is to bring the print authoring and the media aspects of their business so they can share, move and re-deploy assets more readily and make this one system."

Warnock sees this move to the Web as the most significant challenge facing the company and talks of a commerce-centric Web presence with "substantial commerce facilities" and other interactive facilities for its customers.

In other words Adobe.com is about to go portal. "Adobe's site right now is in the top 50 worldwide, ahead of Apple and IBM, but we're a fairly vertical site. We really haven't been exploiting our Web resource and one of our challenges is to use that resource to get to our customers in a better way, build relationships with them, make it easier for them."

Asked what Adobe wants to become, Warnock is clear: "If there is anything to be authored, we wanna do it."

That may sound like one of those glib remarks you'd expect from an American CEO but dig a little deeper and the creative flair that built Warnock his plush office atop a twin towered sky-scraper becomes apparent. He concedes that even the mighty need help from time to time and the open source community provides a resource rich in potential.

Take me to Part II of the John Warnock Interview

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