I promise that I’m not getting distracted from the modeling project discussion. I just have to tell this one more story from Solid Edge University. This is the story Billy Oliver told me at lunch one day about a certain sales rep from a certain CAD company who tried to describe to him the glorious future that some people are fleeing. Or rather it’s a story about the story.
Billy Oliver has been all over the CAD news for the last year. He’s been on audio and video recordings, as well as text transcripts. I (and you, and I’d be willing to bet Billy too) have probably felt that his story has been maybe overused. I had never met Billy until SEU, and I was a little shocked when I met him. We had exchanged some emails, but that was the extent of it. When Billy sat down next to me at the lunch table with Dave Ault, I suddenly just forgot about the rest of the world around me, because I could tell that he is a master story teller. How the CAD press never picked up on this I have no idea. Maybe they just aren’t used to paying attention to the human side of issues.
You see, my grandfather was a great story teller. Not that he meant to be, it’s just that’s how his generation passed information. Over the course of my life I heard the same stories from him over and over again, each time maybe a little different than the time before. The stories would be about how to get a rabbit out of a log, or about ol’ Why, the engineer and how he got his name, or how to clean a turret on a WWII merchant marine ship, or a hundred other tales that might make you think you were listening to Uncle Remus or Mark Twain in the flesh. Well, Billy Oliver is that kind of story teller, and when he broke into this story about how CAD on the cloud would work, I recognized the skills immediately. If you’ve heard, watched or read all the Billy Oliver interviews, and came away with the idea that Billy was not a very animated kind of guy, you’ve got to listen to this story. The CAD press never found the interesting parts of Billy’s story.
First, I have to say that I don’t have Billy’s permission to write any of this. We haven’t rehearsed it or rehashed it at all. This is completely taken from the romance of my imperfect memory. As Billy was trying to sit down at my table during the lunch provided by Siemens, he was running around the area trying to find some butter. Billy is from Texas, and I don’t know if that gives him special traits, but his need for butter seemed to be holding up the rest of his meal. Finally, he located a resort employee working the lunch and asked for some butter. This is something I’d never do. He started talking to the woman in a very friendly and engaging sort of way, and you could see her brighten up immediately. She gave him a big smile, and before you knew it, she was bringing a big plate of butter out for Billy, and seemed genuinely pleased to do it. Just magic. I obviously have a few things to learn here.
So he finally sits down, and we start chatting. I’m interested to get to know this guy that in all the press accounts has seemed frankly kind of boring. I’m noticing that he has three nice pieces of steak on his plate. The steak was very good at that lunch, and I was wishing I had thought of that.I’m kind of a big-around-the-middle kind of guy, and Billy is less so. Don’t worry, this all relates eventually. Next, he called over the resort employee again, plied her with more compliments and flattery, and asked for A1 Steak Sauce. And don’t you know, she was just as happy as could be to bring it out to him. This process took a few minutes, and was amazing to watch. The resort employee was a heavy set black woman, and Billy is a well dressed and groomed middle aged white guy from Texas. You could see that she was happy for the genuine banter to break up the routine even though he was asking for special treatment that the hundreds of other people there didn’t get. In the assembly line/cafeteria meal, Billy stepped out of line to first brighten someone else’s day and also to get exactly what he wanted without it seeming like inconvenience or taking advantage.
This maybe seems like a trivial story so far, but to me, this said a lot about Billy. First, I could tell he was a guy who knew what he wanted, and wasn’t afraid to ask for it. Second, it’s obvious he has some pretty good people skills. None of this came though in any of the interviews.
I have no idea if Billy is going to mind me telling on him a little bit, but he was eating lunch with a guy who was attending as “press”, and that’s the only capacity in which he has ever known me. Again, we haven’t discussed this since it happened. But now that he had all of the fixin’s assembled, he cut up his steak into small pieces and put butter on the steak. I assume he did something with the A1, although I don’t remember what it was, and I assume he ate something other than the 3 pieces of steak, but I don’t recall that either. All I know is that he was somehow able to eat all that steak with butter on it without taking a long time, and without talking with his mouth full while telling me one of the craziest stories I’ve heard in a long time at a CAD conference. So imagine in your mind Billy going through this ritual with his butter and his steak and a fork and a knife while using hand motions to help illustrate this story.
I’m sure I won’t get all of the facts exactly right, and I’ll definitely leave out some of the details to protect the ignorant, but the story went something like this:
A regional sales guy from the 3D Experience company asked to stop by and talk to Billy about switching back to his previous CAD package. So they sit down and start talking. I don’t know how long the actual conversation lasted, but Billy told it to me in slow motion. What I got took about 15 minutes, but it was about 5 minutes worth of dialog, a few minutes of commentary, a few minutes of steak and butter, and a little bit of repetition to keep the momentum building. What follows is a lot of paraphrase. If I had this on video, there would be no need for the lack of accuracy.
3dX guy: “What can we do to bring you back?”
Billy: “Tell me about the future of your software.”
3dX guy: “We can’t do that.”
Billy: “Then we don’t have anything to talk about. Have a nice day.”
3dX guy: “There must be something you want?”
Billy: “I already asked for it. You declined. Have a nice day.”
3dX guy: “Ok, I can’t tell you what the software is going to be like, because I don’t know. They won’t tell us because they know we’ll tell you. So is there something else you would like?”
Billy: “I’d like a little honesty. Tell me what you do know.”
3dX guy seems to evaluate the situation. He’s got one chance to salvage anything here, or he’s going home empty handed. “Ok” he finally says. He readjusts his chair so he is square in front of Billy, and maybe that too-close-for-comfort thing that sales guys do when they want to get your attention. Then , with his hands a few inches apart like he’s holding a big baked potato. “This”, and pauses to emphasize his hands “is the cloud.” Takes a moment to let that sink in. Then he spreads his hands apart so they are on either side of his head. “Ok, now we zoom in, and THIS is the 3dX cloud.” Pauses are important in this story. “Ok? This is the cloud.”
“And now, within this cloud. we have…” moving his left forearm to a position horizontal in front of his face, with the fingers extended and the hand parallel to the ground, and moving it back and forth from left to right. “The backbone.” Ok, this is serious. It’s the backbone in the cloud.
At this point Billy is looking at me with an intense glare. He’s not blinking. He’s not smiling. He’s not chewing steak and butter. He’s just looking directly into my eyes as deadpan as you can imagine, and moving his forearm back and forth along “the backbone”.
“It’s like this. This,” Billy says, emphasizing his left forearm held in front of his face, “is Enovia V6”. Then after another 10 second pause to make sure I’m understanding, he sticks a finger from his other hand vertically up into his horizontal left forearm. “This,” emphasizing the vertical finger “is Catia,” then he moves the vertical finger a couple inches along his arm “This, is 3Dvia. This is Delmia. This is […mumble…]via. And THIS” moving the finger again, significantly this time, “is SWV6”.
I’m sure my mouth was hanging open.
Something interrupted Billy, and to make sure I was following the story, he had to start again. “THIS, is the Enovia V6 backbone in the cloud”, shaking his forearm again. “This…This…This… and THIS is SolidWorks.” It all comes right off of the backbone.
With a look of exhaustion, the sales rep sat back in his chair, head hung in shame. “And that’s what I know.” I almost felt bad for the guy, with his own employer sending him out to do battle armed with that.
Dave Ault was sitting there listening with me, although maybe not as enthused as I was.
So Billy Oliver got the 3dX guy to spill his guts, and it turned out that there was next to nothing there. What they are keeping secret from customers turns out to be a bunch of mindless arm waving. Even when they are desperate, they don’t have anything of value to entice customers with.