Reporting back from the SolidWorks Executive Forum in Minneapolis

I had the opportunity to sit in on one of our Executive Forum gatherings in Minneapolis recently.  Despite unseasonal heat for Minneapolis, approximately 30 customers from our largest accounts in the area joined us for the day at the Walker Art center downtown.

If you’re not familiar with them, the Executive Forums are a fairly new program started last year and sponsored entirely by SolidWorks.  They’re geared more toward managers than the power users who normally attend SolidWorks User Group meetings.  The sessions are small, informal, and provide attendees an opportunity to hear the SolidWorks strategy as well as network with peers and exchange best practices (two users from Trail King in South Dakota earned the honor of having driven the farthest with a 4.5 hour road trip).  Customers present as well – rather than a case study on WHY they picked SolidWorks, they talk about HOW they’re using SolidWorks products.  For the SolidWorks employees in the audience, this is the best part.

Dr. Steve Eppinger, professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and expert on project management and innovation, kicked off the festivities.  In addition to consulting for General Motors, Ford, and a number of other leading companies, Dr. Eppinger has also been a machinist and product engineer so instantly connected with the audience.  His other claim to fame is that he was SolidWorks founder Jon Hirschtick’s college roommate at MIT (but that’s supposed to be a secret). 

Starting with a screen of his daughter’s Facebook page, Dr. Eppinger emphasized that today the industry is hiring “Gen Y” engineers who have grown up with the Internet and think (and work) differently.  To compete, we need to learn how to utilize this technical talent in ways that leverage their love of openness and collaboration.

Just to underscore this point, the next speaker was Chris Narveson from Cardiovascular Systems, Inc. (CSI), a living, breathing example of the new Gen Y talent.   Chris talked about how 3D combined with mobile equaled a “brand new world,” and demonstrated this point with an anecdote about CSI’s use of 3DVIA Composer to help train their sales force.  Using an iPad and an animation created using 3DVIA Composer, the sales team easily go anywhere to show doctors how to set up CSI products.  Chris also noted that sometimes the 3D animation was more useful than the actual product itself, as you could see how everything worked and fit together. The people at CSI were kind enough to help us with a few testimonial videos–here's one of them.

Scott Schank from PaR Systemes Inc. continued the Gen Y theme by emphasizing how he encouraged his team to visit their kids’ schools to observe how they incorporated technology into their curricula.  He also talked about how something as simple as instant messenger clients helped his designers collaborate in real-time.

In all, the Executive Forum was a great experience, and the whole “working with Gen X/Gen Y” theme really hit a chord with the audience (we aging baby boomers immediately tried to reposition ourselves as Gen X so as not to appear too old).  We’ve been hiring Gen Y interns and new employees at SolidWorks, and we’re cognizant of the challenge of leveraging this new talent while keeping them focused and engaged. 

The next Executive Forums will take place the week of September 12 in Houston, TX and  Orange County, CA. If you’re interested in attending a future Executive Forum, please contact your SolidWorks reseller. Hopefully we’ll see you at a future event. In the meantime, tell us how you’re managing the transition between generations, and what you’re learning from the Gen Y engineers.

Christine Washburn

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