Dassault Systèmes did not bench Jeff Ray

Going from being the top dog of a $400 million operation to senior vice president of a $2 billion operation is not a demotion.

Jeff Ray

At the SolidWorks World users conference this week, the media in attendance could not stop telling each other in private that the recent CEO change at SolidWorks was a way to sideline Jeff Ray. As reported here and elsewhere, just before the conference Dassault Systèmes said Ray was leaving the SolidWorks division to become Executive Vice President, Geographic Operations for all of Dassault. He will move from his current home in Massachusetts to Paris, to become part of the Dassault executive council.

The media consensus was that the only reasonable interpretation of the move was because Dassault wanted a French-speaking executive in charge of SolidWorks. Such a view conveniently ignores the fact that new SolidWorks CEO Bertrand Sicot was hired as a SolidWorks employee in 1997—back in the days when SolidWorks was managed with a hands-off attitude by Paris. Sicot has been given increasing responsibility over the years for SolidWorks sales; since 2007 he has been leading the SolidWorks global sales channel. SolidWorks sales suffered much less during the recent recession than its leading competitor Autodesk Inventor, for which Sicot rightly deserves some credit, but so does Jeff Ray.

Rank-and-file employees we talked to throughout the conference appeared honestly incredulous about a “Ray was benched” interpretation. Responses ranged from “That’s silly” (someone in R&D) to “Who said such a stupid thing?” (someone in marketing).

In our eyes, it is a matter of simple math. As CEO of SolidWorks, Ray was in charge of a $400 million annual revenue stream. As the top sales person at Dassault, his neck is now in the noose for $2 billion in annual revenue, plus steady growth. It is a challenging assignment.

One more telling point about Ray’s future at Dassault Systèmes. Last year DS paid $600 million for IBM’s PLM sales operation. It was considered a coup at the time when global head of IBM PLM, Al Bunshaft, agreed to become managing director of Dassault’s Americas sales organization. Al Bunshaft now has a new boss—Jeff Ray.