Twenty-five years in, Aart de Geus is still learning on the job.
Asked earlier this week why he is still engaged in running EDA and IP vendor Synopsys Inc. nearly 25 years after he and others founded the company, de Geus said the rapidly changing technology in the semiconductor industry means he still learns something new each day. "There lays the gift of our field," he said.
With apologies to long-serving Mentor Graphics Corp. CEO Walden Rhines, de Geus is clearly the elder statesman of EDA. He is EDA's longest-tenured CEO, and his company has been the undisputed market leader for the past two years.
It's not as though anyone—certainly not Synopsys employees or shareholders—is clamoring for de Geus' resignation. In his career, de Geus has piled up an impressive list of honors, including being named an IEEE Fellow, receiving the IEEE's Robert N. Noyce Medal, the EDA Consortium's Phil Kaufman Award and the Global Semiconductor Association's Morris Chang Exemplary Leadership Award. He has lead Synopsys to the enviable position of No. 1 in EDA and the firm's IP business is growing rapidly. The company's stock closed Friday (April 1) at $27.78, approaching its 52-week high of $29.35.
But after 25, it's a fair question: How much longer does de Geus plan to keep punching the clock at Synopsys?
De Geus speaking at the Synopsys SNUG users' group event March 28.
CEOs who build a company from the ground up can grow bored of it, especially after more than two decades. Sometimes their egos demand the opportunity to prove that they can do it all over again. And it's a safe bet that de Geus, now in his mid-fifties, is financially secure enough that he could ride off into the sunset and fill his days with leisurely activities in a tropical location if he so chooses.
But he doesn't. For one, aside from his well known hobby of playing guitar, de Geus doesn't come across as a leisurely type of guy. And his self esteem apparently requires no major tests.
Instead, de Geus gives the impression of someone who is every bit as excited about technology and innovation as he was when he broke in with General Electric many years ago.
In public speeches, de Geus often touches on politics, and some have suggested he could go into politics at some point. SemiWiki.com blogger Daniel Nenni wrote in a blog posting earlier this year that de Geus should run for governor of California. (De Geus laughingly dismissed the speculation in a meeting earlier this week.)
While de Geus's job still feeds his intellectual curiosity, he acknowledged that it's not all fun and games. The curse of the job, he said, is that there is no on/off switch. "And some days I wish there were," he said.
De Geus also offered telling insight into what he looks for in potential employees. "I always tell managers that when they're looking at resumes, look for something [the job candidate] is excellent at," he said. "And I don't care if it's basket-weaving."
De Geus said finding something that a person excels at, even if it's totally unrelated to the open job, can be very telling. For one, he said, to truly excel at any one thing a person has likely built up skills in areas such as perseverance, determination and working well with others.
Clearly, de Geus has found something at which he excels: starting and leading a design software firm that has grown to nearly $1.4 billion in revenue last year. It doesn't seem like he wants to give that up any time soon.