Geschke, Charles M.

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Geschke, Charles M.

Adobe Systems, Inc.


Dr. Charles M. Geschke co–founded Adobe Systems, Inc. in 1982 with John Warnock. He served as co–chairman of the board and president of the company until 2000, when he retired as president. He retains his position as co–chair. Geschke and Warnock created a billion–dollar software business based on a handful of highly innovative and successful products, including Adobe Acrobat, PhotoShop, and PageMaker.

Personal Life

The son of a photo engraver, Chuck Geschke grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, was educated in Catholic schools as a child, and spent three and a half years at a Jesuit seminary studying to become a priest. Ultimately deciding to forego the priesthood, he enrolled in Xavier University where he received a bachelor's degree in classics and a master's degree in mathematics. He earned a Ph.D. in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University. Geschke has received honors for his achievements from numerous organizations, including the Association for Computing Machinery, Carnegie Mellon University, the National Computer Graphics Association, and the Rochester Institute of Technology. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the Government–University Industry Research Roundtable of the National Academy of Sciences. He is also a member of the Board of Governors for the San Francisco Symphony. Geschke serves on the computer advisory boards of Carnegie Mellon University and Princeton University and is a member of the Board of Trustees for the University of San Francisco. In 1996 he joined the Board of Directors of Rambus, Inc., which produces high–speed memory interface technology. He is also a member of the Board of Directors of PointCast, Inc.

Geschke married his wife, Nan, in 1964, and the couple, who have three children, lives in Los Altos, California, where they have resided since 1972. In May 1992, Geschke was kidnapped at gunpoint from the parking lot of Adobe's corporate headquarters, blindfolded, and taken to a house in Hollister, California. Five days later, the Federal Bureau of Investigations found Geschke unharmed; the kidnappers, who had requested a ransom, were arrested, tried, and convicted.

Career Details

Geschke began his career as a scientist and researcher in the Computer Sciences Laboratory of Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center. In 1980 he helped establish and became manager of Xerox's Imaging Sciences Laboratory at the same location. His duties centered on overseeing and conducting research activities in the areas of computer science, graphics, image processing, and optics. In 1982 he and John Warnock, who conducted interactive graphics research for Xerox, became frustrated by the difficulty of moving their innovations and research beyond the laboratory and into production. The two decided to venture out on their own; they quit Xerox and created a new company, Adobe Systems, Inc., named after a creek that runs past their homes in Los Altos, California.

Success did not take long. The first product marketed by Adobe Systems was PostScript, a revolutionary, complex computer language that sent information to the printer or other output device regarding the appearance of the electronic document. With PostScript capabilities, highly detailed, professional documents could be easily created using a personal computer and a laser printer. High–quality graphics could be intermixed with formatted text on a single page—an exceptional benefit to such businesses as advertising agencies. Essentially, PostScript introduced the age of desktop publishing.

By 1984, just two years after forming their company, Geschke and Warnock reported Adobe revenues of $1.7 million. The following year they garnered the attention of Apple Computer, Inc., which purchased a 19 percent stake in Adobe and began packaging PostScript with its LaserWriter printer, helping Apple's MacIntosh storm the market as the leading computer for graphic design. In 1986 Adobe partnered with Texas Instruments, Inc., to incorporate PostScript applications into two of its laser printers, which were the first to offer PostScript capabilities to IBM–compatible personal computers.

As a result of the quick success, Adobe expanded rapidly; staff numbers doubled from 27 to 54 between 1984 and 1985 (and would swell to 3,000 by 2001). By the end of 1986, PostScript had become an invaluable tool for simplifying desktop publishing and reducing costs from the traditional methods of typesetting. Not only did advertising agencies flock to PostScript, but also businesses, corporations, and even the federal government began creating in–house materials that would have been previously farmed out at an increased cost to a printing service.

Chronology: Charles M. Geschke

1939: Born.

1972: Hired by Xerox Palo Alto Research Center.

1980: Became manager of Xerox's Imaging Sciences Laboratory.

1982: Quit Xerox to co–found Adobe Systems, Inc. with John Warnock; became co–chairman and president.

1983: Introduced Adobe PostScript.

1986: Adobe went public, completing an initial stock offering.

1987: Introduced Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Type Library.

1992: Kidnapped and held for ransom for five days.

1993: Introduced Adobe Acrobat.

1994: Acquired Aldus, owner of PhotoShop and PageMaker.

1999: Introduced GoLive to compete with Quark Xpress.

2000: Retired as president; retained co–chairmanship.

2001: Revenues for fiscal year exceeded $1.2 billion.

After the initial introduction of PostScript technology, there was a mad rush to develop complementary applications and uses. Within the first few years, over 15,000 applications were developed. Adobe provided the additional innovation of "Type I fonts" that further increased the range of PostScript uses: Type I could supply fonts in digital form at any resolution. This led to the creation of some 15,000 typefaces. PostScript was also further developed so that it could be used with mainframes, making it accessible to multi–computer networks. Independent software developers used PostScript to create programs that expanded and simplified a wide variety of graphic design applications for all hardware designs and operating systems.

For the first five years, Geschke and Warnock focused on selling their product to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), a strategy that proved very successful. With its one blockbuster program, Adobe posted a profit of $3.6 million on $16 million in sales in 1986. The same year, Geschke and Warnock took their company public and began selling stock. Despite its rapid success, Adobe was heavily dependent on Apple for its profits. In 1986, dealings with Apple accounted for 80 percent of Adobe's business. Although Geschke and Warnock began selling their product to IBM, the bulk of their business lay with Apple. Retail sales accounted for a small portion of Adobe's income. However, in 1987, Adobe moved into the retail market with the introduction of Adobe Illustrator, a program able to produce high–quality line drawings. Illustrator was a big hit with graphic designers and technical illustrators.

With one success followed by another, Geschke and Warnock hit the nail on the head again when they introduced the Adobe Type Library, a collection of typefaces developed specifically for electronic application. Initially, the Type Library offered 300 unique typefaces, making it the largest collection available; the 2001 version of the Type Library (renamed as Font Folio) provided 2,750 font choices. In 1989 Adobe also made available Type Manager, a free program that simplified font management and allowed fonts to be resized easily. Having established Adobe as the leading provider of cutting–edge graphics technology, Geschke and Warnock made yet another important advancement when Adobe developed Display PostScript, which provided onscreen confirmation of page layout and design. Basically, what was seen on the screen would come out exactly that way when printed. Display PostScript also allowed users to manipulate and alter graphics.

By the end of the decade, after just eight years in existence, Geschke and Warnock had developed Adobe into big business. In 1989 the company posted a net income of $33.7 million on sales of $121 million. In 1990 revenues reached over $168 million with a net income of $40 million. The following year saw yet another large jump in revenues, up 36 percent to almost $330 million and net income rising to $51.6 million. The co–founders had wisely expanded their interests and clientele. Though Apple remained its largest customer, Apple–generated revenues were down to 33 percent of Adobe's total income. Over 25 PostScript printers were on the market, and 20 computer companies had entered into licensing agreements with Adobe. Geschke and Warnock had also gone international, licensing PostScript to Canon, Inc., of Japan. To protect their interests and new technological innovations, Adobe also made advancements in the legal issues involved in computer development by being the first business to file for a copyright license of a typeface. And, although they distributed licenses for the use of PostScript, Geschke and Warnock wisely maintained exclusive control over Acrobat Reader, the software that interprets the electronic codes.

In the early 1990s, Geschke and Warnock led their company into new areas, including advancements in the optical character recognition, referred to as OCR, which allowed scanned text to be read by a computer, enabling it to be edited. Adobe also entered the multimedia market for the first time by introducing Premiere 3.0, a program that provided desktop video editing and special effects capabilities.

In 1993 Geschke and Warnock took another giant step forward in technology with the Adobe Acrobat software, revolutionizing the future of electronic distribution. The problem with sending documents electronically was the likely incompatibility of the sending and receiving computers. Although the previously developed computer language ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interexchange) provided a format for sending and receiving text, all formatting, font styles, designs, color, and graphic components were dumped from the transmission. Adobe Acrobat provided a platform by which those elements could be retained, independent of computer hardware and operating systems. With Acrobat such graphic–rich documents as spreadsheets, reports, brochures, newsletters, and reports could be relayed electronically with all graphics, graphs, charts, pictures, and the like intact. The receiver did not need to have the originating software (e.g., Microsoft Word or Corel Draw); all that was necessary was that both the sending and receiving computers have Acrobat installed. Although the received document could not be edited, it easily could be navigated, printed, and stored.

Between 1992 and 1996, Adobe made 10 acquisitions. Of primary importance was the August 1994 merger with Aldus, a software development company with two headlining programs: PageMaker and Photo-Shop. PageMaker is one of the two dominating desktop publishing packages, along with its main competitor Quark Xpress, and PhotoShop provides extensive image capturing and manipulation capabilities for photo designs. By 1996 PostScript, PageMaker, and PhotoShop were each producing revenues of over $100 million. The three products provided a quality combination, allowing Adobe to expand its offerings to a wide range of needs and interests. And, as the predominance of computer–based communication increased by leaps and bounds, Adobe went along for the ride. When asked in 1995 by InformationWeek about any fear that Adobe was too heavily weighted toward the print industry, Geschke replied, "The move from paper–based to electronic documents doesn't worry us. People still want authoring tools." During the last half of the 1990s and moving into the next century, Geschke strongly advocated for his company's continued expansion both in size and scope. The major new focus was toward applications involving the Internet and World Wide Web. Web publishing tools were either added or incorporated into already existing desktop publishing software.

So far Geschke has helped keep Adobe a step ahead of its competition, but in March 2000 he retired from his position as the company's president. In December 2000 Warnock stepped down as chief executive officer, and in May 2001 he also retired from the position of the chief technical officer. Both Geschke and Warnock remain as co–chairs of the Board of Directors. Analysts reserved final judgment on the impact the change in leadership will have on the company. Despite slowed growth in 2001 due to the sluggish economy, confidence remains high that Adobe has the products and the management to withstand a recessive economy.

Social and Economic Impact

Upon the release of Adobe Acrobat, Geschke told Industry Week, "We do not expect that paper will vanish. We understand the love affair that humans have with the written word—and the traditional means by which it is delivered. Instead, we believe that print and its electronic counterpart will evolve together so that they will ultimately coexist in forms that are best suited to a particular communication purpose." Geschke, the management expert, paired with Warnock, the technical expert, has gone a long way to merging the printed and electronic word. With close to 3,000 employees and annual revenues topping $1.2 billion, Adobe has grown to become the second largest personal computer software company in the United States. The Adobe motto is "Publish anything, anywhere, on any device." To that end, Adobe's next innovative idea is being tagged "Network Publishing," a phrase that invokes images of cross–applications that move information from a computer to a hand–held to a cell phone to the Web and back again—regardless of platform or device.

By the end of 2001, Adobe was offering close to fifty products covering six major categories: publishing (print and Web–based), digital video, digital imaging, collections, technologies, and Acrobat–based applications called "ePaper" products. Revenues for fiscal year 2001 topped $1.2 billion. The genius of Adobe's leadership team can be witnessed in the combination of successfully numerous long–standing products combined with a continued presence on the cutting edge of technology. PhotoShop, in its sixth version, and Illustrator, in its tenth, are joined by newer programs such as Go-Live, Adobe's Web–authoring program, and InDesign, a professional layout and design application.

According to Geschke, the success of Adobe is based on the people–friendly environment he and Warnock established at the beginning and have deliberately worked to maintain. Industry Week noted that Geschke "comes across as a friendly father figure who's most interested in the welfare of his 'family' of [nearly 3,000] employees." Geschke told the publication, "Every capital asset we have at Adobe gets into an automobile and drives home at night. Without them, there is nothing of substance in this company. It is the creativity of individuals—not machines—that determines the success of this company."

Sources of Information

Contact at: Adobe Systems, Inc.
1585 Charleston Rd.
PO Box 7900
Mountain View, CA 94039–7900
Business Phone: (415)961–3769


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