Home / MCAD / SolidWorks in Transition: Jon Hirschtick Leaves Board; Gian Paolo Bassi Takes Over as VP of R&D

SolidWorks in Transition: Jon Hirschtick Leaves Board; Gian Paolo Bassi Takes Over as VP of R&D

Gian Paolo Bassi takes over as executive VP of R&D for SolidWorks, filling the role previously held by Austin O'Malley.

SolidWorks hasn’t issued any statement about the staff changes that took place in the company last week, but the news is traveling so fast in Twitter-sphere and blog-land that a press release might be a moot point at this point.

As the company gets ready to launch SolidWorks 2012 (now in pre-release code), Jon Hirschtick, the company’s cofounder and former CEO, resigned from the board. He announced his decision to employees by email, followed by an update on Twitter: “Today [October 4] was my last day at SolidWorks and [Dassault Systemes]. A tough decision for me but one I feel is right,” he wrote.

Hirschtick, an MIT graduate, was among the visionaries who believed in and pioneered Windows-based CAD in the early 90s. At the time, the use of 3D modeling technology was largely confined to expensive hardware and mainframes. After serving as CEO, he continued to influence the company’s technology development, culture, and vision as a member of the executive board. For many loyal users, Hirschtick’s down-to-earth, approachable character was the personification of SolidWorks.

Hirschtick’s departure coincided with that of Austin O’Malley, one of the original developers of SolidWorks (dating back to version 95) who become executive VP of R&D. O’Malley shepherded the company through eight major product releases. The post vacated by O’Malley will be filled by Gian Paolo Bassi, founder and CTO of RIWEBB. Bassi’s past roles included VP and CTO of ImpactXoft, director of think3, and program manager at Computervision.

Kristen Wilson, SolidWorks public relations manager, clarified that Hirschtick’s resignation and O’Malley’s departure were “completely unrelated.” Wilson noted, “We were fortunate that [Hirschtick] stuck around for much longer than most founders typically do.”

No matter the cause, the sudden and simultaneous departure of two SolidWorks veterans is bound to fuel speculations about the company’s new direction and culture. As the new captain charting the company’s course, O’Malley’s successor Bassi will have to negotiate between loyal users’ proud legacy and proficiency in parametric CAD, and parent company Dassault Systemes’ desire to explore cloud-hosted data sharing, social media-powered collaboration, mobile apps, and other emerging trends.

Q&A with SolidWorks’ incoming exec VP of R&D, Gian Paolo Bassi

Responding to questions submitted via email, Bassi offered some clues to how he would reshape SolidWorks:

Question: When do you officially come on board? What is your plan for the transition from Austin O’Malley?

Answer: I officially came on board on October 7th. I have spent time with Austin O’Malley and recognize the SolidWorks R&D group has a clear vision and strong management team that Austin helped to establish. They will continue to deliver an exceptional user experience for our customers.

Q: What is your vision for SolidWorks for the near future and for long term?

A: My vision is to provide a solution with more performance and modeling flexibility and to elevate the design process to be more conceptual. Models need have more freedom in the way they are designed, modified, and behave. I will bring hybrid methodologies beyond geometric parameters to functional design.

Q: What do you consider to be the most important technology trends reshaping the future of engineering and design software? Mobile computing? Cloud computing? The resurgence of Mac? Sustainability? Social media-driven collaboration? Something else not listed here?

A: I think the biggest trend is availability of massive computational and data transmission capabilities. Everything else is enabled by such technological advances. For example, we couldn’t have cloud computing without scalable access to computing power and IBM’s Watson is also made possible by these capabilities.

Q: What is your personal philosophy on technology?

A: To think outside the box and stay open to any wonder. One needs to keep looking around without preconceptions. Your mental structure can limit you.


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About Kenneth

Kenneth Wong has been a regular contributor to the CAD industry press since 2000, first an an editor, later as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications. During his nine-year tenure, he has closely followed the migration from 2D to 3D, the growth of PLM (product lifecycle management), and the impact of globalization on manufacturing. His writings have appeared in Cadalyst, Computer Graphics World, and Manufacturing Business Technology, among others.


  1. This does not suprise me and what follows is only speculative.

    I can imagine that a lot of non-SolidWorks users who were called by SolidWorks sales, like me, answered similarly by telling them they weren’t interested in Parametric only modelers – to which the salesperson thanked me for my time and hung up.

    Having read months ago that SolidWorks was officially (at least what was said in the media) not interested in direct modeling told me that they were out of touch with the needs of non-SWX users. Who was driving that non-interest…well, judging by Mr. Bassi’s statement, “My vision is to provide a solution with…modeling flexibility…Models need have more freedom in the way they are designed, modified, and behave…”, I would conclude that both founders were stuck in the virtues of their parametric modeler.

    Given that all their competitors developed direct modeling schemes of one type or another, though none as seemless IMO as Kubotech, I am sure that there were heated debates at SWX over the loss of potential new customers due to this missing feature in their product.

    In the end the potential customers appear to have forced the issue into the realm of personal decisions.

  2. Jim: Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I have had numerous opportunities to speak to both Austin and Jon at SolidWorks events. I’ve never gotten the impression that they’re in favor of status quo, so I don’t believe they would have prevented the exploration of direct-modeling — or any other promising technologies.

    SolidWorks had made great advances with Sustainability Xpress; it’s poised to do the same with SolidWorks Costing in the upcoming release. But I have to agree that a lack of robust direct-modeling functions undermines its achievements.

    In fairness, I should acknowledge that SolidWorks includes Instant 3D, a function that allows you to deform and edit geometry by push-pull action. While this makes the software look and feels a little bit like a direct-modeler, it is at its core still a parametric modeler.

    Bassi’s responses lead me to believe he’s willing to take more risk and push the envelope.

  3. For the past 14 years I’ve sold SolidWorks. I’ve NEVER had a prospect or customer say “I will not purchase your software because you don’t have better direct modeling than X, Y, or Z”.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not opposed to direct editing, but my prospects and customers have not moved away from SolidWorks to competing products that heavily promote direct editing.

    Obviously, there are users that purchase these products or they would still be around, but the numbers are small.

    Personally, I respect SolidWorks decision to take their time and implement a robust hybrid, parametric / direct editing architecture, not the limited implementations that are currently on the market.

  4. John: Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I’m not sure which software package you’re thinking of when you refer to “the limited implementations that are currently on the market.” Direct-modeling functions in PTC Creo Elements/Direct Modeling Express, Autodesk Inventor Fusion, and Solid Edge with Synchronous Technology 4 (SE with ST) are quite robust — particularly the last one. Fusion and SE with ST have gone beyond just direct modeling; they’re now working on perfecting the bridge between direct-modeling and parametric modeling to make the software hybrid.

  5. Interesting comments. I suppose I could gleam a couple things:

    1. If most/all distributors are like John and don’t hear the Direct Modeling (DM) trumpet then they wouldn’t provide feedback to SWX that it is needed. Thus, someone or some people at SWX, since it hadn’t publicly embraced it until now, I am sure have used this as justification not to.

    2. Just because a competitor has a feature doesn’t mean everyone should have it. However, I wonder – we’ll probably never know – what % of people SWX called indicated an interest in DM. If it was at a level to be of concern to SWX, as I suspect, then the comments by Mr. Bssi make perfect sense. Otherwise, why bother in investing in something your customer base has no interest in.

    Oh to be a fly on the wall in the meetings where DM was brought up. LOL

  6. I rarely respond to any of these issues, but sometimes, one of them simply rings my bell. This is one of them. I have been a loyal SolidWorks user and promoter since the mid 1990’s after having used Pro/E since version 6. I am now retired, but I may decide to return to work part time as long as I can use SW as my design tool. That said, and as I have suggested in the past, I think Dassault would be doing themselves a HUGH favor if there was some contemplation of introducing direct modeling as an alternative (or complement) to history based modeling. That type of modeling (history based) was a bear to use with the early versions of Pro/E and became a LOT easier with the introduction of SW, but still required an out-of-proportion knowledge of how the software worked, which meant there sprung up a whole generation of people who became modeling “experts” commanding grossly out-of-proportion salaries. I was appalled to find out this fact, especially as I tried to hire designers…they knew the tool inside out, but didn’t have a clue how to design a product. (I have commented to this fact several times before.) As I see it, PTC’s aquisition of Co-Create (aka IDEAS) several years ago was pure genius. As most people can see, PTC now has a suite of products that will suit just about anyone. I have made the suggestion before that DS might make some “hay” if they acquire the technology from another source…(hint: SpaceClaim.) It doesn’t necessarily have to be a “hybrid” product, but it could be if it is implemented properly. If this were to become a reality at SW, I can tell you that there would be a very lot of happy engineers out there in the design and manufacturing arm of corporate America (including me)!!

  7. While I applaud both Siemens and Autodesk for their efforts, from what I’ve read their current direct modeling offerings also present challenges (e.g editing failures) in real world applications.

    Recent write ups I’ve seen of Creo Direct and Creo Parametrics working together sounds like a real mess.

    I suspect that SW/DS has evaluated all of the technologies and methodologies out there, and will bring a product to market that will trump the current offerings. Only time will tell.

  8. Well said David. I wasn’t one of the ones who was taught these programs. I learned, self taught, from Cadkey and then onto thinkdesign. Both methods have their limitations, but combined with thoughtful skill and intuitiveness they could allow poeple to spend less time becoming software guru’s and more time becoming design guru’s.

  9. We recently concluded a study that took a little over a year to complete, evaluating several different CAD and CAM systems. NX, SolidEdge, Catia, Inventor Fusion, Solidworks, Spaceclaim, and a few others as well. In the End, we decided to stick with solidworks. That being said, I feel it is important to mention that the only reason this happened, was because in discussing with our reseller that Solidworks is going to put a larger focus on Direct Modeling. For the way we do things at my company, and the type of information we need to generate for production personel, ST in solidedge and NX was amazing. I am a CSWP, and have always been a big supporter of SW, but when I start using a system, and in my spare time none the less, learn to model a complex component in 2/3 the time after 3 weeks of using it, that has to say a lot about the capability of a properly implemented direct editing solution.

    My speculation at this point is the biggest hurdle for SW to implement this technology has been user interface. It is apparent (since so many other companies now utilize it to some extent) that the kernels now being used are capable of generating the geometry, it is simply a matter of how to present the controls and functions to the end user. Something has to be holding them back in the interface department for SW to be this far behind in the direct modeling game. I expect 2013 to be a big release for SW, as now there will be a lot of people watching to see what direction the new leadership will be taking.

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