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Splicing American Go-getting with Hungarian Success

Graphisoft boss Huw Roberts is on a double journey of discovery, plotting how he takes the architectural software company to greater heights and learning to navigate through life in a very different, very Hungarian world. And he appears to be thoroughly enjoying both.

Huw Roberts. Photo by Graphisoft/Zsolt Reviczky

But he is also at pains to stress that the presence of an American at the helm of a genuine rarity, a “Magyar multi” (a Hungarian multinational, with staff from 29 countries, speaking more than 20 languages) does not represent any form of cultural colonization.

“The company is Hungarian. That informs how the business thinks of itself,” Roberts explains in an exclusive interview with the Budapest Business Journal. “Maybe an important part of the reason why I am here is to import a little American get-up-and-go, with some global approaches, and introduce that to the Hungarian root and see what that splice produces.”

But that does not involve rebranding it as anything other than what it is today, a global Hungarian player.  

“There is no aspiration to make this an American-style company. It is about bringing in and blending in the global experience and American drive I have to accelerate our growth to the next level. We are Hungarian-rooted, our HQ is in Hungary, and that is important to us. Graphisoft is really proud to be Hungarian, and we want to represent the country well on a global stage,” Roberts insists.

Revolutionary Past  

Graphisoft certainly has done that to date. It can lay a serious claim to starting the building information modeling (BIM) revolution with the launch of Archicad, its proprietary architecture software, in 1984. Now in its 23rd iteration, it has both Windows and Macintosh versions, and offers end-to-end design and documentation workflow for architectural and design practices of any size.

BIMcloud is another industry first, allowing secure, real-time teamwork between members of a project team, regardless of the size of the design project, the location of the offices, or the speed of the Internet connection. BIMcloud is available both in private and public cloud configurations.

The company is also behind BIMx, which it describes as the most popular BIM presentation and coordination app on both the iPad and iPhone or on Android phones and tablets, as well as in any web browser, making it ideal as an on-site BIM companion.

Roberts is not entirely new to any of this. He officially took over as CEO from Q2 of 2019, but initially joined the company in October 2018 as VP for the Americas, a role he now considers an “audition” for the top job. But he was long aware of Graphisoft and its remarkable software before that, having started life as an architect himself, and having spent “18 great years” in the States working for a competitor, Bentley Systems.

“The former CEO, credit to him, recognized that the company was at an inflection point between eras after his very successful 10 years as CEO,” says Roberts.

“There was a synergy between my experience in leadership roles at larger global companies – throughout my career being a transformation guy – and the owners wanting to take the company to the next stage, leveraging what they have, while adding new methods, systems and approaches to rise to the next level,” he explains.

One obvious target for Roberts is to grow the company, which means expanding its share in the larger markets such as America, Brazil and China. “The good news is that in most of those markets we are number two,” he says with a laugh. “And even better, we are number one in many large markets in Europe, Japan and elsewhere. But great software alone is not enough. There are going to be many initiatives this year focusing explicitly on equipping ourselves to grow and make a difference in each market.”

Constant Evaluation

That is something of a mantra for Roberts. No company can rest on its laurels, he says, and nobody wants to be the next Kodak, the company that could not see the future staring right back at it until it went out of business. In other words, future growth cannot be built on past successes alone. Constant evaluation of what the market wants is key.

“It is not enough to just have a great product nowadays. You need more than that to take to market. Our aim is not to simply be a software company, but to enable teams to create great architecture.”

But that is only one part of Roberts’ life story right now. “I am on two adventures. One is the business side; how do you take an already successful company with excellent teams and really revolutionize its potential. Then there’s this personal journey: moving to another country, where you don’t recognize most of the words and even going to the shops is an adventure. You are completely out of your comfort zone, and that’s kind of cool.”

He is on the expat rite of passage, taking Hungarian lessons, and says he is even beginning to identify as a Hungarian. The year began with an international kick-off meeting that saw Graphisoft partners flying in from all around the world. This was a significant event for Roberts, as it was his first as CEO, and his first opportunity to introduce his vision and outline the future direction.  

“I spoke a few words of Hungarian from the stage, and I was showing people around Budapest thinking ‘I am feeling proud of my city’,” he recalls.

Graphisoft at a Glance

Founded in 1982 and headquartered in Budapest, Graphisoft has been a member of the Nemetschek Group since 2007. It has 600+ employees worldwide (400+ people in Budapest), and in addition to the Hungarian capital has locations in Beijing, Boston, Hong Kong, London, Mexico City, Moscow, Munich, Sao Paolo, Singapore, Tokyo and Venice. Its multiple award-winning software comes in 27 languages, with local adaptations (the quality of localization is seen as one of its strengths). According to the company, it is the market leader in Austria, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Switzerland, and the second biggest actor in Australia, Canada, Russia, South Africa, the United States and in many other European and Asian countries.