Adobe’s David Wadhwani primed to be subsequent CEO after main Figma deal

David Wadhwani, president of Adobe’s Digital Media unit, speaks at Adobe’s Max convention in Los Angeles in October 2022.


In September 2009, with the inventory market nonetheless within the doldrums from the Nice Recession, Adobe introduced plans to spend $1.8 billion for advertising software program vendor Omniture, its second-biggest acquisition ever on the time.

Previous to the deal getting introduced, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen stated at a gathering that he is “at all times attempting to not waste a very good disaster,” in accordance with the recollection of John Mellor, who was government vp at Omniture and stayed on at Adobe for nearly 10 extra years.

There is a equally opportunistic sentiment within the air at this time. With over three-quarters of 2022 within the books, Adobe’s inventory is down 43% this 12 months and on tempo for its worst 12 months since 2008, the depths of the monetary disaster. This time, the corporate faces an financial downturn highlighted by hovering inflation.

Final month, Adobe agreed to pay $20 billion for Figma, the most important takeover of a non-public software program firm and a sum greater than 4 instances larger than what Adobe had ever spent in an acquisition. Whereas Narayen continues to be CEO, he isn’t the one who spearheaded this deal. That distinction belongs to the president of Adobe’s sprawling digital media enterprise, David Wadhwani, in accordance with folks conversant in the transaction who requested to not be named as a result of the main points have been personal.

Wadhwani, 51, has spent greater than a decade at Adobe over two separate stints, rejoining the corporate in mid-2021 after six years in different Silicon Valley government and investing roles. Wadhwani, Adobe’s third highest-paid government after Narayen, 59, and finance chief Dan Durn, is within the driver’s seat to grow to be the subsequent CEO, a place strengthened internally by the Figma deal, some folks near Adobe stated. A former government instructed CNBC that everybody is questioning when Wadhwani will get the promotion.

In January, Wadhwani and Anil Chakravarthy, the pinnacle of Adobe’s advertising software program enterprise, have been every named as presidents of the corporate, a title Narayen had held since 2005. Chakravarthy joined Adobe in 2020 after serving 4 years as CEO of Informatica.

Some sources near the corporate stated Wadhwani and Chakravarthy are each robust contenders however cautioned that Narayen is not leaving anytime quickly. The enterprise Wadhwani oversees is roughly 3 times the scale as Chakravarthy’s when it comes to income.

For Wadhwani, Figma represents a dangerous wager on progress at a time when Wall Road is telling tech corporations to tighten their belts and protect money. Assuming the deal closes, Adobe is paying about 50 instances annual recurring income, and a worth equal to double Figma’s personal valuation final 12 months, even with cloud shares broadly down by greater than half previously 12 months. On the time of the announcement, the acquisition worth amounted to about 12% of Adobe’s market cap, in comparison with virtually 10% for Omniture 13 years in the past.

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Cloud shares and Adobe previous 12 months


Figma founder and CEO Dylan Subject will report back to Wadhwani. Brad Rencher, former head of Adobe’s advertising software program group, stated Wadhwani’s elevated standing turned abundantly clear to him when he first learn of the acquisition.

“I used to be like, OK, David was the sponsor. He was the one standing up and doing it,” stated Rencher, who’s now CEO of BambooHR, a startup in Utah. A transfer that large would not occur with out the CEO’s assist, Rencher stated.

Narayen instructed CNBC’s Jon Fortt final month that he and Subject had held “a number of conversations” over time. Subject stated at a convention not too long ago that Adobe first reached out to Figma in 2012, days after he introduced the startup. However Adobe waited a decade to pounce, giving Figma time to indicate that it may succeed promoting its software program inside massive corporations equivalent to Microsoft.

The make-or-break wager

In his 15-year tenure as CEO, Narayen hasn’t been shy about dealmaking, simply at a smaller measurement. He orchestrated a number of billion-dollar-plus offers, together with Omniture. The largest previous to Figma was advertising automation software program supplier Marketo, which Adobe purchased for $4.75 billion in 2018.

Figma is totally different. It exhibits Adobe’s willingness to pay high greenback for a stylish asset and let it run independently, quite than simply shopping for corporations and integrating their capabilities into present merchandise. And it is likely to be Wadhwani’s make-or-break alternative to show he ought to be CEO of the fourth-biggest U.S. enterprise software program firm by market cap.

Amongst previous and present colleagues, Wadhwani is understood to be unnervingly nonetheless in conferences, talking in a gradual and measured method and sometimes wrapping up by summarizing the three most important factors that have been mentioned. Rencher stated there is a clear similarity to his boss.

“He is made in Shantanu’s picture,” Rencher stated.

Nonetheless, he can grow to be passionate and animated. Rencher remembers an organization offsite for executives a bit over a decade in the past at a spa resort in Carmel Valley, California, about two hours south of Adobe’s headquarters in San Jose. There was an icebreaker to try to ease the executives into dialog. However Wadhwani was able to get right down to enterprise.

“We have to alter one thing or we will be in bother,” Wadhwani stated, in accordance with Rencher’s reminiscence of the occasion.

Adobe stated Wadhwani wasn’t out there for an interview and the corporate declined to touch upon succession planning.

Wadhwani is claimed to be a devoted household man, with a spouse, two daughters and a canine, although he permits himself one indulgence. When he travels on enterprise, he insists on consuming McDonald’s at airports. Particularly, he loves the French fries, a former colleague stated.

At Adobe, Wadhwani has been on the heart of one of the vital shifts within the firm’s 39-year historical past: the transfer from perpetual licenses to subscriptions. When Adobe revealed the grand plan for a brand new enterprise mannequin to analysts in 2011, Wadhwani was tasked with asserting the costs.

“We imagine that over the course of the subsequent few years because of this, we’ll entice over 800,000 new customers — new incremental customers to our Artistic Suite — and do it in a means that is good for the shopper and good for Adobe,” Wadhwani stated.

Income progress slowed and finally declined as Adobe made its strategic and technological modifications. However every quarter, tons of of 1000’s extra folks signed up for Artistic Cloud, a bundled subscription providing of key Adobe merchandise equivalent to Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere Professional.

Shantanu Narayen, CEO, Adobe

Mark Neuling | CNBC

The income turned extra predictable and fewer carefully related to product releases. Traders responded by pushing the inventory worth above the $50 mark in late 2013 for the primary time. It stored rising, and by 2016, practically 7 million folks have been subscribing to Artistic Cloud. In all, the inventory worth soared 233% over these 4 and a half years, in contrast with a 67% rise for the S&P 500.

Previous to the Artistic Cloud launch, executives mentioned the imaginative and prescient at an government assembly at a lodge in Sausalito, California, throughout the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.

It wasn’t a universally common thought to wager the corporate on a brand new income mannequin that was simply beginning to achieve mass adoption in software program. However Wadhwani spoke up in the course of a disagreement and made clear that he noticed actual worth within the effort. He confirmed the group early drawings of the product from firm designers, stated Michael Gough, a former Adobe vp, who was in attendance.

“He was the one which was type of rallying folks to take it significantly,” Gough stated. “Let’s discuss what would we truly do. What are we lacking from the stack? What sort of sources wouldn’t it take? He was taking the imaginative and prescient and making a working plan, principally, and getting folks to not less than discuss the potential of doing it.”

Leaping to a startup

By 2015, the subscription enterprise was buzzing. Adobe considerably outperformed its goal for paid Artistic Cloud subscriptions. In June of that 12 months, Wadhwani introduced for the primary time on an Adobe quarterly earnings name with analysts.

Three months later, he resigned “to pursue a CEO alternative,” as Adobe acknowledged in a press launch. The brand new gig was made public a pair weeks later, when knowledge analytics startup AppDynamics stated Wadhwani can be taking on for Jyoti Bansal, a star founder within the software program trade and the Bay Space.

Wadhwani instructed colleagues when he left that he needed to be a CEO, stated a former Adobe worker. Internally, there was chatter that he’d come to see that he would not be the subsequent CEO of Adobe, in accordance with a former government.

Bansal, who’d guided AppDynamics into the billion-dollar startup membership, was proof against the thought of bringing in an out of doors CEO, stated Steve Harrick, a companion at Institutional Enterprise Companions, an early backer of the corporate. Wadhwani finally received over Bansal, who did not reply to a request for remark.

Harrick stated that Wadhwani would regularly observe up with him after board conferences that ended with out decision on vital issues. As CEO, Wadhwani pushed for engineers to construct software program in-house to broaden its choices to present clients, Harrick stated. He additionally guided the corporate to grow to be extra depending on income from subscriptions, quite than from extra conventional licenses, an evolution he had superior at Adobe.

Wadhwani was rapidly poised to be CEO of a public firm, after AppDynamics filed for its IPO in 2016. Early the next 12 months, the corporate was set to lift virtually $200 million and commerce on the Nasdaq till Cisco confirmed up on the final minute and agreed to pay $3.7 billion for AppDynamics, greater than double its anticipated valuation.

“They weren’t dual-tracking. They weren’t attempting to be purchased,” stated Harrick. “They have been earnestly saying, ‘It is a public firm, that is our marching orders.'”

Wadhwani stayed at Cisco after the acquisition. With Cisco attempting to broaden past networking and telecommunications gear and into software program, Wadhwani advocated for the corporate to do extra offers, suggesting it have a look at Datadog and HashiCorp, in accordance with a former Cisco government.

Neither deal occurred. Datadog went public in September 2019, adopted by HashiCorp in December 2021. Nonetheless, Cisco did put money into HashiCorp in 2020.

Wadhwani left Cisco in October 2019 to affix enterprise agency Greylock Companions, an early investor in AppDynamics. Lower than two years later, he rejoined Adobe to once more run the digital media enterprise, however this time with greater aspirations.

“He missed having a bunch of individuals round him the place they have been doing numerous stuff collectively,” stated Mona Akmal, co-founder and CEO of gross sales software program startup Falkon, which was Wadhwani’s first Greylock funding.

Akmal instructed Wadhwani she needed him to stay along with her at the same time as he pursued a job elsewhere. He is continued attending each board assembly, she stated.

Akmal stated she wasn’t stunned to see Wadhwani return to an working function, as she would joke with him that he was born to be a CEO. He is tall and good-looking, and his hair is at all times excellent, she stated. She would ask about his hair, which has turned largely white, and query why he hasn’t dyed it.

“Are we doing the white hair as a result of we need to look extra government?” she remembered asking him. “He would provide the smile, like, ‘Perhaps.'”

Wadhwani quickly bought in control upon his return to San Jose. He is participated in all three of Adobe’s quarterly earnings calls with analysts this 12 months, offering particulars on Artistic Cloud and, extra not too long ago, the Figma deal.

Internally, his targets included reaching artistic professionals who’re turning into extra prepared to collaborate, rising Doc Cloud after the pandemic boosted e-signature rival DocuSign and popularizing Adobe Categorical to deal with the low finish of the market, a former government stated.

‘Actually vital shift’

He is been recruiting high expertise, bringing again product veteran Deepa Subramaniam and technologist Ely Greenfield, who was expertise chief at AppDynamics underneath Wadhwani.

At Adobe’s annual Max convention in Los Angeles this month, Wadhwani took the stage for the primary time since 2014, and highlighted to analysts the alternatives to broaden the digital media enterprise.

He stated the corporate was making “a extremely vital shift and transition,” directing individuals who present curiosity in working with PDF recordsdata towards free companies after which introducing them to premium capabilities. Wadhwani stated the corporate has taken a web page from its Doc Cloud enterprise and utilized it to Artistic Cloud, encouraging clients to pay for added companies.

On the occasion, Wadhwani stated Figma’s common design collaboration instruments can speed up Adobe’s effort to get extra folks participating with paperwork in Adobe purposes, thus widening the pool of potential clients. He invited Subject to affix him onstage and discuss Figma’s present tasks.

Dylan Subject, co-founder and CEO of Figma, speaks on the startup’s Config convention in San Francisco on Might 10, 2022.


Throughout a question-and-answer session later within the day, Wadhwani sat on to the appropriate of Narayen, who was flanked on the opposite facet by Chakravarthy. Wadhwani and Narayen appeared to have coordinated their outfits. Each wore sneakers and sweaters over collared shirts.

Jay Vleeschhouwer, an analyst at Griffin Securities, requested the executives how Figma may also help Adobe grow to be extra net oriented.

“I may in all probability actually spend hours on file codecs versus object fashions within the net and what it takes,” Narayen stated.

Then Wadhwani spoke up. Figma would not rely upon anybody file format, he famous.

“One of many issues that we’re actually enthusiastic about,” Wadhwani stated, is “working with Dylan and workforce to take these core capabilities, take the core platform that Dylan and workforce have constructed, and actually reimagine what ought to the flows be.”

“Excellent news is David may also discuss hours about the identical situation,” Narayen stated, referring to his file codecs remark. Narayen smiled because the analysts and his fellow executives laughed.

WATCH: Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen: We’re trying to construct this firm for the long term

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen: We're looking to build this company for the long run

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