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

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 and marketing 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 “all the time attempting to not waste a great 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 yr and on tempo for its worst yr 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 higher than what Adobe had ever spent in an acquisition. Whereas Narayen continues to be CEO, he isn’t the one that spearheaded this deal. That distinction belongs to the president of Adobe’s sprawling digital media enterprise, David Wadhwani, in accordance with individuals aware of the transaction who requested to not be named as a result of the main points had 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 develop into the subsequent CEO, a place strengthened internally by the Figma deal, some individuals 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 top of Adobe’s advertising and marketing software program enterprise, had 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 thrice 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 yr, even with cloud shares broadly down by greater than half up to now 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.

Cloud shares and Adobe previous yr


Figma founder and CEO Dylan Subject will report back to Wadhwani. Brad Rencher, former head of Adobe’s advertising and marketing 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 massive would not occur with out the CEO’s help, 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 lately 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 point out that it might succeed promoting its software program inside giant corporations akin 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 dimension. He orchestrated a number of billion-dollar-plus offers, together with Omniture. The most important previous to Figma was advertising and marketing automation software program supplier Marketo, which Adobe purchased for $4.75 billion in 2018.

Figma is completely different. It reveals Adobe’s willingness to pay high greenback for a classy asset and let it run independently, moderately than simply shopping for corporations and integrating their capabilities into present merchandise. And it could 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 sluggish and measured method and sometimes wrapping up by summarizing the three most crucial factors that had been mentioned. Rencher stated there is a clear similarity to his boss.

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

Nonetheless, he can develop into passionate and animated. Rencher recollects an organization offsite for executives a bit of 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 all the way down to enterprise.

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

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

Wadhwani is alleged 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 saying the costs.

“We imagine that over the course of the subsequent few years on account of this, we’ll appeal to over 800,000 new customers — new incremental customers to our Inventive Suite — and do it in a method 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 hundreds extra individuals signed up for Inventive Cloud, a bundled subscription providing of key Adobe merchandise akin to Photoshop, Illustrator and Premiere Professional.

Shantanu Narayen, CEO, Adobe

Mark Neuling | CNBC

The income turned extra predictable and fewer intently 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, almost 7 million individuals had been subscribing to Inventive 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 Inventive 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 well-liked concept 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 form of rallying individuals to take it critically,” Gough stated. “Let’s speak about what would we truly do. What are we lacking from the stack? What sort of assets wouldn’t it take? He was taking the imaginative and prescient and making a working plan, mainly, and getting individuals to a minimum of speak about the opportunity of doing it.”

Leaping to a startup

By 2015, the subscription enterprise was buzzing. Adobe considerably outperformed its goal for paid Inventive Cloud subscriptions. In June of that yr, 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 information analytics startup AppDynamics stated Wadhwani can be taking up for Jyoti Bansal, a star founder within the software program business and the Bay Space.

Wadhwani instructed colleagues when he left that he wished 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 concept of bringing in an out of doors CEO, stated Steve Harrick, a accomplice 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 steadily 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 develop into extra depending on income from subscriptions, moderately than from extra conventional licenses, an evolution he had superior at Adobe.

Wadhwani was shortly poised to be CEO of a public firm, after AppDynamics filed for its IPO in 2016. Early the next yr, the corporate was set to boost 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.

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

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

Wadhwani stayed at Cisco after the acquisition. With Cisco attempting to develop 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. Nevertheless, Cisco did spend money on 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 gaggle of individuals round him the place they had been doing plenty of 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 wished him to stay along with her whilst he pursued a job elsewhere. He is continued attending each board assembly, she stated.

Akmal stated she wasn’t shocked 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 all the time 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 wish to look extra government?” she remembered asking him. “He would provide the smile, like, ‘Possibly.'”

Wadhwani quickly obtained in control upon his return to San Jose. He is participated in all three of Adobe’s quarterly earnings calls with analysts this yr, offering particulars on Inventive Cloud and, extra lately, the Figma deal.

Internally, his targets included reaching inventive professionals who’re turning into extra prepared to collaborate, rising Doc Cloud after the pandemic boosted e-signature rival DocuSign and popularizing Adobe Specific to handle 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 know-how chief at AppDynamics beneath 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 develop the digital media enterprise.

He stated the corporate was making “a very vital shift and transition,” directing individuals who present curiosity in working with PDF information towards free providers 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 Inventive Cloud, encouraging clients to pay for added providers.

On the occasion, Wadhwani stated Figma’s well-liked design collaboration instruments can speed up Adobe’s effort to get extra individuals partaking with paperwork in Adobe purposes, thus widening the pool of potential clients. He invited Subject to affix him onstage and speak about Figma’s present initiatives.

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


Throughout a question-and-answer session later within the day, Wadhwani sat on to the proper 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 help Adobe develop into extra internet oriented.

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

Then Wadhwani spoke up. Figma would not depend upon anyone file format, he famous.

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

“Excellent news is David can even speak hours about the identical difficulty,” Narayen stated, referring to his file codecs remark. Narayen smiled because the analysts and his fellow executives laughed.

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