North Central College - Naperville, IL

Alumnus is at leading edge of design technology

Robert “Buzz” Kross ’87 helps lead a company with an understated name—Autodesk—but the $1.7 billion software firm is a major player and worldwide leader in 2D and 3D design, which supports everything from the design of BMWs and Apple iPads to digital movie effects.

Kross serves as senior vice president of the manufacturing industry group, which responds to the needs of mechanical engineers, designers and drafters. His division of 1,400 employees develops and markets software for designing products that vary from medical devices like cochlear hearing implants to RKS electric guitars to Arctic Spa whirlpools. Included in his division are design products for industrial machinery, consumer products and building products, equipment and fabrication. The group’s core products include AutoCAD Mechanical and Autodesk Inventor software, which allows users to go beyond three-dimensional designs to digital prototyping.

“Autodesk is a volume player with 10 million legal customers across the globe,” says Kross. “I say legal customers, versus the 30 million who use our products without payment or permission.”

In an industry that grows by double digits nearly every business quarter, Kross says the company does more than keep up with new technologies. “We’re among those making new technologies happen,” he says. “It’s so fast-paced; everything is aggressive and very competitive.”

The media and entertainment division of Autodesk boasts that every Oscar-winning movie for digital effects over the past 15 years has used its Digital Entertainment Creation software.

Kross’ division is based in Lake Oswego, OR, a suburb of Portland, while company headquarters are in San Rafael, CA. Travel is a large part of Kross’ job because the software is built at 12 sites around the globe, and he frequently is visiting places like Shanghai, Singapore, Munich, Prague and Australia.

Kross says that he could have never predicted the outcome of his career as he studied computer science and business at North Central. After serving in the military, Kross was pursuing a career in engineering at General Electric in the Chicago area when he decided to complete his bachelor’s degree. Then a resident of Carol Stream, Kross decided that North Central’s Weekend College would best suit his needs. “At the time, I didn’t have any background in computer science,” he explains. “And there was no other way to finish my degree. Weekend College was somewhat revolutionary at the time. I paid tuition as I went and it was worth every penny.”

Among the benefits were the general business courses he took, like accounting and management. “I use those skills every day,” he adds.

After graduation and his years at General Electric, Kross co-founded and ran Woodbourne, Inc., a company that grew from four to 30 people while supplying design tools for the AutoCAD platform. The company was acquired by Autodesk in 1993 and Kross joined the firm as director for the manufacturing division. Now he manages a division with $700 million in annual revenue that is crucial to the success of his customers in the competitive marketplace.

“Our customers rely on Autodesk software to design and build great products that are changing the world,” he adds.

North Central NOW Fall 2010