The drives between company visits are fun. I listen to local radio, stop at local stores, and can learn a lot about US consumers and how they behave. On this particular trip last year, as I drove to Detroit to see a company called Altair, my mind turned to the safety of my rental car.
Altair sells simulation software including, for example, software that powers crash test dummies. Before this type of software existed, automobile companies would have to destroy several cars during the testing process as they are repeatedly thrown into a wall at force. However, it can now be done through computer simulation.
This is an example of software that applies real world forces to computer models to help build an understanding of a car’s safety failures and why they occur.
Altair is based half-a-mile down the road from General Motors. Initially the company was doing a lot of work with the automobile industry and so it sensibly located near its customer base, but it has now massively diversified its revenue.
This was my first time meeting the company, but I had been wanting to see them for a long time and I knew the questions I wanted to ask.
I often find that when I go to see companies on their own turf, and not at a roadshow or conference, where managers have either got conference fatigue or have a message they want to sell, it’s a very different conversation. Managers are wearing jeans and a T-shirt and they’re happy to talk about the business more generally. They are happy to see you and sometimes cannot believe you’ve come all that way to see them. Importantly, they’re not trying to defend messages and they’re not tired.
I find that my most valuable management meetings tend to be on-site.