Adobe CEO Hints at Artificial Intelligence on Photoshop

June 10, 2017, 1:00 PM UTC

Age: 54

From: Mumbai

In cloud we trust: CEO since 2007, Shantanu Narayen has overseen a period of explosive growth for the San Jose software company. As Adobe (ADBE) has embraced a cloud-based subscription model, its stock has been on a tear, up 43% (to $142) since late May, with annual revenues of $5.85 billion.

Foggy bottom: When Narayen became CEO, “you could see there were some dark clouds on the horizon,” he says. The global financial crisis was just around the corner, and Adobe was not landing new customers as fast as desired. “I didn’t time that very well,” Narayen jokes.

Outside the box: By 2009, Adobe embarked on an ambitious mission to overhaul the way it shipped popular products like Photoshop. “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste,” Narayen says. Adobe switched to a subscription model, opening the door to a new way to deliver software in which customers could more easily receive updates and new features.

Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen.
Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen.Courtesy of Adobe
Courtesy of Adobe

Finding Wall Street: Investors were concerned Adobe was spending too much on data centers, but Narayen convinced them it would pay off. “I think we did a good job of that,” Narayen says. By going to the cloud, Adobe ended up saving money with the switch from one-time licenses to recurring subscriptions. Narayen adds that ditching packaging also helped.

The next frontier: Narayen sees artificial intelligence as a game changer, but he warns, “Many companies just say A.I. without understanding how they want to apply it.” Adobe’s A.I. plans start with voice commands. Imagine brightening colors on photos just by speaking.

Double Duty: Adobe’s board elected Narayen as its chairman this year on top of his CEO duties. Narayen is quick to mention Adobe couldn’t be successful without his staff’s hard work. But, he says, “maybe it is recognition of some of the contributions I’ve made in the company.”

A version of this article appears in the June 15, 2017 issue of Fortune with the headline “Flash Forward.”

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