Avi Reichental has been the President and Chief Executive Officer of 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) since September 2003. Under Avi’s leadership, 3D Systems emerged as the global 3D content-to-print leader that is redefining and shaping the way we design, what we create and how we manufacture.
Through his passion to democratize the entire design-to-manufacturing process, the company has evolved and expanded its business model from the original inventor of 3D printing to the only provider of end-to-end solutions that are transforming entire industries by empowering professionals and consumers worldwide to create and make.
I Am Driven By | I’m very fortunate to be part of a technological movement that has the potential to be more impactful than the rise of the steam engine. That fact alone gives me an incredible amount of motivation in my day-to-day work.
But what really drives me is the work we’re doing to bring 3D printing to education because we’re not just adding 3D printers to classrooms, we’re creating an entirely new digital literacy that extends from virtual ideas to physical objects. For the first time in history, students have the power to dream up any creative idea, and then instantly make it real.
And the most amazing thing about it all—what always leaves me speechless in the classroom—is that young kids immediately and intuitively understand the technology and how to use it (often in ways that many of us industry insiders have never even considered). That tells me that we’re about to witness an unprecedented creative and productive revolution, enabled by 3D printing, and I’m thrilled to see what’s in store.
A Key Talent | Much of my success is due to the incredible people with whom I’ve worked over the years. The ability to use what’s already there is one of the most important skills anyone in business can have. Often times, this can seem counter-intuitive. People feel threatened by competition or challenged to produce results on their own. But that’s not really how success is derived.
Instead, I have always found value in partnering with others to achieve more. There is so much talent and creativity out there, ignoring it would be an incredible mistake—even if that means changing a business strategy or admitting that you don’t have all the answers.
Here’s an example. A few years ago, a couple of graduate students, Kyle and Liz von Hasseln, at the Southern California Institute of Architecture bought a 3D printer to print their thesis project. But they found that the traditional materials that they used to print their work did not photograph well. So they tried sugar, which worked much better. Then they began experimenting. One day, they decided to make an edible, decorative topping for a friend’s cake. It was such a hit so well that they decided to launch a 3D-printed food business, The Sugar Lab.
Printing sugar was never a strategic priority for our company, but we immediately saw the brilliance in the von Hasselns’ creative vision. In 2013, The Sugar Lab became part of 3D Systems and Kyle and Liz are currently leading our efforts to mainstream 3D food printing.
The Characteristics Of Success | If there’s one thing I’ve learned, in business and in life, it’s that there’s never an easy time to make a hard decision. They just get harder. Plus, every moment you hesitate, you forfeit early advantage. So you have to take quick, calculated risks and have courage in your convictions.
We made several bold moves at 3D Systems—such as consolidating 3D printing parts service businesses under our brand—that was in sharp contrast to prevailing industry logic. In fact, at the time, most of the 3D printing companies were moving in the opposite direction. Many in the industry criticized our move, but we saw an opportunity there and acted quickly on it. Today, 3D parts services is one of our most successful lines of business and we continue to enjoy a substantial first mover advantage in the area, while other 3D printing companies scramble to catch up.
Lessons I Have Learnt | In the evolution of 3D Systems, and in my own career trajectory, I have made one critical observation: you get what you manifest. How we perceive ourselves translates exactly into how we are perceived.
Today, 3D Systems is a globally recognized brand and leader in our space, but many years ago we were just a small start-up with a largely unheard of product. Still, we knew that 3D printing was a game-changing technology and that gave us confidence to approach major multinational firms and win their business and their trust.
Dealing With Doubt | A little bit of fear and/or self-doubt will always be present. If you don’t feel a little bit of both, you’re not taking enough risks. But over the course of my career, I’ve come to believe that fortune favors bold decision-making.
In 2003, I was more than two decades into a very comfortable career with Sealed Air Corp. (the makers of bubble wrap) when a head-hunter called me about a CEO opening at 3D Systems. I did my due diligence into the company and realized that, at the time, it had a number of structural problems. I told my wife that taking the position would likely leave me unemployed within a year. However, I also recognized the incredible potential in the company’s revolutionary 3D printing technology. And so I also told my wife that, if I didn’t take the job, I wasn’t sure I could live with myself. Without hesitation, she gave me her full support and told me to take the risk. And I’m glad I did.
Resources I Use To Stay Inspired | I am always in awe at the sheer creativity and intelligence of my fellow human beings. And we are blessed to live in a time when that creativity and intelligence can be instantly shared with the rest of the world over the Internet. I constantly browse the Internet for new and interesting ideas in all topics, not just those related to my work, interests or expertise. True inspiration, after all, comes from ideas that are unfamiliar and novel. Keeping an open mind is how you keep growing.
In the same vein, I also closely monitor what start-up companies are doing all over the world, in every sector—through media and through word of mouth. Why? Because I firmly believe that the next big idea—like almost every big idea—is as likely to emerge from a garage somewhere in Cape Town, Krakow or Kuala Lumpur as it is from a multinational corporation.
And, of course, I’m actively engaged in the world of 3D printing. One of my favorite things about 3D digital manufacturing is that it allows people to share their creativity with their world, not only through words and pictures but through physical objects. So not only can I discover brilliant new ideas online, I can actually hold them in my hand and use it in my daily life. The way I see it, 3D printers are going to change everything: how we design, how we create, how we learn and how we play. Everything.
The Best Advice I’ve Received | I learned from Chuck Hull, the inventor of 3D printing and the Chief Technology Officer at 3D Systems, that the day before something is a breakthrough, it is a crazy idea. The world is filled with people who will tell you that your idea or innovation won’t work. But history suggests that the greatest advancements come from those people who follow their vision and persevere in the face of scepticism.
Advice On Building Wealth | Many people early in their careers try to position themselves to capitalize on the high growth sectors of the future. There’s a certain logic to this, of course, but I firmly believe that ‘the best way to predict the future is to create it.’ The golden opportunities of the future don’t exist yet, they are lying in wait in technologies that are still in their infancy, or in new applications created from an entirely new combination of existing ideas.
On Inspiring Others | Success in our industry boils down to our ability to attract and retain the brightest and most ambitious minds in the business. My job as a leader is to push these people to deliver more than they know they’re capable of and to give them the confidence and resources necessary to do so.
There are three critical components to this. First, you have to force people out of their comfort zone, to try to reframe challenges and look for solutions across departments and disciplines. Second, you have to create an environment that encourages healthy risk taking and failing-forward-fast. I encourage my team to own their mistakes; there’s nothing wrong with failure, so long as the company and the individuals grow from the experience. Finally, all accomplishments, no matter how small, must be acknowledged and celebrated.
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | I would like to leave the same legacy that my grandfather, the cobbler, handed down to me: the legacy of making. I never met my grandfather, he perished in the Holocaust before I was born, but I learned a great deal about him from my father. My grandfather was a talented and passionate craftsman. He designed beautiful, bespoke shoes—made-to-fit for each of his customers—and he took immense pride in his trade.
Sadly, there are few skilled craftspeople like my grandfather left today. The industrial revolution atrophied society’s craftsmanship muscles and artisan skills and all but eradicated local manufacturing. And what do we have instead? Faceless factories and hulking machines churning out cheap, commoditized goods half-a-world away.
But 3D printing is changing all of that: re-localizing manufacturing and giving the power to create back to individuals. I’m honored to be part of this movement and honored to carry on my grandfather’s tradition of making. I’ve often reflected on my grandfather during my career at 3D Systems, wondering what he would think of this technology. Somehow, I think he would be perfectly at home in the democratized world of 3D printing.