Dr. James Truchard, the chief executive and one of the founders of National Instruments, started out in a garage in Austin. Today, NI is one of the biggest makers of software and test equipment for helping engineers design everything from industrial control systems to wireless transmitters.
Now Dr. Truchard – affectionately known as Dr. T within the industry – is stepping down as chief executive after 40 years. On Tuesday, he announced that he would retire at the end of the year, though he would keep his position as the chairman of the board of directors.
“It is the right time for me to retire as CEO,” he said in a statement.
The change will take effect in January, the company said in a statement. Alex Davern, NI’s chief operations officer and chief financial officer, will replace Dr. Truchard. It will be the first time that anyone other than Dr. Truchard has served as chief executive of the company, which was founded in 1976.
Under Dr. Truchard’s leadership, NI focused on developing platforms, like its PXI modular test equipment and CompactRIO embedded industrial controllers, which could be built upon over the years. Arguably, the company’s biggest platform success is the LabVIEW programming environment, which is used by millions of engineers to plot out test and control systems.
This platform approach has helped bring NI’s products to a wide range of industries, ranging from automotive to renewable energy. The breadth of these applications is made clear during NIWeek, the company’s annual technology conference held in Austin. There, engineers are as likely to view crop harvesters and drones as wireless signal generators and tiny field-programmable gate arrays.
In recent years, the company has tried working itself into specific industries, particularly embedded applications and wireless technologies. Earlier this year, NI partnered with New York University to develop one of the first testers for millimeter waves, which are likely to be a major component of fifth-generation (5G) networks. CompactRIO was the company’s major dive into embedded, providing an industrial controller that could be used in anything from airplanes to construction equipment.
NI's next plan is tackling what the company has called “big analog data,” or the huge amount of data flowing into devices from the physical world. NI views its data acquisition and test equipment as an intermediate stop for data flowing from sensors into data centers, where computers will analyze the information.
Dr. Truchard is the latest elder statesman to step down from the company he established this year. T.J. Rodgers, the chief executive of Cypress Semiconductor, stepped down as chief executive after 34 years. His future at the company is murky. Marvell’s board replaced chief executive Sehat Sutardja and president Weili Dai – the husband and wife who founded the company in 1995 – after an internal investigation into accounting issues.
During Dr. Truchard's career, NI has grown into a business with over $1 billion in annual revenue. The company says that it employs over 7,000 people worldwide.
"Countless entrepreneurs have great ideas and start companies, but very few have accomplished what Jim has,” Jeff Kodosky, one of NI’s founders, said in a statement. "But more than just financial success for the company, what truly stands out is the impact that Jim and NI have had on engineering and science over these last four decades.”