Rob Burgess

2015 Canadian Digital Media Pioneer Award Recipient

Rob Burgess is a corporate executive, a visionary manager, an investor, and a Canadian Digital Media Pioneer. As CEO of the software company Alias, Rob Burgess oversaw a multi-year corporate “turnaround” that brought the company from the brink of bankruptcy in the early 1990s to being an international industry leader for 3D animation software. His leadership set the stage for the eventual aggregation of three Canadian software animation companies – Alias, Discreet Logic, and SoftImage – within Autodesk to produce a multinational corporation with a portfolio of software products in a wide range of 3D design, engineering & entertainment applications. Rob’s multiple success stories over his career in transforming companies into major players in the digital media industry highlights the importance of strong management skills and visionary leadership, not just technical prowess, as key factors for success.

Rob’s initial introduction to the interactive 3D graphics industry was serving as the Toronto-based sole Canadian salesperson for Silicon Graphics (SGI) when SGI was still in its infancy in the emerging computer graphics workstation market and aggressively challenging more established computer graphics hardware companies through its innovative VLSI-based “graphics engine.” In those early days, Rob shared a small office space in Toronto with a fledgling four-person start-up company called Alias Research that was using the new SGI workstations for its custom-built 3D animation software. After serving a stint in California as a vice president with SGI and president of SGI Canada, Rob returned to Toronto when SGI acquired two of the other pioneering animation software companies, Alias Research and Wavefront Systems, which were merged into what eventually became known simply as Alias.

Rob’s vision and leadership allowed the combined company to focus its efforts on important market segments that were core assets when Autodesk decided to acquire the company. During his time as CEO, Alias began the development of its Oscar-winning MAYA animation system. The development of MAYA continued after Rob’s departure, and became a key component of Alias’s product line. Autodesk subsequently acquired Alias, and then acquired two other Canadian animation software companies (first Discreet Logic and then SoftImage, both based in Montréal), creating a high-end animation and computer aided geometric design powerhouse based on Canadian technology.


After starting out as a drama student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Rob decided to change his major and enroll in the DeGroote School of Business, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1979. Rob was the first employee of Silicon Graphics (SGI) Canada. He later went on to become a senior executive at SGI in Mountain View, CA, before returning to Canada to assume leadership roles at Alias. After working at Alias, he was CEO of the U.S. company Macromedia, where he again orchestrated a turnaround that realigned the company with the changing digital media marketplace. That effort led to the purchase of Macromedia for $4 billion by Adobe in 2005. In 2014 he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from DeGroote in recognition of his many accomplishments in the digital media industry. Rob has continued his involvement in digital media as a board member of a number of not-for-profit organizations as well as serving in various board-level roles for Adobe, IMRIS, Inc., Nvidia, Syncapse, Real Matters Inc. (a Canadian Technology Company that provides services for the mortgage lending and insurance industries), and Rogers Communications.