May 29, 2017
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MathWorks now in more than 180 countries

PHOTO/COURTESY
MathWorks' headquarters is in Natick, but the company has locations in Australia, China, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and in the United States: Sunnyvale and Torrance, Calif. and Novi, Mich.
Grant Welker
MathWorks is building two new office structures at the former Boston Scientific campus in Natick as it outgrows its existing space just down Route 9.

You've likely never heard of MathWorks. But you've undoubtedly had its technology in your car, used a cellphone or banked with a financial institution running off MathWorks, or even gone to a school that uses MathWorks for its curriculum.

The Natick software company has become one of the region's largest and fastest-growing tech companies thanks to its products – as nondescript as it is – helping to run a seemingly endless list, from rockets to printing presses and artificial limbs to defense systems.

MathWorks might be known more by the name of one of its two major products, MATLAB and Simulink, to the extent it's known at all other than to the scientists and engineers that use the software.

"There won't be a MathWorks label," said Jim Tung, a fellow with more than 25 years at the company.

MathWorks's low profile — both intentional and a byproduct of the type of business it does — masks the scale and scope of what the company has grown to be 33 years after its founding by two college graduates.

MathWorks ties for seventh this year on WBJ's Central Massachusetts 100 list, rising from 12th with the addition of about 400 additional employees. It now has 3,500 workers across the world, with 1,000 added in Massachusetts in the last three years alone. Nearly one-third are outside the United States.

Expansion is bound to continue, if only the company could keep up with hiring. There are more than 500 job openings in MathWorks worldwide.

Organic growth

MathWorks has grown without outsourcing engineering or programming work, nor has it made many acquisitions, except for small cases where specialized competitors had a technological head-start, officials there said.

The company has expanded internationally, with 60 percent of its $850 million in revenue last year from abroad. It now has offices in 16 countries, mainly for sales and marketing, from England and Switzerland to China and Australia.

Among its customers are Amazon, Google, Johnson & Johnson, the U.S. military, and General Motors.

As a software company, MathWorks goes up against the giants of the industry like Microsoft or IBM. But the Natick company doesn't consider them to be competitors, Tung said.

"It's a hard question to answer," he said when asked about similar companies. "There really isn't anyone who specializes in what we do."

From cruise control to rockets

MathWorks has been able to branch into so many industries because so much of the technology works on different platforms, said Jeanne O'Keefe, MathWorks's chief financial officer and senior vice president.

"They all work together," she said, "so it's natural for someone to do one thing, and then do the next."

In a typical vehicle, MathWorks technology helps run cruise control or suspension systems. In autonomous vehicles, sensors use the technology to gauge the surroundings. In space-flight, a rocket can return to earth with a safe landing thanks to technology that more and more companies are improving.

"It used to be that only a handful of companies would have technology used in rocket science," Tung said. "Now, it's almost commonplace."

MathWorks is active in area career fairs, including at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which has 75 alumni working there now. Software companies are in high demand for talent, said David Ortendahl, WPI director of corporate relations in career development.

"They've been a very consistent and very active partner with the WPI career development center," Ortendahl said.

MathWorks' four-building campus, in a stretch of Route 9 near the Natick Mall, is where nearly all of MathWorks's engineering and software work is done. Those employees make up more than two-thirds of the 2,500 workers there.

It's just as someone would expect a tech campus to be: workers playing Frisbee on a perfectly sunny day, others taking time during lunch to play ping pong or work out in the gym, and groups lounging on the lawn or on picnic tables. A comfortable seating area where people can meet is almost never out of sight. The place looks like it could double as an art museum, with modern art adorning many of the walls.

The site was once shared with smaller businesses, but MathWorks has since taken over the whole property. It's taken over another nearby site, too, where Boston Scientific was located before moving to Marlborough in 2014. About 300 employees are stationed there, with more coming. Two buildings are rising, and once they're complete, MathWorks will have about 1 million square feet of space in Natick.

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