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Thompson Hunts For Growth
When John Thompson, chairman and CEO of information-security firm Symantec Corp., wants to get away from it all, he can often be found hunting fowl or cooking for his wife and family. "I enjoy hunting, and what I catch gives us something to cook. Hunting ties together my two hobbies," the 54-year-old Thompson says.
Hunting requires patience, keen awareness, the ability to endure the elements, and a steady aim. So does transforming a consumer-software company into a provider of business-technology security equipment and services to the world's largest government agencies and corporations.
Patience and a keen awareness have helped Symantec's CEO stay in control.
Photo of John Thompson by Eddie Milla/CRN
It may be hard to believe, but information security didn't matter as much in 1999, when Thompson took the helm at Symantec, as it does now. "It was clear to us that if more people were going to move their day-to-day work and pleasure experience to the Web, that the security problem was going to be much more challenging," recalls Thompson, who was the first African-American CEO of a major U.S. software company. "And we now appear to have made the right choice."
The numbers speak for themselves. Total sales in Symantec's 1999 fiscal year were $632.2 million; they hit $1.4 billion in its 2003 fiscal year.
Thompson sold off Symantec's shrink-wrapped consumer applications such as Act and its Visual Café development toolset in 1999. The following year, he began a string of security-vendor acquisitions, financed largely by selling the Norton security and utilities PC software suite to consumers.
Even with the acquisition spree and stellar revenue growth, analysts say antivirus software still accounts for most of the company's sales. And changing that balance to make Symantec far more than an antivirus vendor is one of Thompson's top goals for 2004. He's quick to report that about 55% of revenue comes from businesses, though the company won't break down how much of those sales are antivirus security technologies.
The coming months may prove the most challenging for Symantec as the security market shapes up to be a battle among giants. Recently, Cisco Systems made a splash with its Network Admission Control initiative, which will be available in the coming months. Network Associates acquired intrusion-prevention companies Intruvert Networks Inc. and Entercept Security Technologies Inc. And last year, Microsoft purchased Pelican Security and the intellectual property and technology of antivirus vendor GeCAD Software.
Still, Thompson is firm in his belief that he can take the various technologies Symantec has acquired and not only improve on the individual intrusion-detection, firewall, and security-management applications but make it so customers can integrate them in a way that makes security easier and less expensive.
"We have to continue to deliver on the promise about integrating technologies for midsize and large corporate users. That is integration at the desktop, network, application tiers," Thompson says. "If we continue to do that, we'll drive down the costs of implementing security, and that will bode well for us over time."
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