Black Hat Attendees Expect Changes At Symantec Following Salem's Departure


Much of the buzz in the hallways at the Wednesday morning session of Black Hat focused on the news that Symantec had dismissed CEO Enrique Salem and replaced him with chairman Steve Bennett, who now becomes president and CEO, as well as retaining his current chairmanship.

The general consensus is that the Cupertino, Calif.-based company now stands at a crossroads.

"The security space is evolving so rapidly that companies that stick with old ways of doing business are going to lose their relevance," said one East Coast channel partner on condition of anonymity. "Symantec has been skating on its reputation for a long time, and that has cost them big time. Maybe this change will help them get their house in order."

[Related: Symantec CEO Salem is Out as Profits Fall]

Another attendee said he is waiting to see what the company will do next.

“I have no real opinion about Symentec’s CEO as an individual, but it’s clear that the company needs a lot of work,” said a software engineer who chose to remain nameless. “They’ve gotten too big and too slow, and that’s a lethal combination when you’re working with security. It will be interesting to see what happens next."

One conference-goer questioned the timing of the change.

“I’m amazed that they decided to do this today,” said Jim Strassburg, a software security architect for Direct Supply, Inc., of Milwaukee, Wis., a supplier of equipment and services for the senior living industry. “One of the major security trade shows [Black Hat] is under way this week, and I’m surprised they would put their people downstairs in a situation where they have to face questions about this. Changes in the executive suite often raise a lot of questions. On the other hand, maybe they are hoping this announcement will get lost in all the other news.”

But the change followed poor earnings posted by Symantec.

For the company's first fiscal quarter ended June 29 Symantec reported revenue of $1.7 billion, up 1 percent year-over-year. But profit fell 9.9 percent to $172 million from $191 million one year earlier.

"The dismissal is not necessarily an indictment of Salem," said a vice president from a large competitor. "Keep in mind that companies change CEOs for a lot of reasons. Very often they're sending a message to the market, to their customers, and to their employees that things are going to have to change. I think this is a very definite sea change for Symantec, and it will be interesting to see which direction they take."

Salem's replacement, Steve Bennett, previously served as CEO of Intuit from 2000 to 2007. Strategy shifts are believed to be forthcoming.

PUBLISHED JULY 25