Symantec's Thompson: Exit Unrelated To Slowing Growth, Channel Tensions

"I've always believed that 10 years was long enough heading any company, but when is an optimal time to announce?" he said.

Solution providers said that they have had several issues with Symantec's channel this year, especially in terms of how the vendor sees them as partners. Recently, the man who will succeed Thompson, current COO Enrique Salem, told analysts Symantec needs to focus more on direct sales.

Thompson reassured investors that his decision to retire was independent of the company's fiscal outlook of slowing growth or the "broader macroeconomic environment." Instead, it had more to do with his own longevity at the company, he said. Thompson maintained that in light of his impending 10-year anniversary, announcing plans to retire in November seemed ideal.

"Giving investors three to six months was the optimal transition period," he said. "We're not going to allow a changing economy to interrupt a plan we've had in the works for a long time."

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Thompson also contended that Symantec's board began considering candidates for the position two years ago, but noted that he wanted to be strategic about the timing of his official announcement.

He also mentioned that Symantec's board also considered external candidates to head the company.

"We all became convinced the best candidate was the one right here," said Thompson, referring to Symantec COO Enrique Salem, who is slated to take over as CEO. "He knew our company, clearly understood strategically what we're trying to accomplish."

Salem will take the company's helm in 2009.

During his call with Wall Street analysts and investors, Thompson lauded Salem's leadership with the company, hailing his strong relationship with partners, his ability to shape corporate strategy and his drive for cross-product innovation.

"Enrique has been an outstanding business partner," said Thompson during the call. "We've been extremely pleased with his performance."

Salem came to Symantec as the former CEO of Brightmail, an antispam company, which Symantec acquired in 2004. He then held numerous executive positions at Symantec, including group president of worldwide sales and marketing and president of consumer products, as well as senior vice president of consumer products and solutions and security products and solutions, before becoming the company's COO in January.

"I'm fully prepared to capitalize on opportunities in the marketplace and at the end of this melee we're going to gain market share," said Salem.

Going forward, Salem said that he planned to tackle a challenged economy by looking closely at corporate strategy over the next four to six months, and by continuing to conduct acquisitions in order to strengthen the company's product line.

"We will spend some amount of money to make our business stronger," said Salem.

"How do we strengthen our franchises and how do we gain market share? As we've always done, we have a very disciplined process," he said, adding that acquisitions of Altiris and Vontu were "performing at or better than planned."

So far, Symantec has not named Salem's replacement, but company execs said they would consider candidates from both inside and outside the company.

Meanwhile, partners say that while Thompson will be missed, they hoped that the company will ultimately take a more channel-friendly direction.

"Thompson has always been a good friend of the channel even though the channel was sometimes confused about how the vendor was executing its strategy," said Jay Ferron, CEO of Interactive Security Training, a New Haven, Conn.-based solution provider.

"I hope the new guy understands the channel," Ferron said. "As a channel person, I want a little allegiance. Right now everybody sells Symantec product."

Ferron said he is seeing more and more partners bad-mouth Symantec, especially in regards to its channel strategy. "Staples, CDW, they all sell Symantec," he said. "Symantec sometimes doesn't think about its partners at all. It's not like they're the only people with products that work. There are a lot of best-of-breed products that surround it."

Other partners commended Symantec for its initiative to merge security with storage but said they hoped Symantec will dedicate more support to the storage side of the business.

"Symantec is a great company with great products, but since its acquisition of Veritas, it never gave the storage side of the business the kind of support it could have," said Dave Cerniglia, president of Consiliant Technologies, an Irvine, Calif.-based solution provider.

"Thompson was the person with the vision it took to bring Symantec and Veritas together, and one of the first to bring storage security into a single company, much like EMC also did with its acquisition of RSA,"Cerniglia said.

However, Symantec could improve its support of the channel, especially on the Veritas storage side, Cerniglia said.

"Symantec has always been a channel-friendly company on the traditional Symantec side of the house," he said. "They could do more on the Veritas side. I don't know if Thompson is at fault. I doubt it. But everyone will have opinions about this one way or another."

Other partners say that Salem's appointment as the new CEO bodes well for the company's future strategies surrounding the enterprise.

"Enrique gets it from the enterprise perspective because that's where he came from," said David Sockol, president of Emagined Security based in San Carlos, Calif. "I'm glad to see Enrique stepping up into this role, bringing all of the values from the Veritas side of the house, I can see Symantec expanding its reach into the enterprise. Where Symantec had more of a focus of servicing all levels of an organization, I think Enrique can bring in value that will be highly desired in supporting the large enterprise environment."

Joseph F. Kovar contributed to this article