Symantec Partners Seek Balanced CEO To Jump-Start Momentum

Symantec channel partners say the vendor's chief executive should have a balanced skill set to oversee product integration while sharpening the vendor's remaining sales and support organization, which is still largely regaining its footing following a year of cutbacks and restructuring.

Symantec interim CEO Michael Brown has been at the helm of the beleaguered vendor since March while the board of directors conducts a search for new leadership since it ousted former CEO Steve Bennett.

Partners call the sales force overhaul undertaken by Bennett a good business move, despite the disruption it has caused. The retooled channel program, which relies on partners with strong product expertise has weeded out resellers that are underdelivering, they say. The transition has been long and far from smooth, but partners say it's now time for leadership that can deliver on Symantec product integration announced at the Symantec Vision user conference in May.

[Related: Symantec Slashing Products, Investing In Key Storage, Security Lines]

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Symantec needs a CEO that will follow through on delivering on its integration strategy, said Paul Deur, a principal at New York-based Eden Technologies, a Symantec Platinum partner. Until now, leadership has either been solely focused on addressing internal operations or mainly building out the product portfolio, Deur said.

"There needs to be a balance; there's a need for a balanced CEO who can run a more efficient workforce and integrate this portfolio," Deur said. "If Symantec can pull together this broad portfolio, which addresses discrete elements of data management and security, it can be a tremendous differentiator in the market."

Eden Technologies has been a Symantec partner for about eight years. Deur and executives at other Symantec channel partners say they have seen a pattern of changes every two years or so in response to emerging technology trends, such as mobility and cloud adoption.

It's resulted in a spate of acquisitions that expanded its portfolio of strong market leaders, but did little to integrate the technologies into a coherent platform, partners say.

In 2007, Symantec acquired Altiris and Vontu for IT management and data loss prevention; in 2010, the company bought PGP and VeriSign for encryption and authentication; and in 2012, two smaller deals added Nukona and Odyssey Software under the Symantec product umbrella for mobile device and mobile application management.

NEXT: Partners: Sales Overhaul Disruption Nearing End

Partners that are standing by Symantec as it searches for a new chief executive are beginning to re-establish contacts with representatives of the newly reorganized sales force, said Kevin Wheeler, founder and managing director at Dallas-based information security services company InfoDefense, a Symantec partner.

Wheeler called the sales organization overhaul a good business move despite the temporary disruption. Symantec had a heavy sales organization and, while it was likely very costly, it had resulted in some very strong specialists, Wheeler said. Symantec product specialists had a deep level of expertise but the reorganization over the last year has created a team of generalists.

"They have cut out the fat but also cut a lot of their capabilities in the process, so they need to come back to equilibrium to be truly effective from a sales perspective," Wheeler said. "At the same time, I think many of us understand that the channel has to improve our ability to demonstrate the products and stand alone on a lot of sales opportunities."

Several other Symantec partners that specialize in security told CRN that Symantec had up to 10 sales reps in a single market, in addition to encryption and data loss prevention sales specialists that it held onto following its Vontu and PGP acquisitions. Now the dismantled sales organization has resulted in a less experienced sales force, said one Symantec partner, who declined to be named.

"If we don't have a single point person that has a vested interest in our success, business tapers off and they disappear," the partner said. "They are one of our top four partners, but it's likely we might look elsewhere if the relationship doesn't improve."

In addition to the disruption to the sales force, Symantec's Brown told financial analysts that the company was reassessing its entire product portfolio and would pull back from product areas where the company was not competitive. Security partners, many of them IT consultancies with strong security practices, say they haven't been impacted or warned about a move away from any specific products.

Other partners also are concerned that the company is having trouble retaining key product and channel executives.

Symantec's global channel chief Garrett Jones recently left to lead sales and partner activities at Spanning, a cloud backup services vendor. Francis deSouza, its president of products and services, departed last November. The most recent resignation came from Brian Dye, a senior vice president of information security, whose comment to The Wall Street Journal "antivirus is dead" that went viral in May, left in June to spearhead the mobile platforms group at Citrix.

Executives also departed from the company's threat research and managed services program, which was cut back last fall.