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Symantec Partners Hope New CEO Will Kick-Start Next Phase Of Transformation

Partners call for the security vendor to bring in an external, energetic and passionate CEO to launch Symantec into the next phase of its transformation after current CEO Michael Brown says he will step down.

Symantec has been through an operational and strategic transformation, and now partners say it's time for a new CEO to bring the stability and passion back to the Mountain View, Calif.-based vendor.

Symantec Thursday said President and CEO Michael Brown would be stepping down as soon as a successor was found for the role. The company also appointed former executive and current Silver Lake Operating Partner Ajei Gopal as interim president and chief operating officer.

Over the past year and a half as CEO, Brown has driven a strategy to bring the security vendor back to growth. That strategy included steps to cut costs, building a new enterprise security product road map, adding new leadership, and returning cash to shareholders. The strategy also most notably included selling storage business Veritas, which the company acquired in 2005 and sold to private equity firm The Carlyle Group in January for $7.4 billion.

[Related: 10 Things Partners Need To Know About Symantec CEO's Departure]

Those changes have led to Symantec being a "fundamentally different company" than before, even over the past six months, Doug Cahill, senior analyst for cybersecurity at the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), said. He said Brown was the "right guy to get them through this transition," given his skill set.

Now, with those changes largely complete or well under way, partners said they are eager to see Symantec take the next step in its transformation under new leadership.

"Symantec has made fantastic progress with Mike Brown and he has taken Symantec to where it needs to be. … Now it's time for the next phase for Symantec," said Jason Eberhardt, vice president of strategic alliances at Chicago-based Conventus.

Symantec Chairman of the Board Dan Schulman echoed those comments on a call about the executive change and Symantec's lower revenue guidance for the upcoming quarter. He said it is time for the "next chapter" in Symantec's history, focusing largely on product development, building on the company's new ATP solution, and expanding advanced endpoint protection, cloud security and security analytics.

"Mike and the leadership team has accomplished a lot and, as a result, Symantec is better positioned today than ever before. However, at the same time we are looking forward to Symantec's next chapter of growth," Schulman said on the call.

Schulman said Symantec will be looking for its new CEO "carefully" and with "consideration." He said the executive search committee will look for an executive who is a great leader who can "inspire and lead Symantec forward," someone with experience in the software business, strong operational capabilities, and an executive with a background in cybersecurity. He said Symantec would like to find an executive with at least three out of four of those capabilities.


Wade Wyant, president and founder of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based ITS Partners, praised Brown's bold steps to transform the company, but said it is time for Symantec to bring in someone younger, "more transformative," and with a "passion for this business." In particular, Wyant said Symantec needs to continue its focus on product development, so a new CEO who is "energetic" about the technology, innovation and "how the company can solve big security problems for businesses and organizations worldwide" is key.

"[The board] needs to do their due diligence and they need to find someone from the outside who can bring some energy and some passion to the new security focus," Wyant said. "If you think about it in that perspective, while it's negative that they're switching CEOs again, it's positive in the long term and even the short term as people realize that change."

Brown is Symantec's third CEO in five years. He was named permanent CEO in September 2014, after a few months serving as interim CEO after the security vendor fired predecessor Steve Bennett. Bennett became CEO in July 2012 and was responsible for the start of the company's transformation under a strategy called "Symantec 4.0." He replaced Enrique Salem, who was CEO for the three years prior.

ESG's Cahill said that amount of churn at the top of Symantec is likely to cause some morale issues at the security vendor. He said a new leader at Symantec will have to build stability into the role to help the company move forward.

"There will likely be a morale hit initially because everyone likes Mike and because it's been a revolving door," Cahill said. "They need some stability in the CEO spot," Cahill said.

Eberhardt said he expects the "next chapter" for Symantec to include a focus on running the business, building out the product line and expanding its offerings.

"I think there was a process they needed to go through and the people they had in place got them through that process. Now it's time to start running the business," Eberhardt said. "I think they're doing that. … They haven't given me any reason to not be positive."

Symantec did not provide a time frame for when it might name a successor for Brown. Shulman said the company will be focused on finding the right leader for the company going forward, rather than rushing to put a new executive in place.

"We will take the right amount of time and be thoughtful about this search. We have a great transition plan … so we will do this in as expedited a fashion as we can, but in a very thoughtful manner as well," Schulman said on the call.

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