Q&A: New Symantec CEO On Blue Coat Acquisition, Partner Impact And What's Next In Security Vendor Turnaround

New CEO, New Symantec

Symantec recently closed its blockbuster acquisition of Blue Coat Systems, ushering in a new era under incoming CEO Greg Clark and opening a new portfolio of solutions for partners. Symantec first announced the $4.65 billion acquisition at the beginning of June and closed it on Aug. 1, a move that officially started the integration process and moved former Blue Coat CEO Clark into the CEO role of the combined security vendor.

After announcing the company's first-quarter 2017 earnings, Clark sat down with CRN to talk about the integration, what partners can expect, and if Symantec is finally emerging out the other side of its multiyear turnaround effort. Take a look at what he had to say.

You just completed the acquisition of Blue Coat and became CEO of Symantec. What sort of response have you seen?

We have had a phenomenal response to the announcement of the combination in the market. It really is transformational for the cybersecurity industry and we feel really good about the customer feedback and also the feedback from our channel partners. … We closed our transaction earlier than expected, which was great, and now we are on with the work to do the integration. That is going very well. We put a ton of time into planning and making sure that goes very well. We are very committed to a thoughtful integration and making sure we take care of our customers. There is very little product overlap between the Symantec and Blue Coat teams, so we don't have any issues internally. In the field, we are happy to report that we will be keeping both sides of our field organization because that capacity is something that we need. We are very excited where we are in a go-to-market front and this put some serious tailwinds into the future for us.

Do those tailwinds include the channel organizations?

We actually really like the channel organizations on both sides. We actually have, even at the Tier 1, very little channel overlap on the Blue Coat and the Symantec side. They are very complementary. We feel good about where we are there and the Symantec team has great midmarket muscle and Blue Coat has very strong enterprise muscle. The combination of those two is a very powerful machine.

What is the value proposition for partners of having Blue Coat and Symantec come together?

VARs and resellers and distribution do better when there is a rising tide and there is more revenue. The offerings that we're bringing to the market are definitely things customers want to hear about. In the high-end enterprise, which is a big piece of that channel, we've been very solid at Blue Coat in that channel and in the way that we fulfill everything through that channel. We have a very powerful offering there. When we come down to the next piece of just the midmarket story, our endpoint connected to our cloud-generation platform, covering you from messaging, all the various web transactions, cloud-security access broker and dealing with all the cloud applications and infrastructure … we have all of those things taken care of so we really feel good about the midmarket customer really wanting to hear about our offerings. That's been proven in plenty of recent deals and we feel good about both pieces of that VAR and reseller front, as well as the SI. I think the high-end enterprise we are in good shape, and we are in good shape in the midmarket.

How do you plan to overcome the hurdle of Symantec's reputation as a "legacy" player?

With my reputation and track record, I'm a very technical person. I understand these next-gen endpoints very well and in a very deep way. I'm happy to report the news that Symantec is not competitive in the next-gen endpoint space is not true. Symantec is very competitive and 714 is a solid program. What's been road-mapped is really solid. When we combine that with our network, stand-alone next-gen endpoint companies will face headwinds.

Do you think the market perception of Symantec matches up with those next-generation portfolio offerings?

I'll tell you what – we will make sure that it does very soon. I am really impressed with the capabilities of the Symantec organization around advanced threat protection and around the next-gen endpoint. The folks are amazing in the business and I feel very strongly about their ability to really deliver around that next-gen endpoint. It's not just about the endpoint now – it's really about the user. If you're a user of a bunch of cloud applications and your endpoint got breached, I don't just care about recovering your endpoint and automatically curing that endpoint, I also care about the cloud applications that might have gotten compromised. Those will be difficult to protect if you don't have the endpoint working with the CASB. … The next generation isn't about machine learning on the endpoint and isolating a PC. … It's really about the integration of the user and the management of the user's identity across the endpoint and the cloud.

We've been talking about Symantec being in a turnaround phase for a few years now. Where would you define where you are?

I would say that the Symantec team should be commended for the strategy they elected … to return to a pure-play security vendor. They executed very well to divest Veritas. Now, it's just a continuation of that strategy to really go after the pure-play security segment with real focus. The Symantec team is excellent and has achieved goals in the last couple of years and I think they should all be absolutely commended for that. It's hard to divest something the size of Veritas. That was very well done, and now let's get on with the security vision, which was what the goal was a couple of years ago. We are laser focused on execution of our product, on the technical road map and then the ability to make it happen in the field. We are going to excite our customers, partners and shareholders as we really start to get some water under the bridge.

What were the highlights from the first quarter?

We were very pleased with the outcome in Q1 on the Symantec side and also happy to report that we beat our expectations on the Blue Coat side – we closed out Q1 over the weekend. That was definitely a good result. In the middle of all of the things that happened with announcing a combination of this size, we still managed to execute on the Symantec side and also on the Blue Coat side. I think that is a testament to the demand for what we're doing.

Talk about the integration and what partners can expect to see there? What are the priorities there and how will that come together?

I think in the immediate term we want to make sure we don't miss a tick on business as usual. If you're a Symantec partner and need a product order to be transacted, we intend to have that happen seamlessly. Same on the Blue Coat side. We will be working to bring the mechanics of how that gets done together, so you can get a consistent quote and you can process a consistent order and make sure we have the most efficient order fulfillment execution into that global channel as possible. That will come over the next couple of quarters, but for now "just keep doing what you've been doing."

How are you talking to the partners about bringing the two channel ecosystems together?

You know what's really good about what we're doing in the partner community? We now have a solution that customers are really interested in. That's the Symantec endpoint integrated with the cloud-generation platform from Blue Coat. All of the guys that are on the cutting edge of the market, the really important resellers in all the major territories that matter, they really like that solution. That's something that they're excited to take into their various markets and talk about. They have a lot of faith in our ability to support them, as you know. From the Blue Coat side, we have been very well received for a number of years in the channel. Mike Fey is leading that organization at Blue Coat as we previously announced and Mike is someone that is very well respected in that global channel. We definitely have maintained our commitment there, both to the ISV partners that we have and to the VARs, resellers and Tier 1s that we have in the business.