New CEO gives first take on Symantec

There's been a flurry of changes at the top of US software companies of late, the most interesting of which is Symantec's surprise recruitment of long-time IBM executive John W Thompson. He joined Symantec Wednesday as chairman, chief executive officer and president of the productivity applications and utilities software company, replacing Gordon Eubanks who now heads up directory startup Oblix Inc. Most recently employed as general manager of IBM Americas, Thompson previously was responsible for the company's personal software products division where his duties included handling the development and marketing of IBM's OS/2 operating system. Thompson took some time out today from his second day as Symantec head honcho to talk to IDG News Service in a phone interview about his past life at IBM and his initial take on his new role at Symantec.

There's been a flurry of changes at the top of US software companies of late, the most interesting of which is Symantec's surprise recruitment of long-time IBM executive John W Thompson. He joined Symantec Wednesday as chairman, chief executive officer and president of the productivity applications and utilities software company, replacing Gordon Eubanks who now heads up directory startup Oblix Inc. Most recently employed as general manager of IBM Americas, Thompson previously was responsible for the company's personal software products division where his duties included handling the development and marketing of IBM's OS/2 operating system. Thompson took some time out today from his second day as Symantec head honcho to talk to IDG News Service in a phone interview about his past life at IBM and his initial take on his new role at Symantec. What do you think were your greatest achievements at IBM and what, given the benefit of hindsight would you have done differently? When you've worked 28 years at any company, it's hard to point to one thing that's more significant than the others. There are things I take pride in. When I headed up our Midwest operation, the sales distribution model we set up became the executive sales strategic model for the whole company. It was a difficult time for IBM and it was a gutsy thing to do. I'm proud of our OS/2 business. It was an awfully difficult, difficult position for me. People would say, 'Gee, what did you do wrong that you were punished and got that job?' I worked with very large (end-user) companies and put the strategic and financial house for OS/2 in order. I'm also proud of my most recent job for the past two and a half years building the largest geographical centre (for IBM). How you see Symantec building on its existing partnership with IBM? It's hard to say now, I'm only two days into the job. I wasn't involved in the relationship before. I don't have some great insight into what's next. I'm encouraged by the way the (IBM and Symantec) teams are working together on existing projects and ways to move in the marketplace. There's more to be done. Do you think your appointment is liable to change Symantec's previously very close relationship with Microsoft Corp.? Microsoft is an awfully important ally in what Symantec is trying to do. We build productivity applications that exploit the underlying operating system. The world has decided to use Windows and Windows NT. I don't expect a change in our relationship with Microsoft at all. What does the future hold for Symantec? Is the company likely to refocus itself as utilities like antivirus software become more and more a part of the operating system? Perhaps. Your question is a little assumptive that utilities will become part of the operating system. That could've happened to date, but it hasn't. Utilities will become a part of the operating system when it's efficient to do so. Certainly the technology is doable, but it's not a marketplace reality. If it does come to pass, Symantec would have to remake itself. Our focus is on customers, what they need and what capabilities we need to deliver to them. What specifically attracted you to Symantec and what's first on your agenda? Symantec fits the profile of what my interests are perfectly. It's a wonderful opportunity and I'm here. We're building a great new company. I'm going to really spend time with our customers and channel partners on the good, bad and the ugly about what we do today and what they'd like to see us do differently. I'll spend a lot of time with our people. We have a wonderful treasure trove of people, I'll be finding out where that is and what it is. I'll be getting people's opinions about our company who are not in the technology business and will respond to what's on their minds as well. As head of Symantec, Gordon often took a public stand on IT issues such as the export of high-level encryption? Do you think you'll do the same? Certainly. I'll take a position on issues that are important to Symantec and to the industry. Does litigation of any kind have a place in the software business? We ought to use the courts to protect our intellectual property. I don't think you win market share in courts. I'd rather win market share in the market. What's your take on the growing importance of directories? For instance, the other day, Novell Inc. Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt was talking up the technology and Microsoft and Oracle have both thrown their hats into the directory ring. Think about the companies that have said that. Novell said it, they've been saying it for the past five to six years. I think Oracle is looking for the next high ground, they've done a terrific job with relational databases. We have to find a simpler way to navigate through the mass of data. What does you think to the year 2000 issue and where will you be on Jan. 1, 2000? Some customers will be impacted and some won't. I don't think that the world will come to an end. Those who purported that will be proved to be wrong. My plans are all up in the air now.

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