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John Thompson to step down as Symantec CEO

John Thompson is leaving Symantec in the spring, after 10 years as the CEO of the security company. Enrique Salem, currently the COO, will take over as CEO in April 2009 when Thompson steps down. Thompson has been at the helm of Symantec since the late 1990s and has guided the company through a period of strong growth as well as abundant change. It was Thompson who made the decision in 2004 to acquire storage and backup vendor Veritas for $13.5 billion, a move that was widely questioned at the time and has continued to draw criticism in the years since. For better or for worse, Thompson led Symantec away from its dependence on its core antivirus business and into a number of other markets. A veteran of IBM, Thompson brought a Big Blue-style sense of discipline and structure to Symantec, but some of his acquisitions and product moves — especially the Veritas and @stake acquisitions — were questioned both inside and outside the company.

I interviewed Thompson on several occasions and always found him to be an engaging, smart and interesting guy. (Here’s a feature I wrote on Thompson in 2006.) He always had a clear idea of what he wanted to do with the company, and I can remember meeting with him a couple of weeks before the Veritas acquisition was final and Thompson was adamant about the value of the deal and the coming intersection of security, availability and storage. He seems to have been proven right on the last point, but after peaking at about $31 right before the Veritas deal was announced, the company’s stock has fallen to the $12 range now.
Salem is an interesting choice to succeed Thompson. He’s in his second tour of duty with the company, having first joined in 1990 and returned in 2004 after several years at ID management vendor Oblix. Salem is widely respected in the security industry — and inside Symantec — and has a broad range of experience, which will be vital in the coming months and years at Symantec.

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