The Best CEO in Silicon Valley

John Thompson has transformed Symantec into a multibillion-dollar security software juggernaut

Thompson. These acquisitions had a few things in common: they offered products that moved Symantec into new markets or helped the company bring its products to market faster through a unique class of technology. The company quickly began to emerge as the leading player in network security.

Though the company’s revenue growth for the last two years has been north of 30%, Thompson isn’t one to rest on his accomplishments. The CEO points out — tongue in cheek — that fiscal 2005′s growth forecast is merely 29%. One would be hard-pressed to find another software company putting up those kinds of numbers, especially in an environment where technology spending has been sluggish, at best.

Analysts remain positive about the direction in which Thompson has taken the company. “The strategy, the vision, I think is just really effective,” says Daniel Cummins, an analyst for UBS who estimates Symantec’s market share on the consumer side to be in the 60% to 70% range (Thompson does not discuss market share). “If I got John pegged right, I think he likes to keep everybody around him running scared and not complacent. He’s obviously a good executor and manager, and he’s been able to recruit similarly effective managers — some of whom have also come from IBM.”

Among the former IBMers on Thompson’s team are President and Chief Operating Officer John Schwarz, Senior Vice President of Communications and Brand Management Donald E. Frischmann, and Senior Vice President of Worldwide Sales Thomas W. Kendra.

Thompson, whose compensation package for fiscal 2004 was $2.71 million, enjoys hearing analysts laud his business acumen but doesn’t dwell on it. “We don’t run our business solely for Wall Street. We run our business first for customers, then for investors, and then for employees,” he points out. “And if we manage that triumvirate very well, then everybody can be satisfied and happy with the results.”

While the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, had an enormous impact on the security industry, the event of Sept. 18, 2001, had an even greater effect on Symantec. On that day, the Nimda worm was released. This computer virus caused massive delays on the Internet by creating huge amounts of traffic as it spread across cyberspace, and it spawned legions of copycats as hackers, crackers, and worm writers tried to one-up each other. “Since that time, we’ve seen both the rate of attacks and the complexity of the attacks continue to increase,” says Thompson. “So the time between the attacks is getting shorter, and the complexity of each of the attacks is becoming much more daunting. And hence, that’s propelled both our consumer business and our enterprise business for terrific performance.”

FIVE YEARS IN THE VALLEY
Half a decade after taking Symantec’s reins, Thompson remains the only African American heading a major technology company, but that’s not something he likes to focus on. “There are brilliant people in the technology sector who are people of color,” Thompson says, pointing out Mark Dean, vice president of systems at IBM. (Dean holds three of IBM’s nine

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