The Best CEO in Silicon Valley

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

original patents for personal computers.) “There just aren’t enough of us. I think the more that people like me, like Mark Dean and others, can do to suggest that you can build an absolutely fantastic career in this industry — that this is not an industry that has its doors closed — the better. This is a meritocracy.”

Despite his stellar track record, Thompson is not perfect. When Symantec anted up $925 million of its own stock for firewall and intrusion detection system manufacturer AXENT Technologies in 2000, some analysts doubted whether the purchase was worth the price. “A lot of the product lines in the enterprise space weren’t really that successful,” says Jonathan Rudy, a software analyst at Standard & Poor’s Equity Research. “The key driver to Symantec’s success over the last few years has been their consumer business, primarily their consumer antivirus business.”

But for the most part, Thompson finds a way to make it work. “He combines two things that you usually find [only] one or the other [of] in people,” says Richard A. Clarke, chairman of Good Harbor Consulting, a homeland and cyber security advisory firm, and former special adviser for cyber security under President George W. Bush. When Clarke was tapped by then-President Bill Clinton as the national coordinator for security, infrastructure protection, and counterterrorism in 1998, he worked with Thompson on cyber security issues. “[Thompson has] the ability to make everybody like him and want to be with him in that sort of winning salesman personality, which is what he was — he was a salesman. But he combines that with a hard-nosed, make-it-happen determination and a real understanding of the detail and technology.”

When not focusing on challenges on the business front, Thompson has been spending time becoming more politically active, supporting Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry. “It’s taken me a long time to reach the point where I decided that I want to be … not an activist, but at least not passive,” he says. “And in this particular case, I feel very, very strongly that we do need to take our country in a different direction — a different direction in terms of our standing as a global economic leader, a different direction in terms of the notion of a balanced budget.”

Thompson says he’s always looking ahead to the next challenge and keeps his eye on the prize at all times — whether at a political fundraiser, a corporate boardroom, or fly-fishing in the woodlands of Alaska.

  • FULL NAME John Wendell Thompson
  • TITLE Chairman and CEO of Symantec Corp.
  • BORN April 24, 1949, in Fort Dix, New Jersey
  • FAMILY Thompson has a wife, Sandi, and two adult children from a previous marriage.
  • EDUCATION B.A., business administration, Florida A&M University (1971); M.S., management science, MIT’s Sloan School of Management (1983)
  • RESIDENCE Woodside, California. Also has a vacation home in Hawaii.
  • HIDDEN TALENTS Initially was a music major and plays clarinet.
  • BREAKING GROUND Thompson is the only African American leading a large technology company.
  • QUOTE “Philosophically, I believe that business is personal, that if you don’t take it
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