Now with its sixth CEO in 10 years, change has been Symantec’s only certainty. Despite more challenges to come, Symantec can succeed if it leverages its unique assets and innovative capabilities while modernizing its venerable legacy solutions.
Symantec’s decade-long roller coaster ride
In a surprise move on May 9, Symantec announced the resignation of CEO Greg Clark. Yet it wasn’t a total surprise. A change at the top had become inevitable. After several years of strategic realignment and largely positive momentum, Symantec’s fortunes of late have been rapidly deteriorating.
Clark was CEO of Blue Coat in 2016 when that company was acquired by Symantec, and was a surprise pick to lead the combined organization. Naturally, he brought many of his top lieutenants with him.
His strategy was to combine Symantec’s best existing technology with cutting-edge acquisitions including Skycure and Fireglass, transforming Symantec into the go-to vendor for securing users, devices, data, and applications as enterprises shift their infrastructure to the cloud. Innovation was starting to make a comeback at Symantec.
Clark made substantial progress, ending Symantec’s four-year revenue decline in 2017 and providing reasons for optimism among investors and security buyers regarding the fortunes of the world’s largest security software vendor by revenue. He even dumped ill-fitting storage unit Veritas, and bought Lifelock to bolster Symantec’s waning consumer business.
But in 2018 Symantec’s financial performance once again slipped below expectations. Soon an internal investigation resulted in $12m of improperly recognized revenue, and a pending shareholder lawsuit accuses Clark and others of intentionally manipulating revenue that affected executive bonuses. Furthermore, a whistleblower has accused several former Blue Coat executives of unethical behavior.
With Clark out in favor of interim CEO Richard Hill, Symantec now has its sixth chief executive in 10 years. What happens next? While Symantec’s board might be tempted to find an outsider with a fresh perspective for its next permanent CEO, the wisest choice may be EVP Art Gilliland. The enterprise products chief recently returned to Symantec after high-profile stints at Skyport Systems and HPE, and his familiarity with the vendor’s current strengths and past mistakes would be invaluable.
Regardless, the coming months won’t be easy for Symantec. With legal and regulatory uncertainties lingering and a massive product portfolio that may require culling, difficult choices lie ahead. The vendor must decide what it wants to be; getting smaller and more focused wouldn’t be a surprise.
As for Clark’s tenure, despite the promise when it began, history may note it as merely the latest Symantec reinvention effort to fall short. Yet if Symantec can find a way to leverage its unique assets and innovative capabilities while modernizing its venerable legacy solutions, its future might prove brighter than it seems today.
Symantec Integrated Cyber Defense Exchange (ICDx), INT003-000238 (November 2018)
Symantec is changing its spots – new culture, integration, and innovation rise to the surface, ENS004-000032 (June 2018)
Eric Parizo, Senior Analyst, Infrastructure Solutions