John W Thompson of Symantec

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As he takes his seat for breakfast in the River Room of London’s Savoy Hotel, John W Thompson does not look like a man struggling with jetlag as he whizzes through seven European cities in eight days.

Nor does he look like a man who has been unduly ruffled by overseeing the merger of Symantec and Veritas or is worried sick by the prospect of Microsoft parking its tanks on his lawn and taking aim.

In fact, he looks very relaxed and is quietly bullish on these two topics.

“Reaction to the merger from customers has been uniformly positive where customers have said: ‘The strategic intent here certainly makes sense. I’m anxious to see what that means to me. How does that manifest itself in terms of new products and new services. Does it in anyway change what I’m doing with either Veritas or Symantec for the better or worse?’” he says.

Mr Thompson, like many of his senior managers, is on the road to offer that reassurance and tell customers that the merger of Symantec and Veritas places the company exactly where it needs to be to look after their most pressing needs.

“We believe that we’ve reached an inflection point in computers where balancing risk and availability of data is very, very important and hence you want to make sure that information that you use for business decision-making is available to all of those who need it.

“But by the same token you want to make sure that it’s secure in such a way that it doesn’t compromise the decision-making process,” he says.

And already the newly enlarged company is expanding its product range.

“We’ve already launched the first bundle.

“It is all around the mail environment, specifically around the Microsoft exchange where Symantec is historically focused on the front-end filtering and scanning mail traffic and Veritas on the process of managing data for back-up and recovery but most recently with a focus on e-mail indexing and archiving,” he says.

Ah, Microsoft. You can’t talk about software for long without the 800lb gorilla raising its powerful head.

On the occasion of my last meeting with Mr Thompson, he could barely conceal his irritation at a question probing his ideas about how Symantec might resist the threat of the king of the primates wanting to move in on his part of the jungle.

Then, he pointed out that Microsoft’s quest for a greater share of the security market had been more spin than substance.

Although Mr Thompson suggests that that situation has not changed significantly, he is now more circumspect about the threat.

“Microsoft clearly has aspirations to do more to secure Windows and to make sure that more of the technologies that do that come from them. We view them in that vein as a threat to what we do and we’ll deal with them just as we will with any other competitor,” he says.

And he recognises that this is no simple task, given that the companies also work together closely.

“We work with Microsoft very closely to help them protect Windows users. I think we both value that relationship and want to make sure that it is as solid as it can be. This duality of roles that we have is undeniable and unavoidable, quite frankly,” he says.

Also unavoidable are the regulatory and compliance issues that have emerged as hugely important drivers within the technology industry and the security sector particularly as companies scramble to keep up with demands.

As a member of the President’s National Infrastructure Advisory Council, Mr Thompson keeps a close eye on developments and warns that regulators must not undermine the power of the internet as a business and communications tool.

“The thing we have to be careful of is that the internet is a global communications medium and if one country tips the balance in regulating its use or regulating what companies or individuals do on the web it could have an economic impact that might be unintended, quite frankly, by the regulations themselves,” he says.

“That being said I think there are areas where regulatory oversight could be helpful and we just need to make sure it doesn’t stymie innovation in new technology, try to pick winners and losers in the technology landscape or suggest that regulations will cure all issues that might be better handled simply through education and awareness.”

Soundbites

On IBM, where he worked for almost 30 years:

“One of the best corporate training grounds for effective management practices and principles in the IT industry if not in the world.”

On Microsoft security:

“They’ve done a better job of late in trying to shore Windows up so the quality of the service pack 2 offering was certainly superior to prior offerings.”

On his own strengths:

“I’m an intensely competitive guy who is driven by the idea that accepting mediocrity or accepting defeat is not the way you succeed in life.”

On Symantec’s strengths:

“We have a simple view in our company that everybody sells. We are here to serve customers and if we do that well the rest will take care of itself.”

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