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Symantec CEO's retirement could bring partner program changes

First channel chief Julie Parrish left for NetApp. Now CEO John Thompson is retiring. What's next for Symantec and its partners?

Symantec CEO John Thompson's retirement may not mark the end of the executive shuffling at the security and storage giant.

Symantec said yesterday that Thompson will retire in April, and chief operating officer Enrique Salem will take over his post. Julie Parrish, Symantec's worldwide channel chief, left for NetApp last month, and some partners suspect more changes are coming.

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One partner, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said Salem's appointment to CEO could spell bad news for Randy Cochran, the channel vice president for North America. This partner said Cochran puts too much emphasis on large account resellers (LARs) and distributors over other solution providers, and the fact that he has not received a public vote of confidence from Salem is telling.

At the Symantec Partner Engage conference last month, Salem said Symantec might not replace Parrish and may be better off restructuring its channel leadership. Cochran was sitting at the same table when Salem made those comments.

The partner said Salem will shift Symantec's channel focus back to its top value-added resellers (VARs) and systems integrators (SIs), and his experience as a sales executive will revitalize the company.

"You've got to love the fact that a sales guy's taking over the company," the partner said. "John was a sales guy too, but Enrique's got a little more kick and a little more energy for change."

"Enrique will be great for partners who commit heavily and terrible for partners who just sign up on the Internet and have their hands out," the partner added.

Jonathan Dambrot, managing director for Prevalent Networks, a Symantec partner in Warren, N.J., agreed.

"I'd like to see a continued commitment and recommitment to those value-added channel companies who make an investment in Symantec," he said.

Salem joined Symantec through its Norton acquisition in 1990 and stayed through 1999, becoming vice president and chief technology officer of the security products group. He left for stints at Ask Jeeves, Oblix and Brightmail, then rejoined Symantec in 2004 when the company acquired Brightmail. Symantec promoted him from group president of worldwide sales and marketing to COO in January.

Mark Shavlik, CEO of Shavlik Technologies, a Symantec partner in Roseville, Minn., said he'd like to see Salem lay out a roadmap for Symantec's future and how partners fit in.

"They're a good partner of ours, and it's good to know that," he said.

Such a roadmap would help avoid channel conflict, which is a growing concern given Symantec's acquisition spree over the past several years.

"When they have a strategy of buying a lot of companies, you don't know what's coming next," Shavlik said. "One day you're a big partner and the next you're a clear competitor."

Thompson joined Symantec as CEO in 1999, following 28 years at IBM. Under his leadership, Symantec was a strong company to do business with, Shavlik said.

"They're always professional and straightforward to deal with -- not always the case in our business," he said.

Thompson also started Symantec's run on acquisitions. Symantec has purchased 25 companies in the past six years, expanding into new markets and creating new opportunities for partners.

"The whole company's built on acquisitions," Shavlik said.

Thompson will officially retire April 4, but he will remain chairman of Symantec's board of directors. At that time, Salem will take over as CEO and join the board.

"John Thompson is going to be remembered as a leader in technology who took Symantec from a relatively unknown company to the fourth-largest software company in the world," Dambrot said. "He's going to be remembered as someone who valued the channel."

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