Symantec Corp. president John Schwarzs decision last week to jump ship and become CEO of Business Objects S.A. marked the end of a long, successful run at the security software maker and the start of a new era for Business Objects, as Schwarz takes the helm from company founder Bernard Liautaud.
In an interview with eWEEK, Schwarz talked about his plans for Business Objects and said that he left Symantec after growing impatient for the opportunity to be a CEO and hinted that some other top talent at the Cupertino, Calif., software maker might also leave following Symantecs merger with Veritas Software Corp.
In Business Objects, Schwarz said that he found a company that is remarkably similar to the Symantec of 2001: a fast-growing company in an industry that is poised to take off. But with well-funded competitors such as Oracle Corp., Microsoft Corp. and SAP AG, Schwarz may have trouble reproducing the success he had under CEO John W. Thompson at Symantec, experts warn.
Schwarzs name, and that of his boss, Thompson, became synonymous in recent years with a smart and aggressive style of management that many industry watchers traced back to each mans experience working up through the ranks at IBM.
Under Thompson, Schwarz oversaw tremendous growth at Symantec, as the company used a series of bold acquisitions to distance itself from former desktop anti-virus software rivals such as McAfee Inc., Trend Micro Inc. and Sophos plc. and venture into the enterprise security business.
Those acquisitions, coupled with an explosion of viruses, worms and other malicious code, helped the company to almost triple in size, from $853 million a year in revenue in 2001 to $2.53 billion in fiscal 2005, which ended in March.
Despite that, the decision to leave Symantec came quickly, after Liautaud approached Schwarz in late July and asked him to take over as CEO of Business Objects. Reluctant at first, Schwarz said Liautaud convinced him that business intelligence software, which allows companies to track, analyze and understand the data stored in their systems, was an industry waiting to explode. Schwarz also was attracted to the prospect of joining an established company with a strong brand name and product line, he said.
“Most of the CEO jobs Id been offered were to come in and run something thats broken. Thats not the case [with Business Objects]. … I can come in from Day One and start building,” Schwarz said.
During his tenure at Symantec, Schwarz helped the company seal a number of huge acquisitions, including Sygate Inc., Brightmail Inc., TurnTide, @Stake Inc., Liric Associates Ltd. and Platform Logic, in addition to the $13.5 billion Veritas deal.
However, the acquisition of Veritas left Schwarz in a tricky position: sharing jobs with Gary Bloom, Veritas former CEO, in a company that was suddenly crowded with talented executives, said Laura Koetzle, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., of Cambridge, Mass.
Looking back, Schwarz expressed satisfaction with the Veritas deal, which he and Thompson hammered out at the end of last year, and with the merger of the two companies in the months that followed.
Schwarz said that he and Bloom have a good relationship and could have continued sharing the presidency indefinitely, had the Business Objects opportunity not come along.
Still, Schwarz acknowledged that the Veritas acquisition laid the groundwork for his departure, all but ensuring that Thompson would stay on as CEO for the foreseeable future.
“I feel good about what happened at Symantec, but I was 54 and I wanted to be a CEO. John [Thompson] couldnt leave for some time, and [Business Objects] came up … so Im here,” he said.
Schwarz said other senior Symantec and Veritas executives might reach the same conclusion. “Theres a strong team with great depth at Symantec. Some of those people may decide that the opportunity to move up is too far out and look elsewhere,” he said.
At Business Objects, Schwarz plans to use some of the same strategies that worked for him at Symantec. Acquisitions will definitely be part of the companys growth plans. “Pack in” acquisitions of technology that expands the companys ability to do real-time data reporting and data modeling or expand Business Objects access to different databases are prime targets, he said.
However, Schwarz plans to work with the management team thats already in place at Business Objects and doesnt necessarily see IBM as a first stop for new talent as his company grows. “I dont think going to ones alma mater is always the best place to start,” he said.
Beyond that, Schwarz will look to expand partnerships with system integrators and large technology players to drive adoption of BI software.
Quoting figures from Liautaud, Schwarz estimated that only about 15 percent of companies worldwide use BI software now. “I believe that [IT] investments that companies have made havent realized much benefit,” he said. “The benefit will come from the use of data and access to data for much better analytics, planning and business opportunities.”