Entrust CEO Sets High Goals

Conner slashes PKI vendor's work force to refocus on enhanced services, alternative channels

Since taking over as CEO of Entrust Inc. in April, Bill Conner has spent much of his time flying around the world to meet customers of the embattled PKI vendor. His message: He intends to return the Plano, Texas, company to break-even status or better by the end of this year. Last week, Conner took a big step toward that goal, announcing a cost-reduction plan that includes firing 30 percent of the companys workers and a $400 million restructuring. Senior Writer Dennis Fisher spoke with Conner on the day of the announcement about the plans.

eWeek: Is this a one-time reduction, or are more layoffs coming?

Conner: I hope its the last of the layoffs. We needed to get the profitability picture back in line and get our new model going. Were looking at this as a good day because its the start of our new strategy.

eWeek: Why did you wait four months before announcing this plan?

Conner: If all I wanted to do was get people out, I could have done that in my first week. But I wanted to intersect the market for enhanced [public-key infrastructure] services and make sure it was the right time.

eWeek: Aside from the layoffs, how else are you going to address the changing market conditions?

Conner: Were going to zero in on our enhanced capabilities and tighten our go-to-market focus by putting more resources into alternative channels like systems integrators and consultants. Were also going to push for increased deployments of our technology.

eWeek: A lot of companies have been delaying expensive IT purchases such as PKI deployments because of the economy. Wont that make your goal of breaking even this year pretty tough?

Conner: Well, our activity for this quarter has been pretty good compared to last year. And, right now, the top two issues for CEOs in business and government are security and privacy. Part of the restructuring is getting us more focused on our core vertical markets like government, financial and large enterprises, so I think breaking even is realistic.

eWeek: What makes you so confident that your customers will go for the enhanced PKI services?

Conner: Ive talked to our customers, and theyre looking for these enhanced capabilities. As more applications are laid on top of Web portals, server certificates just dont cut it. They dont ensure who youre talking to. So once people understand the need for persistent encryption and enhanced security, theyll come to us. The basic technologies of Web certificates and single sign-on are irrelevant at this point.

eWeek: How are the layoffs going to affect the companys ability to develop new products and get them out the door?

Conner: I dont think they will have much effect on that. The layoffs were focused in our professional services, sales and marketing areas mostly. There were some in the [research and development] area too, but that shouldnt prevent us from moving ahead.