CEO Determined to Keep Symbol on Course

Q&A: A month into officially taking the helm at wireless hardware maker Symbol, Sal Iannuzzi is on a quest to show the public that his company is both innovative and stable.

A month into officially taking the helm at wireless hardware maker Symbol, Sal Iannuzzi is on a quest to show the public that his company is both innovative and stable. Its a daunting task, and not just because Iannuzzi is Symbols fifth CEO in six years.

For several of those years the company was in the middle of a book-cooking accounting scandal that involved three of those CEOs. The scandal settled down when Richard Bravman resigned as CEO in December 2003 and William Nuti took the job.

But in July 2005, the CFO left. And in August, Nuti resigned to take the job of CEO at NCR. Iannuzzi, whose background lies largely in finance, jumped in as interim CEO of Symbol.

Within a month he had developed a reputation as a peacemaker, helping to negotiate a settlement with Intermec over an RFID patent dispute. In January he was officially named president and CEO.

On Feb. 6, eWEEK senior editor Carmen Nobel talked to Iannuzzi about his plans for the company, which specializes in bar code scanners, handheld computers, wireless LAN equipment and RFID technology.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here for Iannuzzis views on RFID technology.

In a September interview with BusinessWeek, you said that you would not consider a permanent post as CEO because you thought the job should go to someone with more experience in the industries Symbol deals in. What changed your mind, and do you expect to stick around longer than the previous few CEOs?

Yeah, I plan on staying around as long as the board thinks Im doing a good job. Im not in a hurry to move on to anything else. I think what this company needs more than anything else is stability—a chance to stay on course. [Taking the CEO job] was never really a change of heart … We needed to do a broad and thorough search for someone to run the company.

As time went on and I got more comfortable in the role, my feelings about running the company increased. It was really the trade-off behind the experience versus the stability. They decided that ultimately it would be best to stay the course. The company didnt need a wholesale change. The company maybe needed some recalibration, but the direction seemed to be correct, and they felt like theyd like to keep it with me.

Im not planning on going anywhere. I didnt come to the company for a short direction. All of my options are predicated on an investment for a pretty long period of time. This company doesnt need someone coming in for six months.

How will your finance background help turn the company around more than Bill Nuti already did? And how does your style differ from his?

Chances are I wouldnt have come into the company had it not been for Bill. While our styles are different, our objectives are similar. There are two things we need. One is innovation—to make sure our R&D and engineering staff are incentivized. Thats a winning formula and that should not be changed. Thats our lifeblood.

Two, weve always been heavily focused on the retail side, and that will always be a quarter pulse, but theres plenty of opportunity in transportation, manufacturing and healthcare. I think a number of products we have will help us do that.

Weve started to get the expense side under control. I think were moving in the right direction there, but obviously expense control alone wont make Symbol successful. Its what we do on the revenue side, how we expand into other markets, and what we do to distinguish ourselves from our competitors—thats the key to the future.

In general, what changes do you plan to make to Symbol from both a technology and an operations standpoint?

We need to make sure that we focus heavily on the innovation side of the firm and that we have an environment thats conducive to new ideas and bringing them forward, and us being not afraid to invest in them.

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