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.
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.
A Stronger Sales Force
What are you doing to strengthen your sales force?
Our sales force is maturing and our channels are maturing at the same time. Youre never doing as much as youd like to do, but that is on the forefront.
One of the things were doing is bringing our engineering and sales groups in closer and closer touch. Were doing quite a bit to make sure the communication between the two is as great as it can possibly be. Thats extremely important.
How are you addressing the growing competition from companies, specifically Cisco, who have entered the wireless LAN switching space in the past few years?
Were number two to Cisco in the wireless space, and thats not such a bad place to be at the end of the day. We see other competitors but were really not losing to them. We dont see them eating into our space at all at this point. With regard to Cisco, were a content number two.
There have been persistent rumors that Symbol will sell its wireless LAN division. Any truth to these? Might you acquire anyone?
Even if we were doing something like that, we couldnt discuss it. Right now there are no plans to do anything like that. Having said that, given where we are right now, we are looking at other areas where we could do things better, and as we recalibrate, anything is possible. Maybe there are some areas where we could acquire, and maybe there are some areas where we should push off. Obviously we have our eyes open.
There has been a lot of hype around RFID (radio frequency identification) technology lately—a market where Symbol is a leader. When will this market hit critical mass, and what will it take for you to get there? Whats the business case?
RFID will be a very important market, but the question is when. Its an old science but the way to apply it is being developed on many different fronts—anything from homeland security to retail. Its a matter of educating and developing on different applications for it … In time, it will be a very significant market, but whether that happens in 07 or 08, I dont know that.
But it is an important market. We cant be a leader in data capture without being a leader in RFID. Nobody has the IP we have, and when you put it all together its a pretty strong line of technology.
Were in 400 Wal-Mart stores today, operating. We are in three major airports at this point. Were at the forefront, not just in theory, but in practice. We consider it very much a learn and develop exercise. But our RFID revenue is inconsequential to the overall being of the company right now. Its such an embryonic market that its not about revenue yet.