Despite the risks of changing CEOs at a time of massive economic upheaval, news of
Chief Executive John Thompson's retirement barely put a dent in the company's share price Tuesday.
Late Monday, Symantec announced that Thompson will step down in April, ending a decade as the security software giant's CEO. Enrique Salem, Symantec's chief operating officer, will assume the reins when Thompson retires.
Symantec shares slipped just 6 cents, or less than 1%, to $12.10 in Tuesday trading.
Salem's appointment as CEO could represent a turning point for the firm, according to Jefferies & Company. "Our experience with Mr. Salem indicates that he is likely to bring significant energy and a keen focus on cost reduction and margin improvement," wrote Jefferies analyst Katherine Egbert, in a note released Tuesday.
Egbert maintained her buy rating on Symantec shares, explaining that security is a relatively safe area of investment in turbulent economic times.
Salem did not discuss any of his specific plans for Symantec during a conference call Monday, although he earned a reputation for astute management in his previous role as CEO of email security specialist Brightmail.
The 43-year old is widely credited for reviving Brightmail's fortunes after the dot-com bubble burst, helping pave the way for its eventual $370 million acquisition by Symantec.
In an interview, Thompson told
that Symantec has been working on its CEO succession plan for the last two years, with Salem emerging as the best candidate for the job. "What's needed for our company is to transition the leadership to someone who can lead for the next decade," he said.
Salem, who was appointed Symantec's COO earlier this year, is nonetheless taking the reins at a difficult time for the company. Like many tech firms, Symantec's stock has tumbled in recent weeks and is trading well below its 52-week high of $22.80.
The company is certainly feeling the effects of the global economic slowdown, and recently warned that sales could be
sluggish in the current quarter.
Symantec, which competes with
, also has had to contend with a recent drop in its business, which coincided with plummeting financial indices.
Thompson, however, will remain involved with the company post-retirement. Even after he hands over the CEO's role, the 59-year old will continue to serve as chairman of Symantec's board.
"It's not like I am walking out of the company," he said.
During his time as CEO, former
veteran Thompson oversaw Symantec's growth from a small consumer-oriented company to become one of the world's largest security and storage software firms.
Analysts estimate that Symantec will record revenue of $6.17 billion for fiscal 2009, a 4% increase on the prior year.
In recent years, Thompson has also been a vocal supporter of Barack Obama, who is now looking to recruit a high-profile government
CTO for his cabinet.
Was Thompson's decision to retire timed to coincide with a possible role in the Obama administration?
"I have never had any political aspirations," replied the executive. "While I have strongly supported Barack Obama, I have always said that my support comes with no strings attached."
Instead, the Symantec CEO reiterated his desire to spend more time with his family when he leaves his current role.
"This is about my retirement, it's about me moving to the next stage of my life," he said. "I am damn happy that Barack Obama has been elected president, and I would do what I can to support him, but that is not what this
announcement is about."
Thompson nonetheless has strong links with Washington, and, at 59, has plenty of time to pursue new opportunities. In 2002, for example, president Bush appointed him to the National Infrastructure Advisory Committee to make recommendations regarding the security of critical U.S. infrastructure. The executive has also served as chair of the Silicon Valley Blue Ribbon Task Force on Aviation Security and Technology.