Skip to main content

It may seem extremely risky for a major tech company to switch CEOs in a worsening recession. But try telling that to Enrique Salem.

Salem, who will assume leadership of


(SYMC) - Get Symantec Corporation Report

next year, thinks the fraught economy could actually help the company's



"This is as good a time as any to be moving into my new role," he told

, in an interview. "It becomes pretty clear what you have got to do. In more difficult times, the moves that you have to make become more obvious."

Salem, who is currently Symantec's chief operating officer, will take the reins of the software giant in April 2009, when current CEO John Thompson retires after 10 years at the helm.

Despite Salem's optimism, all is not well in the software market, and Symantec is feeling the effects of the economic slowdown. The company, which competes with





Scroll to Continue

TheStreet Recommends


, warned that


could be sluggish in the current quarter and also suffered a recent slump in its business.

Like many

tech firms

, Symantec's stock has tumbled in recent weeks. The software company's shares closed at $10.95 Friday and were trading at $11.46 Monday, well below their 52-week high of $22.80.

"In some ways, it's easier to make what I would consider some of the tougher decisions," explained Salem, unfazed by the prospect of steering Symantec through choppy waters. "You probably have to be a little bit more impatient and move a little more quickly in these kinds of times."

Symantec has already been forced to restructure its business, announcing plans to cut 5% of its workforce last year, and overhauling its manufacturing, finance and IT operations.

"We have sized our employee base and cost structure

to where we think is appropriate for the current revenues we're generating," said Salem.

The COO added that he will be looking at Symantec's sales structure to ensure that sales teams are efficiently deployed around the globe. Salem is also hoping to improve the company's costs by carefully managing travel and headcount expenses.

Salem did not reveal any of Symantec's specific product plans but promised that virtualization and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) will be high priority over the coming months.

The SaaS model, which

(CRM) - Get Salesforce Inc. Report

pioneered, uses the Internet to deliver on-demand services to users and has become one of the hottest technology areas in the last few years. With companies' hardware and software budgets increasingly stretched, SaaS is growing in popularity with users wary of upfront technology investments.

Symantec's recent


of Web-software specialist


will drive the company's SaaS strategy forward, according to Salem.

"That gives us a platform to accelerate our entry into the SaaS market," he said, explaining that Symantec will combine its Protection Network offerings with MessageLabs' technology. "

We will then bring on other capabilities like archiving, data loss prevention, and other things that we think are very important to our customers."

Is there any chance that Symantec will follow


(MSFT) - Get Microsoft Corporation Report

's lead and start offering some of its security software

for free


"No," says Salem. "From

Microsoft's perspective, they have to get this product out to market somehow, and I don't think that it will be a successful strategy."

Microsoft recently announced plans to discontinue retail sales of its Windows Live OneCare subscription security service. Instead, the company will launch a free consumer product focused on anti-malware protection in the second half of 2009.

"Users are absolutely not going to run a cut-down version of a product that has limited functionality," said Salem. "It's like driving a car and not having a seatbelt."

Microsoft's move nonetheless suggests that users are slowing their spending on security software, an area that was once perceived as recession-proof. Salem told

that he thinks that the prospect of a major security spending slowdown is unlikely, even in an economy as dire as this one.

"Security continues to be nondiscretionary -- companies are going to absolutely need to continue to protect their information," he said, highlighting the importance of employee and customer data as well as intellectual property.