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Will Symantec hire a CEO with storage background?

Symantec’s stunning firing of CEO Steve Bennett leaves the company with a third CEO in less than two years.

The move came as a big surprise because Bennett spent about half of his 18 months as Symantec CEO plotting a turnaround plan, and implementation of that plan is far from complete. Following the departures late last year of president of products Francis deSouza and CFO James Beer, Symantec will have a vastly different leadership team after a replacement is found for Bennett. Board member Michael Brown is the interim CEO.

The statement Symantec released Thursday about the firing quoted chairman Daniel Schulman saying the decision “was the result of an ongoing deliberative process, and not precipitated by any event or impropriety.” Financial analysts point to lack of growth and loss of market share on the antivirus/security side as Symantec’s biggest problems, but there have been issues on the backup and storage side as well. The biggest problem was the Backup Exec 2012 fiasco, which still is not fixed more than two years after its initial release.

Perhaps the main overall problem with Symantec is it is two companies under one umbrella. Symantec has never made storage and data protection an equal partner with security after acquiring storage software vendor Veritas in 2005. None of Symantec’s CEOs since then – John Thompson, Enrique Salem or Bennett – were storage guys, and there have been intermittent rumors that the storage products would be spun off.  Veritas was a major storage market influencer as a standalone company, but Symantec is not seen as much of a force in the storage world.

Security and storage have mostly been separate divisions, and the two-pronged approach hasn’t worked. Symantec’s flagship backup application NetBackup is still doing well, and the decision to sell it as part of integrated appliances has worked out. But BackupExec is a mess, Symantec’s storage management message is muddy, and it is also losing its iron grip on the anti-virus market.

It would help if the new CEO has experience in storage or data protection. Interim CEO Brown has that experience as a former CEO of Quantum and a Veritas board member before the merger. However, indications are that Brown will only hold the job until a permanent CEO is found. Let’s hope the search committee keeps storage in mind when screening candidates.

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