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Industry Analyst Update: Symantec COO Helps Drive Change

Created: 23 Jul 2013
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Welcome to the first entry in my new blog, designed to provide the industry analyst community covering Symantec with occasional updates on our company. I’ll try to make these communiqués quick, informative and a little less dry than an Asahi Beer ( a personal favorite, right up there with Tiger Beer from Singapore). But I digress. Today I’m sharing a recent Forbes article written about Symantec’s Chief Operating Officer, Stephen Gilllett, at the heart of much change at Symantec. There’s also an update on soon-to-come product roadmap updates and our upcoming earnings call. For those of you who saw this update via email, excuse the redundancy, but I do appreciate the loyal following. Please let me know what you’d like to hear from us. Cheers.

Forbes Article on Symantec COO - Although Symantec CEO Steve Bennett is the name most associated with the changes taking place as part of Symantec 4.0, Chief Operating Officer Stephen Gillett, with responsibilities for marketing, IT communications, eBusiness, Sales and Marketing Operations and Renewals, is driving a lot of the internal changes at the company.  As a former Starbucks CIO, Stephen has a special affinity for the customer at Symantec and in fact moderated the customer panel we hosted at our analyst conference this last April. Stephen is featured in a recent interview that appeared in Forbes magazine. 

                http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterhigh/2013/07/15/stephen-gilletts-rise-from-cio-of-starbucks-to-coo-of-symantec/

Product Roadmap Discussions – The Symantec product organization has created a series of product roadmaps aligned to the customer-oriented product “peaks” identified as part of Symantec 4.0 – User Productivity and Protection, Information Security and Information Management. My team and I will be reaching out to share relevant roadmaps with you in a series of meetings over the next several months, as we provide more detail on the Symantec 4.0 journey.   

Upcoming Earnings Call -  Symantec will webcast its quarterly earnings conference call on Tuesday, July 30, 2013, at 5 p.m. ET / 2 p.m. PT to discuss the results of its fiscal first quarter 2014, ended June 28, 2013. You can listen to the conference call over the Internet through Symantec's Investor Relations website at http://www.symantec.com/invest. To listen to the live call, please go to the website at least 15 minutes early to register, download and install any necessary audio software. For those who cannot listen to the live broadcast, a replay will be available on the website shortly after the call.

Forbes Article is below.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

Stephen Gillett's Rise From CIO Of Starbucks To COO Of Symantec

By Peter High, Contributor

Stephen Gillett first became a chief information officer in his early 30s. He rose to become a CIO-plus at Starbucks, holding the CIO role in addition to being the executive vice president of Digital Ventures. After a brief stint as president of Digital, Global Marketing & Strategy at Best Buy, he took on his current role as chief operating officer of Symantec. Still in his mid-30s, Gillett embodies the characteristics of that rare but growing number of executives who have risen beyond CIO.  Not so typical to the group, however, he was an offensive guard on the University of Oregon football team. During his time as an undergrad, he started a business that provided technology support and consulting. The ambition and drive that were apparent during his time as an undergraduate have served him well, and provided some insight into the meteoric rise through the corporate world that would follow.

Peter High: Stephen, you are an example of two trends I have been covering of late. You were a CIO-plus at Starbucks, and your positions at Best Buy and now at Symantec are beyond the CIO role.  I want to go back to the earlier part of your career.  At what point in your career did you decide you wanted to be a CIO, and why?

Stephen Gillett: My first job in IT was the equivalent of the Geek Squad at Best Buy in the 1990s. From there, I had a range of IT positions from working in the help desk to network operator to applications development to engineering to Director of Information Technology. This experience was key for me because I got to know most of the traditional functions of an IT operation. I exposed myself to these diverse areas out of technical curiosity and progressed naturally to the CIO role.

PH: You also went back to get an MBA, as many people profiled in the Beyond CIO series have. Why did you elect to do so?

SG: I was the VP of IT at CNET at the time, and the CIO involved me in a lot of non-traditional assignments. I spearheaded organizational design initiatives. I worked on a variety of HR issues and opportunities. I did not have a formal skillset in these areas. As they say, the more I learned, the more I realized I needed to learn.

I wanted to be able to speak with the CFO, and I realized I did not have a foundation in business language. I needed to understand cash flows. I learned early on that you don’t go to speak with the CFO using technical jargon; you use terms he or she understands best, and those are financial terms. I decided to go to school as close by as possible, at San Francisco State, and got my MBA at night. It was a lot of work going to school while working, but it provided me an invaluable toolset to leverage.

PH: When you joined Starbucks, the role technology played was very different from what it would play when you left. How did this evolution toward developing a digital business model occur?

SG: I joined soon after Howard Schultz made his return to the CEO role at Starbucks, and I was part of the new management team that he installed. It was an exciting time in that Howard gave us a lot of leeway to reinvent the roles we were taking on and to develop some really creative ideas. I was 31 years old at the time and reported directly to him. It was admittedly a bit intimidating. I knew nothing about retail.

The first thing I did was to go to the Starbucks near my house, and ask the general manager if I could work some shifts to get to know the business at the grass roots level. I advise that every CIO do the equivalent to this when they take on a role in a new industry especially. As I learned more about the process of making each coffee, and how customers ordered, I also looked out into the store and saw people working, having meetings, using a variety of devices. Starbucks was becoming the third gathering place besides the home and the office. Rather quickly, it occurred to me that there was a lot of untapped potential to better leverage the internet in some really creative ways. Howard offered the permission to be curious and creative, and the rest took over.

Digital Ventures was an outgrowth of that. I wanted to develop a part of our business that would be focused on new ways to creatively leverage technology, whether it was digital payments, online experience, entertainment, music, mobile. I presented this idea to the CFO. I presented the opportunity in financial terms, and the function was born.

Digital really evolved in some interesting ways. It was part business unit and part innovative thought partner. Digital started to play a role where at the edge it was like an amoeba. We were answering questions like

  • How do we connect with employees?
  • How do we develop apps that will facilitate schedule changes for them?
  • How do we disrupt the store experience?

PH: How did you develop the Digital team?

SG: As has been a theme throughout my career, I hired to my weaknesses. I looked for complementary skills to my own. I hired an entrepreneur who was a former CEO of a business. His name is Adam Brotman, and he is still the Chief Digital Officer of Starbucks. We learned a lot from each other during the course of that journey. In fact, he wrote an article entitled, “What I Learned as a CEO Working for a CIO.” The team was relatively small, but we accomplished a lot with relatively few people.

PH: How did you elect to make the move to become Executive Vice President and President of Best Buy Digital, Global Marketing, and Strategy?

SG: Even as the head of Digital Ventures at IT, I viewed our small group as the moon and the coffee business as the Earth. Nothing that I did was going to change the coffee acquisition strategy as we work with coffee farmers in Guatemala, for example. My role at Best Buy was at the heart of the transformation that that organization was undertaking.  Digital business was very much where that organization needed to go. This was an opportunity to play a key role in re-imagining the brand, and it was the convergence of so many of my passions: technology, new markets, IT, gaming, and entertainment. Best Buy continues its transformation, and though I regret that I am not there to see them through to the end of that journey, I have confidence that they will get there.

PH: This brings us to your latest stop as chief operating officer of Symantec. You are nearly half a year into your new role. What have you drawn from your prior experiences into this one?

SG: The COO role is a new one at Symantec. I view this as the logical next step in my career journey.  This is not so different from the role that I played at Best Buy, frankly. I find myself in a fast moving, rapidly changing industry, with a company that has long been a leader in this space, but that needs to continue to look to the future with new ideas.

My past experience as CIO was a critical foundation to the additional responsibilities that I have taken on as COO. A CIO is positioned to be a major networker in the company, and although I learned about business disciplines in getting an MBA, I also learned how each of the functions represented in my coursework appears through a CIO’s lens because I had to help bring to life the strategies that each of those functions set for themselves. This knowledge has served me well now in the COO role, which has a much broader purview.

PH: Can you tell us a bit about your plans for the future at Symantec?

SG: Our CEO, Steve Bennett, is in the process of truly re-imagining our company, and what we are going to become as we continue our evolution. Our leadership team has developed a strategy called Symantec 4.0, and I am tasked with leading many initiatives associated with the strategy.

Frankly, I also am well positioned for my new role as a former customer of Symantec both personally and on the commercial side. I draw a lot from my experience as an IT executive who had information security responsibility, and I know as a former customer where I was delighted by Symantec’s offering, and where I saw opportunities for improvement. That has informed my ideas on how I can continue to push the organization forward.

PH:  What do you draw from your past experience as a CIO in your current role as a boss to one?

SG: Once you have a CIO ring, whenever you are with CIOs, the grip of the handshake is a bit firmer. I think my relationship with our CIO Marty Hodgett is closer than usual.  I know what it is like to have that job and the responsibilities associated with them. I think I can sense when he needs an advocate, when he needs advice, and when to pull back to let him formulate his plans.

PH: What advice would you offer to others who wish to follow in your footsteps?

SG: First and foremost, seek to get more deeply involved in the business that you are in. If I had to distill it down into one word, you have to be curious as an IT professional.

Second, all too often, as IT professionals, we are the first voice saying that something can’t be done. We need to reverse that, and be increasingly comfortable in taking steps over the barrier, so to speak.

Third, it is also important to note that everything in the business is now converging with technology. The more you can understand how that convergence is happening, and the more you can steward that change into your organization, then the more you’ll be sought after as that strategic partner.

Fourth, invest in your work life balance: none of these activities should come at the cost of not having a 360, end to end view of your whole career. Time with friends and family is as important as times at work. Getting that out of balance is a path toward unhappiness.