McAfee CEO: Proud to be pure-play

David DeWalt may face tough questions from investors and market watchers

As the fourth new president at McAfee in the past six years, and also its newest CEO, former EMC executive David DeWalt will face a lot of questions about how and why he will succeed where those before him did not. To be fair: Some of the security software company’s executive turnover has been driven by competition, such as former president Gene Hodges’ defection to lead rival WebSense. More recently the firm fired then-president Kevin Weiss and forced out CEO George Samenuk for backdating their own stock options.

But DeWalt, 42, will face tough questions from investors and market watchers about how McAfee can translate its current role as one of the few remaining pure-play security vendors into a viable future or whether it should seek out a willing buyer for the massive business.

InfoWorld Senior Writer Matt Hines interviewed DeWalt shortly after his hiring was announced to scope out the new CEO’s road map for the future at McAfee.

InfoWorld: What do you hope to achieve in your first 100 days at McAfee?

I start on April 2, and first off, I need to get a 360-degree view of the company and better understand all the dynamics. Clearly I’ll be talking to customers and partners as part of this; job No. 1 will be to create an assessment of strengths and weaknesses. I feel like I already know the company quite well, but it has always been on the outside looking in, and everyone knows it’s always different once you’re on the inside looking out.

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David DeWalt:

IW: The big question appears to be whether McAfee will remain a pure-play company, diversify into other markets, or be acquired by a larger infrastructure company.

DD: These are all possibilities. Mergers and acquisitions are a way of life and part of a strategic framework for all companies, and the security space is one of the last not to go through that type of change.

You were out at the RSA conference too.There were roughly 1,000 vendors of security products there, and there is no real dominant vendor. That makes me excited to be part of McAfee. We could be the consolidator, or some larger companies could look at us as a pure-play security provider that they need. It’s a good position to be in.

IW: Symantec has obviously moved in the direction of diversification -- buying Veritas, for instance. Is diversification a strategy that can work for McAfee?

DD: Symantec has diluted itself with some of its moves into new markets. Having competed with Veritas at EMC, and now considering them more from the security side, they are challenged to compete on both fronts and have made enemies in a lot of places. But you have to love the competitive landscape. Microsoft is obviously a huge company to watch.

I think McAfee still has more partnership opportunities than opportunities for competition. For instance, we make the whole Microsoft platform more secure, yet there are no Fortune 1000 companies who are Microsoft shops only, and we’re cross platform. Those are great selling points.

IW: What are some areas where you see the company’s products expanding?

DD: Areas such as mobile security. We have a Nokia executive on our board, and I constantly see endpoint device security opportunities. It’s a high-growth market with opportunities to sell to mobile providers, and there is more content and applications on the devices all the time. I see all sorts of filtering and virus protection opportunities.

IW: Some security experts have said you’re like Mark Hurd at HP, the “boring” CEO that this company needs to improve operations and drive up revenues. Do you agree?

DD: I don’t feel boring. I’m a very passionate, humble guy, and I’m incredibly interested in the strategic side of this marketplace. At Documentum we had a chance to change the category for enterprise content management, and we had to beat companies like Vignette and Interwoven, who started out with a much larger market caps, and we became bigger than both of them combined.

That success was a testament to trying to strategically outflank competitors in new markets, and McAfee has a similar opportunity. It will be tricky navigation to pull off, but there’s a big opportunity to be the dominant pure-play security player.

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