It was pure chance - and an extra bottle of San Miguel beer - that brought Gordon Eubanks into a full-time position in an IT company.
While serving on a nuclear submarine in the late 1970s, a fellow sailor persuaded him to apply for a US Navy-sponsored masters degree in computer science over their fourth drink in the officers' bar. If not for that extra brew, he might not now be chief executive and president of Symantec.
Symantec is the world's number-one anti-virus company. 'Well, there are four of us who claim that,' admits Eubanks, 'but only we know it's true.' The company styles itself as the top player in the global utilities marketplace.
Despite the ever-expanding functionality of operating systems, Eubanks is confident that Symantec can stay ahead of the game. 'Microsoft has to design for the whole market,' he points out. 'We can design utilities for narrower parts of the market and that opens up tremendous opportunities for niche products.'
Besides which, he could never see a time when a company like Symantec would want to challenge Microsoft head-to-head. Apart from keeping its eye on the ball, Symantec succeeds by being close to the customer. 'Protecting and maintaining information is a very sustainable business, and our added value comes not from writing code, but from providing managability to customers.'
Symantec likes to maintain its role at the cutting-edge. For example, Java: 'It's our tools (the Cafe product line) that are the development tools of choice. Our new line, Visual Cafe, is allowing organisations to create three-tier client-server applications with no code on the client.
This is the architecture IT people are demanding.'
So the mass rush to thin-client, distributed computing is well within the company's stride. Eubanks goes a stage further, citing total cost of ownership and managability of the corporate network as the key issues facing managers today. 'People made a tremendous investment in IT and they do see benefits. But what was originally built as a convenience for relatively minor business processes has become today a mission-critical part of the company infrastructure.'
And that has a major impact on the role of IT managers. 'It's kind of illogical that an IT professional wouldn't understand the business. In most companies, functional expertise (like human resources or marketing) is an integral part of running the business, not an isolated professional competency,' says Eubanks.
He hopes that helping both IT and business managers live this dream of integration will keep Symantec products selling like hot cakes. Of course, the arrival of polymorphic viruses and barely manageable networks may do a lot more for the company's sales. But we can still admire his altruism.
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