Report: Symantec CEO is top commerce secretary candidate

Symantec CEO John Thompson is being considered for the Obama administration's secretary of commerce pick, according to Reuters.

Updated 4:25 p.m. PST with reaction from tech industry representatives in Washington, D.C.

Symantec CEO John Thompson
Symantec CEO John Thompson speaking at a 2006 event. Symantec

John Thompson, outgoing chief executive of security company Symantec, is being considered for the post of secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, according to a news wire report on Tuesday.

"He (Thompson) is the leading candidate," Reuters quoted an unidentified senior Democratic source as saying. "He is still being vetted."

Thompson, who announced in November that he would step down in April, held several fund-raisers for Obama at his Silicon Valley home.

"John has always kept his political activities personal in nature and separate from him activities as head of Symantec," a Symantec spokesman said in an e-mail. "He hasn't commented in the past and hasn't been making himself available this time around, either."

Several tech industry representatives in Washington, D.C., said Thompson would be a good choice in the government role, particularly given his experience as CEO of a large technology company.

"He is highly qualified and has the necessary background to be an outstanding commerce secretary and effective advocate for the United States on a global basis," said Dean Garfield, president of the Information Technology Industry Council. "His work on diversifying the corporate ranks bodes well for his willingness to think broadly about advancing our competitiveness on a global basis."

"It's critical to have someone who has experience in industries that are global, competitive, and technology-based. That is what the U.S. economy will need going forward," said Rob Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. "If you look at the commerce choices under the Bush administration, the industries there were oil and gas. Those are not necessarily industries of the future or highly innovative, and in some cases, not even global. It's better if your commerce secretary is from the industries that will be critical to the U.S. future."

Thompson joined Symantec in 1999 and oversaw the company's acquisition of more than a dozen companies, including the $10.5 billion purchase of Veritas Software in 2005.

Thompson, whose mother was a teacher and father was a postman, rubbed elbows with politicians and activists like Jesse Jackson but wanted to keep his focus on growing Symantec, according to 2002 BusinessWeek profile.

As a salesman in the 1970s at IBM, he sported polyester suits, a mustache and an afro hairdo instead of the clean shaven, blue button-down uniform that was universal at Big Blue, the article said.

With annual revenue of nearly $6 billion, Symantec is the largest security software provider in the world.

Obama initially chose New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson for the post, but Richardson withdrew his nomination amid a federal investigation into a state contract involving a political donor.

White House officials declined to comment for this story.

(CNET News' Stephanie Condon contributed to this report.)

 

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