Star Profile

Star Profile – John W. Thompson


Chairman, Board of Directors,

Microsoft Corporation

Country: United States

DOB: 1949, Fort Dix, New Jersey

John W. Thompson is the chief executive officer of privately held Virtual Instruments, since May 2010.

He became a member of the Virtual Instruments Board of Directors in 2009.

Mr. Thompson was named independent Chairman of the Board of Directors for Microsoft Corporation on February 4, 2014. He has been a member of the board since February 2012.

Mr. Thompson is also the former chairman and CEO of Symantec Corp. As CEO of Symantec, Mr. Thompson transformed the company into a leader in security, storage and systems management solutions, delivering world-class products to a global customer base, including both individuals and large-scale enterprises. He helped grow revenues from $600M to over $6B. Mr.

Prior to joining Symantec, Mr. Thompson had a distinguished career with the IBM Corporation where he worked for 28 years holding senior executive positions in sales, marketing and software development. In his last assignment, he was general manager of IBM Americas and a member of the companies Worldwide Management Council.

Mr. Thompson is a part owner of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. He is an active investor in early-stage companies and currently serves on the board of directors of Liquid Robotics, the world’s first wave-powered autonomous platform, and DOMO, an emerging platform for business intelligence.

Mr. Thompson also serves on the board of UPS and Microsoft, the world’s largest software company.

Mr. Thompson received a Bachelor of Business Administrations degree from Florida A&M (1971) and his Master’s degree in Management (MBA) from MIT’s Sloan School of Management (1983).

In addition, in May 2008, he received an honorary doctorate degree from Notre Dame University.


His Story

I GREW up in West Palm Beach, Fla. My dad took me hunting, trapping and fishing when I was a kid. Years later, when I was working for I.B.M. in the Midwest, a customer invited me to go pheasant hunting in South Dakota. I haven’t missed a season there in 20 years.


During my senior year at Florida A&M University, I worked in a stereo store. A fraternity brother who headed job-placement services on campus encouraged me to interview with I.B.M. He said I was a natural salesman. I had an 800-pound Afro, a big beard and mustache and wore bell bottoms and a flowered shirt.

The interviewer mentioned that he was interested in buying a stereo, so I spent the whole time trying to sell him one. He didn’t buy one from me, but he did offer me a job as a sales rep in Tampa. I owe my I.B.M. job to that fraternity brother.

I joined the company when it was diversifying its work force. Employees accepted me based on my contribution, not on what I wore. Five years later, I realized I looked different from my colleagues. It had nothing to do with the color of my skin; it was that I didn’t wear a blue suit and button-down shirt. At that point, I decided it was more important to assimilate into I.B.M. than to fight it.

I stayed 28 years and rose to general manager of I.B.M. Americas. I had no interest in leaving, but the odds were low that I’d ever be C.E.O. When a headhunter called and asked what it would take for me to leave, I said it had to be a software company, I wasn’t interested in a start-up, and I wanted the top job. When the offer from Symantec came, it was a perfect fit. My wife, Sandi, gave the final nudge, saying that if I didn’t move on it, I needed to return to work and never talk about leaving I.B.M. again. I became chairman, president and C.E.O. in 1999.

I retired in 2009 with no plans to be a C.E.O. again. I planned to invest in early-stage companies and to become involved with management teams where it made sense. After investing in Virtual Instruments and joining its board in 2009, I stepped in as C.E.O. in 2010. Originally, I intended to stay a few months, redirect the company to a more efficient business model and find a new C.E.O.

A week later, I found that we needed more funds, so other investors and I invested additional money. That was enough to give us a couple of good quarters so we could attract additional investors and another leader. We were able to raise $22.5 million in new capital, contingent upon my staying as C.E.O.

Virtual Instruments monitors the efficiency of business applications deployed in data centers and ensures their performance and availability. We see even greater opportunities as more companies move to private cloud computing, a more cost-effective way to run a data center, because we reduce the risk in deploying those applications.

I’ve learned several lessons over the years. First, never take yourself too seriously, or work is boring. Next, people make the difference. You can have great technology, but if it’s not complemented by great people, it won’t go anywhere. Finally, customers buy from people they like. I can always circle back to former customers and suggest they might want to take a look at our products.

My friends and family are amazed I’ve done so well. I was not a model student. No one expected that I’d build a Fortune 500 company at Symantec. Last year, my dad, who is 89, moved to California to be closer to me. Recently, we were riding in the car and he mentioned a financial concern. I told him not to worry, that I would take care of it. He was pensive for a moment and then said that my mother, who died 25 years ago, would be very proud of me.


His Story As told to Patricia R. Olsen.

A version of this article appears in print on June 17, 2012, on page BU13 of the New York edition with the headline: Goodbye, Bell Bottoms.



Leave a Reply