Box looks to ex-Symantec chief Salem for enterprise savvy

New Box advisor Enrique Salem

New Box advisor Enrique Salem

In the tussle to attract business users to consumer-y cloud storage, appearances are everything. As such, the file-sharing service Box may have scored a coup with the hiring of ex-Symantec Corp. CEO Enrique Salem, an experienced enterprise-grade tech boss with a lengthy — if somewhat uneven — track record in both storage and security.

It’s the second big advisory get for Box, which last August named former Microsoft Corp. Windows boss turned Harvard professor Steven Sinofsky to a similar position.

Salem’s hiring as a special advisor to it’s leadership team is a smart move for Box, though probably not enough on name alone to move them past consumer rivals like Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive and put them on the playing field with the likes of bona fide storage and backup vendors, including Carbonite Inc., Mozy, Axcient Inc., Datto and others.

As well-known as Salem is, it doesn’t immediately address the fact that Box and others of its ilk don’t yet offer the same level of security or manageability as their business-class competitors, and aren’t in the conversation as a true business backup service, even if their low cost and ease of use have made them a sort of low-end backup alternative.

Still, Box is determined to up its game and is counting on Salem to “work closely with Box’s executive team, its global network of customers, and partner ecosystem to innovate and advance a new model for cloud security,” according to Box co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie.

“Enrique and I got to know each other over the past few months and it became obvious that he could help us as we continue to deliver our platform to the world’s largest enterprises,” Levie wrote in a blog post announcing Salem’s hiring. “We’re looking forward to working with Enrique as we continue to both build out the ecosystem around Box, as well as introduce more capabilities into our products and platform.”

It’s been a long road back for Salem, who was unceremoniously bounced from the Symantec corner office in July of 2012. Salem came to Symantec in 2002 when the security vendor purchased his company, Brightmail. He lost the chief executives gig in a surprise coup over what insiders termed his inability effectively change Symantec’s management-by-committee culture, his backing of bad products and a limited return on acquisition investments.

Salem oversaw several setbacks in Symantec products, most notably the derided release of Symantec Endpoint Protection 10, described at the time by partners and customers as a bloated and ineffective resource hog. Those product woes sent a lot of Symantec partners in search of alternative security suppliers.

In retrospect, however, it’s been clear that not all of the problems at Symantec can be laid on Salem. A year and a half after his tenure ended, the company continues to grapple with its product positioning and portfolio in an increasingly cloud-centric world.

And Salem did have his share of successes that might prove applicable as he tries to help shepherd Box into the enterprise space. Salem guided some $2 billion in acquisitions of complementary technologies, including VeriSign Security Business (digital certificates), PGP and Guardian Edge (encryption), Live Office (backup) and Mi5 Networks (security services).

Clearly Box is hoping to capture some of that same business-class mojo as it tries to evolve its own business. Levie himself writes that he concedes “a new approach to the security model is required.”

“It’s one that entrusts users to access their information from anywhere,” said Levie. “It’s one whose content policies transcend networks and instead follow the data. And it’s one that allows employees to use the best applications available to them, and not be held back by tired and broken systems.

“We will not only support this new approach to security by working with the industry’s leading security vendors and partners, but also by building our own technologies and capabilities that protect our customers. Our mission is to ensure customers have the best possible set of data, analytics, and visibility into their information when using our platform.”

Time will tell of the old Symantec boss can help them get there.

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