Fortinet’s Special Opportunity Calls for Equally Special Leadership

Summary Bullets:

E. Parizo
E. Parizo

• Fortinet has become a $1 billion enterprise security powerhouse, with potential for much more.
• To become the next Cisco, however, Fortinet will need unique, ambitious leadership.

It’s worth taking a moment to consider how far Fortinet has come. From humble beginnings in 2000 as a UTM startup, today Fortinet is a $1 billion enterprise security powerhouse, having shipped nearly twice as many security appliances as Cisco Systems (or anyone else) in the past three years and boasting more than 270,000 customers worldwide.

Fortinet has a unique opportunity. It, along with Palo Alto Networks (PAN), is on pace to surpass rival Cisco in quarterly security appliance revenue as soon as the next 12 months, and unlike PAN, Fortinet has long been profitable. Combine that with its broad product portfolio, its penchant for innovation, and its consistent ability execute in nearly all facets of its business, and it’s clear Fortinet can not only end Cisco’s market dominance, but it is also poised to become the next Cisco.

No doubt this is an ambitious goal, one that will requires ambitious, unique leadership.

Fortunately, Fortinet has a strong management team, beginning with its CEO, Chairman, and founder, Ken Xie. By all accounts, Xie is a brilliant technologist and entrepreneur, having founded three successful security companies. He can not only identify opportunities for innovation, but also build organizations and products that capitalize on market demand for innovation, a rare skillset indeed. He is respected and admired by employees, customers, partners, and even competitors, and still doesn’t get enough credit: Fortinet would not be where it is today without his leadership at every step of the way.

But Xie’s passion is clearly for Fortinet’s technology and ‘making the sale.’ He has not shown himself to be comfortable defining and conveying the company’s strategy, market standing, and direction. That’s where CFO Andrew Del Matto comes into play. A former longtime Symantec executive, Del Matto has assumed a leading role as the public face of Fortinet, delivering many strategy-centric talks and articulately explaining why Fortinet is built to innovate, and built to last.

Fortinet owes its past, present, and undoubtedly much of its future to Xie; in fact, Current Analysis forecasts Fortinet will surpass Cisco in security appliance revenue by the end of the decade with Xie at the helm. And plenty of current and former tech-centric CEOs like Eva Chen (Trend Micro) and Martin Roesch (Sourcefire) have led security companies to great success.

But, the best CEOs can conceptualize strategy and tactics, implement them boldly and decisively, and convey them articulately, persuasively, and unyieldingly. If Fortinet is to become the next Cisco with the management team it has in place right now, perhaps the best approach is a shifting of responsibilities among Del Matto and Xie, with each focusing on what he does best.

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