Chris Young has a long to-do list. As CEO of McAfee, which popularized antivirus software in the 1980s and 1990s, he has to prove to investors that his company can operate on its own following a $4.2 billion spinout from Intel in April.
He needs to show peers that McAfee can succeed in a new era. And he must teach customers that the company can once more be on the cutting edge. Here’s what Young had to say ahead of his company’s spinoff.
Fortune: McAfee is three decades old in an industry where age can be a liability. How will you change this perception?
Chris Young: The prior McAfee had a little bit of a supermarket strategy: You come and you buy one of anything “cyber” from us. In my view that wasn’t what the industry needed from us. It needed us to be more of a player that could deliver them an architecture. So we shrank the product portfolio, and we’re investing more in some areas. One of the newest areas is machine learning—this is the big buzz right now in the industry.
Since resigning from the company, founder John McAfee made headlines for his political views and clashes with law enforcement. Does it impact the brand?
First of all, John McAfee hasn’t been involved in this company for over 20 years. In fact, I did a Google [search] on McAfee, and half the time I get Pat McAfee, the punter for the Colts.
But in all seriousness, we did a lot of research to really understand what the brand means to people. And here’s where we came out: We’re already doing something that’s hard, which is to spin a company out of another company. We happen to have a brand that because we’ve been around, it’s got positives and it’s got negatives.
Under Intel, McAfee was a division of a large semiconductor company. Now it’s independent. What are the opportunities? Challenges?
Being private is a path to independence. And as far as getting access to capital, we no longer have to compete with other parts of the Intel business for investment—whether that investment is about M&A or investments we want to make internally. Intel is a 100,000-person company with nearly $60 billion in revenue. And it’s mostly building semi-conductors. Now we’ll just have a little bit more freedom and flexibility.
What keeps me up at night or gets me up early in the morning is worrying about how I make this a place that is good for our people and good for our customers. Because if we don’t do that right, nothing else is going to matter.
A version of this article appears in the May 1, 2017 issue of Fortune with the headline "Securing McAfee."