Enrique Salem, CEO of computer security software maker Symantec, acknowledges that several hedge funds have been buying up stock in his company. He isn’t certain that they’re agitating for a breakup, but he also isn’t betting against it.
“I’ve met with many shareholders about the structure of the company,” Salem told Fortune via cell phone, before boarding a flight to Boston. “No one has told me that they want to break us up into lots of little pieces, but that isn’t to say that someone won’t want to.”
The first report of activist activity came last week from the NY Post, which cited investors who believe the sum of Symantec’s (SYMC) parts could be worth upwards of $26 per share. Its stock was trading below $17 at the time, since having risen slightly to $17.67 as of today’s market close (for a market cap of over $13.6 billion).
One of the potential raiders is Relational Investors, a San Diego-based asset management firm that reported less than a 1% stake in Symantec as of June 30. Its increased position — plus other share accumulations — will come to light next Monday via regulatory filings.
“There has certainly been a lot of interest in our stock recently,” Salem said. “I’m sure there will be some new hedge funds listed next week. I’ll be interested in learning who some of our new owners are, and always am interested in meeting with shareholders about how we can create value.”
I also asked Salem if he thought private equity could play a white knight role, or if his company’s large market cap made that unlikely. He suggested (correctly) that I was jumping ahead a few steps, but that he believed the PE environment is frothy enough — in terms of both equity and debt — to do a deal of Symantec’s size.
Salem was named Symantec’s CEO in April 2009. Last month he began rolling out a new corporate vision, in which Symantec would become more “user-centric” (and less “tech-centric”) by operating as an more as a platform-agnostic, worry-free security backbone.