McAfee Returns to Its Roots After Intel Spin-Out

April 4, 2017, 3:40 PM UTC

Remember McAfee? No, not John McAfee, the eccentric entrepreneur, but the eponymous cybersecurity company he founded 30 years ago.

The maker of antivirus and firewall security tools has been through several incarnations over the decades. Most recently, it operated as a division of chipmaker Intel (INTC), which shelled out a whopping $7.7 billion for the smaller company in 2011.

Now, McAfee is embarking on yet another chapter: It has officially been spun out of Intel and is a standalone security player, yet again. Its new overlords? Well, Intel’s still in the mix, with 49% equity in the now-independent McAfee. The majority backer, however, is private equity firm TPG Capital, which has a 51% share in the company. (Another PE firm, Thoma Bravo, has also joined as a minority investor through an agreement with TPG.) As for the price tag? McAfee was valued at $4.2 billion in this most recent deal, a far cry from its former valuation.

The decreased price isn’t the only thing that’s different at the newly-free McAfee. The company also has a new chief executive officer: former Intel Security head Chris Young. The CEO, a long-time security exec, has an ambitious to-do list. The list starts but doesn’t end with rebranding the company as a maker of all things security, not just legacy software and hardware, and retaining customers in a security landscape that’s more crowded than ever.

“A lot has changed in cybersecurity since Intel acquired McAfee in the first place,” Young says in a recent interview with Fortune. “There’s a real opportunity for us to go and do something special with McAfee as a standalone company.”

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The decision for McAfee to go solo, first announced by former owner Intel last September, was mostly lauded as a good move for the company—and for Intel. “Overall it’s a positive,” says Joel Fishbein, an analyst with BTIG. “And the fact that TPG got involved is a positive; they’re smart and savvy investors.”

TPG has already put money into newer security players like Zscaler and Tanium, and clearly sees an opportunity to carve out McAfee in order to provide it with the right focus and resources to compete in today’s security sector. Naturally, future acquisitions are part of the strategy.

“Being independent will give us a chance to do some M&A and I expect that’ll be part of our going-forward strategy,” says Young.

Future acquisitions of newer, nimbler players will be key to hanging on to existing customers like Fairfax County Public Schools and Waypoint, a food-related sales and marketing company, and snagging new ones. While McAfee still has a huge install base, there is a strong perception that they are a legacy player and behind the times, technologically speaking.

“With a few acquisitions they could probably change that perception,” says Fishbein, the analyst, pointing to another large, legacy player: Symantec. (That cyber powerhouse bought up security startup Blue Coat last year.)

That’s not to say that TPG doesn’t have its work cut out. The transition will likely take time. And McAfee, once the pioneer in the space, now has more competition than ever from rivals large and small. What’s clear is that at least for Intel, there is only potential gain from spinning out McAfee. Its pricey acquisition of the security player, consummated in 2011, was heralded as a way for the semiconductor giant to build security into its chips.

Alas, those kinds of synergies never really materialized. Unlike the lengthy cycle of developing hardware, security threats change day by day, or even minute by minute.

“The problem statement probably wasn’t framed correctly at the beginning,” says Steve Grobman, McAfee’s chief technology officer. “The hardware design cycle is a multi-year effort, so integrating technology that’s able to protect for very specific threats is actually not done on the hardware level.”

Now independent, the new McAfee no longer has to cater to the interests of a chipmaker (at least not strategically). Rather, it must learn to keep up with the ever-changing security threat landscape and the needs of its customers. Which is easier? We’ll see.

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