Symantec dismisses talk of Chinese government ban as 'noise'

BEIJING, Sept 4 Thu Sep 4, 2014 4:03am EDT

BEIJING, Sept 4 (Reuters) - U.S.-based Symantec Corp has continued to do business with Chinese government agencies despite media reports last month suggesting that China has blacklisted the firm's security software in favour of domestic products, said a top executive.

Adrian Jones, a former Oracle executive who was named Symantec's senior vice president for the Asia region in June, dismissed reports of a government ban as "noise", saying he expected positive sales growth in China this year, potentially outpacing the country's economic expansion.

"We still have GDP growth of 6 to 7 percent a year, so if we can grow more than that, double that, that'd be great," Jones said in an interview at Symantec's Beijing offices this week. "I expect good growth in China this year."

Symantec's status in China came under scrutiny in August after the state-owned China Daily newspaper reported that the government's central procurement office had removed foreign vendors from its list of approved antivirus software due to security concerns.

Jones said the company had not received "any official notice that we're banned from anything", and had maintained business deals with a broad array of state-owned firms including nearly all of the country's telecom providers "in some shape or form."

Symantec, the world's fourth-largest software firm, does not break out its China revenues, but said last month that its Asia-Pacific and Japan sales picked up slightly on a quarter-to-quarter basis after falling steeply for four consecutive quarters in part due to poor performance and currency fluctuations in Japan.

Revenues in Asia, which were down 2 percent year-over-year, represented $300 million out of the company's $1.74 billion in quarterly sales.

Jones reiterated the company's forecast for flat revenue growth worldwide this year, but said he expected to expand the footprint in Greater China, where Symantec now employs 1,400 employees, or 7 percent of its global workforce, in nine cities.

As a whole Symantec has been roiled by management turmoil amidst slumping revenues. In March, Symantec replaced its chief executive for the second time in less than two years, prompting talk among activist investors and private equity firms of a potential breakup or sale.

The company meanwhile has taken criticism for failing to quickly roll out new products in the face of competition from smaller firms like Fireye Inc and increasingly Qihoo 360 Technology Co Ltd, the Beijing-based company that went public in New York in 2011 and is considered a fast-growing rival in the Chinese market.

Jones said the rising Chinese contenders offer piecemeal solutions for areas such as antivirus software but still cannot offer comprehensive service that covers a large corporation's mobile devices, emails, information storage and network security.

"People may say we haven't done enough innovation, but we've got 12 products between now and the end of the year that we're launching," Jones said. "We're going to continue to innovate." (Editing by Ryan Woo)

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