Industry veteran John W Thompson joins Microsoft board, talks Virtual Instruments

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From IBM to leading Symantec into becoming one of the top antivirus vendors, John W Thompson has had a prolific career. Now, the Virtual Instruments CEO has been invited onto Microsoft’s board of directors.

From IBM to leading Symantec into becoming one of the top antivirus vendors, John W Thompson has had a highly successful career. Now, the Virtual Instruments CEO has been invited onto Microsoft’s board of directors.

Speaking exclusively to, Thompson says Virtual Instruments is continuing to ramp its sales. “Revenues and bookings were up more than 100 percent” through the first half of the fiscal year, he tells us. “We have seen a rise in head counts across the company, as well as strong gains in hiring and overall revenue performance in Europe.” Europe is a particularly important market for Virtual Instruments right now, and the proof is in the pudding – the company has booked very large new accounts in the continent and now has a team which is 28 people strong, who Thompson says are “hitting on all cylindars”.

Of course, Thompson says, every company is as good as its most recent quarter. In Europe, the team is performing particularly well and is hiring enthusiastic young guns such as Jason Tooley to drive sales in the enterprise space.

In terms of challenges along the way, Thompson admits that no early stage company moves along without some disappointments along the way. “Across the board, both in Europe and the US, we have hired people who haven’t necessarily met the expectations we had with them,” he said. “Or them with us. But none of that seems to have slowed us down at all.”

VI, though, has a completely refreshed product line, which is winning sales across the board. Morrisons in the UK, the second largest bank in France, and a very large cable company in the Netherlands are all among the customers which have had significant VI deployments. The company has no close competitors so it is making some pretty exceptional wins wherever it is targeting. “Couple that with the increased resourcing we’ve created around the world,” Thompson said, “it should continue to feed the momentum of our company around the globe.”

Future strategies in the near term come down to three main points. First of all, simplicity of deployment and usage. Second, expanding the protocol coverage – though fiber channel is the most important application framework for large mission critical apps in large enterprises, VI recognises it needs to supply other frameworks too. Third, the company recognises that the opportunity for it is to manage performance across the entire stack.

Europe has become a serious target for the company. The head of engineering and CFO were both on the continent recently, both looking into the possibility of further development sites. Mainly, this is to get engineering closer to where the customers are – so the company can run support on a very local level.

“Ironically enough,” says Thompson, Microsoft has become a customer of Virtual Instruments despite Thompson’s involvement on the board. In fact, as Thompson made the board, he and Virtual Instruments had high praise from Microsoft which branded it a very successful start-up. But how did Thompson reach Microsoft’s board of directors? His track record is telling, but, he says, it was “a dialogue that Steve [Ballmer] and I have been having for quite some time.”

When Thompson stepped down from Symantec, but was still serving as chairman, Steve “reached out” to him – but Thompson said it probably would not be appropriate seeing as he was still chair and had a multifacet relationship between the two companies. “But,” he told Ballmer, “if there was still an opportunity at some point in the future, I would certainly consider it.” When he stepped down last October, he was almost immediately approached by Microsoft.

“They’re an awesome company in the tech sector,” he says. “They have huge opportunities and huge challenges, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.” In terms of his duties, specifically, March 12 will be the start date. “At that point in time, we will talk about what assignments I will have, and what involvement they want me to have on the board. I think it’s fair to say all on the board have access to management and the team – Steve and Bill [Gates] wanted me because of my experience in the software sector, and the fact that I’ve worked in both consumer and enterprise makes me somewhat unique, and it gives me the pportunity to get involved in a number of spaces across Microsoft.”

Still, Thompson will also have to focus very much on Virtual Instruments as well. But the company is growing at a spectacular rate. He expects that, within a year to 18 months, it will be down the path to “$100+ million dollar revenue run rate,” – where the board will then be able to contemplate the liquidity of that to investors, which a company like that would want to consider. In fact, Virtual Instruments could be considered an IPO candidate just within the next 12 to 24 months.

With the growth in Europe, Thompson suggests an expansion in the BRIC territories will be on the way. “I would expect,” he tells, “that in the next six to 12 months we will be. I think it’s likely we’ll start in Hong Kong or Singapore, and we’ll use one of those countries as a hub or base of operations in the APAC region.”