At a Glance
- Career History: Chief Executive of Symantec (April 1999 to April 2009); IBM salesman and various other positions, leaving as general manager of North American sales region (1971 to 1999)
- Birthday: April 24, 1949
- Hometown: Riviera beach, Fla.
- Alma Mater: Florida A&M, B.A. (business), 1971; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, M.S. (management), 1983
- Spouse: Sandi
- Web site
Path to Power
Thompson took a high school teacher's discouraging words and used them to fuel his successful career as a salesman and businessman. While in high school in Florida, Thompson sported an afro, a new look at the time. One of Thompson's school administrators tried to belittle him for the hairdo. "He said I was nothing more than a thug and I would never amount to anything," said Thompson. He told BusinessWeek that this drove him to prove the administrator wrong.
After a short stint at Lincoln University in Missouri where he received a clarinet scholarship and studied music, Thompson moved to Florida A&M to major in business. "In my neighbourhood [sic] I noticed that the people who had the biggest cars were in business. It was business that created that sense of self-sufficiency or identity," he said.
After Richardson withdrew his nomination for Commerce secretary, the Obama team launched a search for a new candidate. Rumors centered on Thompson and former Time Warner CEO, Dick Parsons as likely candidates for the top job. But in January 2009, Parsons chose to become chairman of the beleaguered bank, Citigroup. This decision propelled Thompson to the top of the list, until Gregg was suddenly named to the position in February 2009.
Thompson has been prepared to step down from Symantec for some time. He announced in November 2008 that he would relinquish his executive titles in April 2009, and work as a non-executive board member.
Although Thompson has never served in the public sector, he has been a staunch fundraiser for Democratic presidential candidates. He and his wife Sandi hosted fundraisers for Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign. They also hosted fundraisers for Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) during his 2004 presidential bid.
In 2002, President George W. Bush named Thompson to the National Infrastructure Advisory Committee, along with 24 other business leaders, politicians and educators. Some of the other members of the committee included chairman of Wells Fargo Richard Kovacevich, former governor of Colorado William Owens and Dupont's Chairman Charles O. Holliday, Jr.
Thompson has contributed more than $160,000 since 2001. Most of his money has gone to support Democratic candidates, including $4,600 to President Obama during his 2008 campaign. Only $7,950 of his money has gone to Republican candidates, including $2,400 to Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), which he gave from 2003 to 2005. Thompson also donated $50,000 to Obama's inauguration festivities.