UD alum David G. DeWalt delivers second lecture in President’s Leadership Series

The second installment of the President’s Leadership Series featuring David G. DeWalt, chairman and CEO of FireEye, was held March 21 at the Roselle Center for the Arts. DeWalt, who graduated from UD in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, is a leading expert in the fields of technology, cyber security and mergers and acquisitions.

In his lecture, titled “Numbers: Transformational Stories of Success and Failure from the East Coast to the Silicon Valley,” DeWalt used numbers to illustrate the important life lessons he was able to cull from his greatest achievements and most trying losses.

“We’re so grateful to Dave DeWalt for taking the time to travel home to UD to share his knowledge and experience with us,” said President Patrick Harker. “As a new class of Blue Hens prepares for graduation, I hope that Dave’s story will inspire them not only to work hard but to take risks and to be daring in pursuit of their dreams.”

DeWalt’s lecture spanned his life’s journey, from his days at UD in the mid-1980s through his success as a corporate CEO. Through it all, he drew inspiration from a well-known quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “If you can see it, you can be it” became DeWalt’s mantra and helped him stay positive even during times of adversity.

While at UD, DeWalt was a star wrestler for the Blue Hens. He advanced to the NCAA finals three times, was named an All-American in his senior year and became the first wrestler inducted into the UD Athletics Hall of Fame. While he excelled in sports, he was also a committed student with a very specific goal — he wanted to become a CEO.

DeWalt lauded his alma mater for setting him on the right track as he described how his life unfolded.

“Delaware opened my eyes up to some tremendous things,” he said. “I have to give huge kudos to the computer science and engineering programs at UD for invoking passion into me and my fellow students. I also thought the flexibility of the University was amazing for me as a student-athlete. It let me nurture myself through both athletics and academics. It was that combination that really helped me.”

Armed with a B.S. in computer science, his goals and little else, DeWalt set out for Silicon Valley, Calif., after graduation. His first job was as a telemarketer for Oracle, which was just a small company at the time. While there, he was tasked with making 500 cold calls per week. Though the work was brutal at times, he worked hard, remained positive and began to climb the corporate ladder.

DeWalt’s dreams finally came to fruition in early September 2001 when he was named CEO of Documentum, a global leader in enterprise content management. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 took place during DeWalt’s first week as CEO. His ability to comfort his staff and lead his company during that time and the economic fallout that occurred shortly thereafter made him a well-respected and sought-after business leader. Documentum was acquired by EMC Corp. in 2003 for $1.9 billion.

In 2007, DeWalt was named president and CEO of technology security giant McAfee. It was a position in which he would experience his darkest days and turn them into his biggest triumph.

On April 21, 2010, McAfee accidently released a faulty virus definition update, DAT file 5958, while trying to respond to an urgent request from a government defense customer.  DAT file 5958 wiped out the computer systems of 1,672 companies and countless individual PCs in the span of 16 minutes.

Against the advice of McAfee’s legal counsel, DeWalt decided to take responsibility for the problem, posting a video online in which he apologized to his customers and offered them a clear explanation of the issue and refunds for their trouble. Computer giant Intel was one of the companies affected by the problem. However, the company was impressed by McAfee’s response to the situation and even partnered with them on new innovations that would prevent a similar issue in the future.  In August 2010, Intel purchased McAfee for $7.7 billion.

“You get these scenarios in life where you realize – honesty, humility, hard work – it kind of sounds like a play on words sometimes,” said DeWalt. “But, if you live those words every day and you treat people kindly, great things can happen.”

Today, DeWalt continues to work in the tech industry and sits on the board of directors of several corporations.  He also sits on the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee and has dedicated himself to matters of cyber security.

“I see this as a huge problem moving forward,” said DeWalt. “You have all of this innovation occurring – mobile devices, IT consumerization, social networking, cloud computing – but there is a downside to it, and that is security. There are tremendous vulnerabilities, and when you consider the anonymity of the Internet and the lack of governance, you get this perfect storm.”

DeWalt believes that higher education institutions, like UD, will be part of solving this issue.

“The University of Delaware is sitting in a very strategic location between two of the largest, most important cities in the world of security, New York and Washington, D.C.,” he said. “There is amazing opportunity, in my opinion, for UD in the world of security with its proximity to these two cities.”

DeWalt continued, “I am very impressed with UD’s recent partnerships with corporations such as JPMorgan Chase and Bloom Energy, and its collaborations on the Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Lab. What an opportunity UD has here for partnerships to advance education in the world of cyber security.”

President’s Leadership Series

The President’s Leadership Series brings prominent innovators and leaders in business, technology, athletics, the arts and the humanities to campus to share their knowledge and life experience with the UD community.

Article by Shannon Pote

Photo by Duane Perry