Janice Chaffin – President, Symantec

Janice Chaffin

Janice Chaffin, a top exec from Symantec, talks about keeping children safe online and windsurfing to reinvigorate her career.

By Taylor Mallory

Janice Chaffin’s not just any protective mom. She has even more reason than most, given her job as president of security giant Symantec’s nearly $2 billion consumer business unit. “I’m all too familiar with the dangers children face online,” says Chaffin, who cites Symantec’s study that shows kids spend nearly 40 hours a month online, twice what their parents think. “There are great opportunities for children online – if they’re responsible about it.”

The mother of two teenage daughters, she’s set a healthy balance between respecting their privacy and keeping them safe. “We have a set of house rules around how my daughters use the Internet,” she says. “They can be part of social networking sites, but they have to ‘friend’ me. I want to know what sites they go on and what their passwords are. I’ll respect their privacy and won’t check up on them every day, but I need to know.” And it’s important to let your children know why these rules are in place. “Kids are kids, and just because you tell them not to, they’re still going to test the rules,” she explains. Help them understand that since you wouldn’t tell a stranger on the street your address, you shouldn’t do it online. And giving out passwords to anyone, even friends, can backfire, as Chaffin’s daughter learned the hard way.

Here Chaffin shares more strategies for protecting kids online – and the career success secrets that propelled her to the top.

PINK: Isn’t safety more important than privacy?
Janice Chaffin: Once your kid hits the age where there’s lots of social networking going on, it’s a way of life. So saying they can’t join a site is an invitation for them to find a way around your rule. So if you can’t beat them, join them. If they’re an appropriate age, make them “friend” you. I don’t actively reach out to my children’s friends. I make my daughters give me the passwords – just in case – but I don’t really use them. I let them have their space, but as their online friend, I can see what’s posted on their walls and what’s going on in general, while not reading every conversation they’re having. And sometimes monitoring your kids’ online behavior has positive results – like learning they have an interest in something you didn’t know about. I found out that my daughter was teaching herself German because there’s a German band she likes.

PINK: How do you define “success”?
J.C.: I think of my life like a three-legged stool: career, family and friends/community. Success for me is being able to feed my passions in each of those areas. I don’t want to just work a job. It’s got to be fun and something I’m passionate about. Having two teenage girls can be kind of … challenging. So success for me and my husband is preparing them to go to college, find something they’re passionate about, have great fiends and become happy, productive citizens other people want to be around. When it comes to my friends and community, I can combine that with my family right now. I’m a local chapter president of the National Charity League. It’s a mother-daughter philanthropy, so I’ve been able to support my community while spending time teaching my daughters about the importance of giving back.

PINK: How are you responding to the current economy?
J.C.: Our business is still growing for several reasons. We help keep customers’ online interactions safe and keep their data protected. We conducted a poll with Zogby International recently and found that 58 percent of PC users are staying home for entertainment more often to save money due to the recession. They spend more time on their computers – and are shopping more online. So they are even more concerned about protecting their machines and their private information. And they’re downloading more music and videos and need antivirus software. Plus, the economy is causing an increase in Internet crime. We’ve had to write code to protect against 265 percent more malicious code signatures than last year. You can actually buy credit cards on the Internet black market for between 40 cents and $20. There’s a whole underground that thrives in a downturn. Some threats play on employment opportunities. For instance, someone gets an e-mail saying, “Got your résumé.” They click on it and it’s a virus. Ninety percent of all threats now are people trying to steal confidential information for financial gain. Five years ago it was about hackers trying to bring down companies. So people really need to be fully protected right now.

PINK: How has the economy affected the way you lead?
J.C.: We’re going back to the basics and focusing on fewer things, like our core business and making sure that continues to thrive. For instance, our business is a portfolio of products. We may not expand into new areas as aggressively. We’ll go after opportunities, but I may not go into a lot of new spaces right now. In tough times, leaders have to focus on where they can lead.

PINK: How do you relax and rejuvenate your spirit?
J.C.: I exercise regularly, but I’m very social so I can’t do it alone. I have to do it with friends or a trainer. And every year for 21 years, my family has vacationed in Aruba. My husband and I are avid windsurfers – that’s how we met – and Aruba is one of the windsurfing meccas of the world. We meet and relax with friends we’ve now had for such a long time that it’s like a family camp now. My children have grown up with them. That energizes me for the 11 and a half months I’m not on vacation. I’m going in a couple of weeks.

PINK: What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
J.C.: “The only person in charge of your career is you.” I never have depended on the company I work for to give me my opportunities. I’ve always taken initiative to find new opportunities that might be open to me. I’ve never sat back and thought they would come to me if I did a good job. Some things will, but it’s good to explore what I’m interested in, get feedback on what I’m doing today and see what might be possible in the future. That’s made a big difference in terms of my career success.

PINK: What do you want to accomplish that you haven’t yet?
J.C.: I’m a sampler of life experiences, so I have a list. I grew up speaking Spanish and English, but I don’t speak Spanish as well anymore. I’d like to regain my fluency. I’d like to travel to countries where I’ve only seen the insides of taxis, hotels and conference rooms. My 88-year-old father told me, “Never retire completely, or after 20 years even your hobbies will be boring.” So since I’m never retiring, I have a long list of things I want to do professionally, things that will keep my mind active and strong. For instance, I’ve been on a public board before, and I enjoyed that experience. So I’d like to do more of that. And maybe some more nonprofit work with a smaller organization.

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