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For more than a year, Bill Nuti has been riding shotgun at Symbol Technologies Inc. Now, he’s finally in the driver’s seat as the company’s newly appointed CEO.

Customers, partners and Symbol insiders applaud the move. And for good reason. Nuti joined Symbol as president and chief operating officer in July 2002, and has spent the past 17 months overhauling the company’s internal operations and channel strategy. He also vowed to push Symbol beyond its bar-code dominance in the retail sector.

Symbol announced the change at the end of 2003. Click here for the story.

Nuti’s game plan for 2004 includes aggressive forays into six vertical markets (retail, transportation and logistics, warehousing, manufacturing, health care, and government); new wireless offerings and closer working relationships with vertical-market solutions providers.

“We’ll continue to be channel-friendly on a go-forward basis,” said Nuti during an interview yesterday. “We need to build an industry of partners around our company. Partners need to see their way to profits, market share gains and personal success through their relationship with us.”

Joe Panettieri discusses implications for the channel in Contract Watch. To read the full story, click here.

Awed by Nuti’s energy and focus, Symbol insiders predicted he would rise to the CEO post within two years of joining the company. “The writing was on the wall the moment Nuti walked in our front door,” said a midlevel manager at Symbol. “He was here to eventually take the helm and right our ship.”

Nuti came aboard during turbulent times at the Holtsville, N.Y.-based company. The government has been reviewing Symbol’s accounting practices for nearly three years, and Symbol itself has spent the past 18 months conducting an internal probe of its accounting practices.

In a long-awaited 2002 annual report released yesterday (Dec. 30), Symbol officially erased $324.7 million of previously reported profits, $225 million of shareholders’ equity and $234.1 million of net revenues posted between 1998 and 2002, according to Newsday, Long Island’s daily newspaper.

Long before Symbol completed the internal probe, 13 of the company’s top 16 executives were replaced. Management change No. 14 came yesterday (Dec. 30), when Acting Chairman and CEO Richard Bravman resigned after admitting his role in one improper transaction. Nuti immediately moved into the CEO spot, and independent board director, Salvatore Iannuzzi, became non-executive chairman.

Can Nuti start with a clean slate?

With Bravman’s exit, Symbol hopes to close the book on its accounting problems. Although the Securities and Exchange Commission is considering civil actions against the $1 billion company, Nuti and Wall Street are upbeat about Symbol’s prospects for 2004. Symbol’s stock hit a 52-week high yesterday, as bullish investors bet that Symbol has truly cleaned up its books.

“I think for the associates [i.e., Symbol’s employees], this feels like a turning of page,” said Nuti. “Our announcements today bring significant closure to the restatement process. It’s a tremendous milestone. We can all focus our collective energies on building the Symbol of tomorrow rather than [investigating] the Symbol of the past. That’s a big, big plus.”

Company insiders and channel partners agree. Before Nuti’s arrival, morale within Symbol sank lower and lower as reports of the accounting probe surfaced in Newsday. One by one, Symbol’s original top brass headed out the door, including co-founder Jerome Swartz.

Meanwhile, Nuti was working overtime to master Symbol’s product lines, evaluate the management team and chart a course to future growth. His transition to CEO “was always part of the road map,” admitted Nuti. “But it was a matter of timing. When I was recruited to Symbol it was clear the CEO opportunity would eventually emerge if I proved my worth.”

Nuti did exactly that. After 10 years at Cisco Systems Inc., including a stint running Cisco’s European operations, Nuti quickly mastered the finer nuances of Symbol’s barcode and wireless businesses. He also impressed partners and business managers who work in Symbol’s back yard.

“Mr. Nuti is dedicated, sincere, driven and intelligent,” said Robert Schwarz, a manager at Super Sound Communications of East Northport, N.Y. “He’s a no-nonsense guy.”

Schwarz met Nuti when the Symbol executive gave a guest lecture at Stonybrook University in mid-2003. “From the lecture he gave that evening and from what I have read of his accomplishments subsequently, Mr. Nuti can only help and improve Symbol.”

In recent months, Nuti and Symbol’s new management team have reached out to the company’s largest customers—companies like Best Buy Co. Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp., The Home Depot Inc., Target Corp. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. According to one Symbol partner, The Home Depot is particularly impressed with Nuti’s leadership. The home improvement giant did not return calls for comment, but it’s a safe bet The Home Depot has heard from Nuti.

“I stay in touch with our top accounts on a regular basis,” said Nuti. “I’d say I’ve built about 20 really strong relationships. Five are bordering on friendships. Those relationships give us the constructive feedback we need to drive Symbol forward.”

Sounds like Nuti feels right at home in Symbol’s driver’s seat.