When Nikesh Arora and I met in mid-June near the windswept entrance of his Palo Alto Networks offices in Sunnyvale, Calif., he was feeling a lot less Covid cautious than I was. That’s because the 54-year-old chief executive had gotten infected the previous month at the World Economic Forum. “My big takeaway from Davos was Covid,” he quipped, appearing no worse for wear in his casual jeans, blue pullover and black loafers. The “forced quiet time” upon returning home from Davos gave him more opportunity to ruminate on the global economy, and how its instability would affect the cybersecurity giant he leads.
Arora thinks supply chain problems, particularly for semiconductors, could persist for well over a year. On the other hand, he sees a silver lining in the economic slowdown and plummeting tech sector valuations. This is a “flight to quality moment,” he said, “not just for investors, but also employees.” This means it will get easier for sturdy companies like Palo Alto Networks—which is worth nearly $50 billion, more than double where it was when Arora took over in 2018—to win back talent that fled during the Great Resignation. “You’re already seeing signs of it,” he said.
However, Arora doesn’t sound quite as optimistic when it comes to Palo Alto Networks’ clientele. Reality is more complicated.