Lost in Translation: Former McAfee CEO’s Debate Over Company Name

Photograph by Tony Avelar/Bloomberg

What began as a jocular exchange over the company's name became a serious etymological discussion.

When Dave DeWalt was doing a world tour in 2007 after he was named CEO of antivirus vendor McAfee, he got into a debate in northern Europe that he wasn’t expecting.

A television interviewer challenged him on the pronunciation of his own company’s name.

The interviewer, DeWalt said, introduced the company as Mc-AF-ee. DeWalt corrected him: It’s MAC-af-ee, he insisted.

What began as a jocular exchange quickly became a serious etymological discussion.

The reporter told DeWalt he was wrong, and that the reporter knew from his Scottish heritage how the word was pronounced. DeWalt said he had talked to the company’s namesake founder and was sure he was saying it correctly. (John McAfee, by the way, is now on the run from the police in Belize as he’s wanted for questioning over a murder.  He’s been blogging about the experience.)

“We spent the first five minutes of the television event debating,” said DeWalt, who stuck with his pronunciation of the company’s name, while the interviewer kept to his.

DeWalt, who as an executive routinely travels 1 million miles or more a year for work, said the incident was a reminder that differences can arise even in places with similar cultures.

It’s a lesson he hasn’t forgotten. Before taking his latest job as CEO of FireEye, a security startup, he did some research.

“I was trying to research FireEye to make sure it doesn’t mean something else around the world,” he said with a laugh.


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