Peter Norton: Entrepreneur, Art Collector, and RAND Advisory Board Member

Peter Norton attending a Center for Global Risk and Security Advisory Board meeting in October 2008

Donor Profile Peter Norton

When the Saudi kingdom hired RAND in the 1980s to advise its information technology industry on the best bets for future investment, RAND researchers consulted expert Peter Norton to back up their findings. Norton struck up a friendship with one of the project team members—a fellow art lover—and has supported RAND ever since.


Peter Norton has never stayed in one place for long. He's been a computer programmer, a best-selling author, a monastic Buddhist, a startup investor, and an art collector. His relationship with RAND, though, has been a constant for nearly 30 years.

There's a good chance you know his name, especially if you owned a personal computer at any time since the days of DOS. He's the “Norton” behind Norton AntiVirus, Norton CrashGuard, Norton Utilities, and a virtual library of other Norton software titles. Forbes magazine has called him a software icon.

His contribution to RAND has gone far beyond financial support. Some 200 works of art from his personal collection line the walls at RAND's headquarters campus in Santa Monica, Calif. How they got there is a story that starts in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi kingdom had hired RAND in the 1980s to advise its information-technology industry on the best bets for future investment. The researchers decided they needed an independent expert to back up their findings. They cold-called Norton, who was living in Santa Monica at the time and was already becoming a household name through his software programs and a series of successful computer books.

RAND's conclusion—that the future would run on small computers and networks, not on powerful mainframes—was a step outside the mainstream at the time. But Norton realized it was “absolutely spot-on.”

“Here I was, in the thick of the PC business, and had myself only a glimmering of the conclusions they had reached,” he says now. “It just showed how smart those RAND guys were.”

“RAND is really making society work better. It's rewarding to just know that I'm supporting it. That's what keeps me involved.”

Norton struck up a friendship with one of the researchers on the project, a fellow art lover. Not long afterward, as his collection outgrew its storage, he offered some of his artwork on long-term loan to RAND. At first, he played it safe with what he sent over, nothing too bold, nothing that might cause offense. The message he got back: “Give us more tough stuff.”

And so, today, one hallway at RAND is lined with artwork depicting a notorious political kidnapping in Italy. A piece hanging just outside the security office shows iron bars cut in half—“a visual comment,” Norton says: “Does security work?”

Security, in fact, has become his focus at RAND in recent years. He serves on the advisory board of the RAND Center for Global Risk and Security, and describes some of its research as “mind-blowing.” He points for an example to a recent study that showed how the intelligence community must do a better job of recruiting millennials to stay competitive in the future.

“I'm not a hard-core, red-meat guy. I'm a soft and squishy guy,” Norton says. “But I understand the importance of difficult research, and I want to learn about it and understand it better.”

He describes the work that RAND does as “intellectually grueling,” bold and creative—like his artwork on the walls. “They're doing great stuff,” he says. “They're really making society work better. It's rewarding to just know that I'm supporting it. That's what keeps me involved.”

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