Yes, he created a company that in little more than a decade rose to become one of the main providers of antivirus software globally. Yes, he employs more than 2000 people in 29 countries around the world and and his software is being used by 300 million people worldwide. And yes, he drives a Ferrari, but there is nothing in Eugene Kaspersky that fits the stereotype of the Russian oligarch showing off flashy offices and custom-made suits and surrounded by bodyguards looking scarier than the KGB.
Instead of boasting about an art collection or awards he received, the first thing he points out after entering his office is a mouse pad looking like a slice of cheese. "I know, you may think that keeping cheese on a desk is weird. But relax, it’s just a mouse pad,” says Mr Kaspersky, laughing and playing with it.
Not very Russian
Mr Kaspersky's managerial style and the relaxed atmosphere of his global HQ resembles a Sillicon Valley start-up more than a Russian company situated just 20 minutes from the Kremlin. In fact, Mr Kaspersky points out that although the company HQ is located in Russia, it cannot be labelled as a Russian firm, either in the way it operates, or in terms of the ventures it undertakes. He says: "More than 50% of our staff is non-Russian, the majority of our business is conducted abroad and most of our top managers are recruited from overseas."
So why are so many employees of the company, especially its senior managers, non-Russian? Mr Kaspersky states that the main reason is not his ambition to add a Western twist to his company, but the lack of skilled Russian specialists, something he thinks is the main obstacle to conducting business in Russia. He says: "Our school of management is worlds apart from the level represented by Western professionals. It is really difficult to find experts in such fields as marketing and sales over here.”
However, this does not mean that in the company's global expansion efforts it plans to move its headquarters closer to its main competitors and vendors. Mr Kaspersky, who apart from being a successful entrepreneur has worked in various IT-field positions for more than a decade, says: "No way! Here in Russia we have an abundance of the best computer programmers, they are the type of people we need to continue developing our hi-end technologies.”
Foundation for success
Such belief, along with Mr Kaspersky's mantra of "delivering the best possible products and solutions created by the best people”, became the foundation for the success of the company that in 13 years has become a serious competitor to established and powerful players such as Symantec and MacAfee. Mr Kaspersky believes that the outlook for upcoming years is even brighter. He says: "In 2009 we had a 5.8% share of the consumer-dedicated antivirus software market, and for 2010 we expect the share to increase to 7%.” Mr Kaspersky predicts that even though his company currently ranks as the fourth largest global consumer antivirus software provider, in the next 2 years it may establish its position in the forefront of antivirus software-producing companies.
Such optimism derives not only from the firm belief of Mr Kaspersky and his employees that their products are the best, but also from the specific nature of the sector they work in. He says: "Events such as the global financial crisis do not hit antivirus software companies as hard as other companies in the IT sector. The reason for that is that we deliver not products as such, but services: computer defence systems. I would compare it with the role of fuel for cars. Cars cannot run without fuel; data cannot be stored securely without antivirus software."
Recent years have brought about huge changes in the way we store our data. Today, information is stored not only on the hard disks of personal or corporate computers, but also on mobile phones (especially smartphones) and virtual disks (cloud computing). Therefore, Mr Kaspersky plans to widen his portfolio of products and services that will suit a post-computer era. He says: "Apparently, users are often very careless about the information they share, especially online, while on the other hand they face threats not just from kids pretending to be hackers, but from the real cybercriminals.”
A few years ago, antivirus software was used mainly to protect our gadgets, ensuring that they ran smoothly. Now the stakes are far higher, as the digitalisation of the world continues. Mr Kaspersky believes that he can deliver, that he can find the key not only to protecting our data, but also to convince consumers about the importance of data protection. He has no doubts that the threats are dead serious and that the business he is in is dead serious too, despite the mouse pad looking like a slice of cheese lying on his desk.