Bernard Kwok is Symantec's senior vice-president of the Asia-Pacific and Japan (APJ) geography, responsible for driving its sales and business development across more than 17 countries. He is no stranger to leading a team – wearing the 'boss hat' at a host of tech companies. He caught up with ARN to reflect on his professional achievements, some of the hurdles along the way and the way forward.
What are some of your biggest milestones/achievements?
From a career perspective, it would have to be working to put myself through school in America and also surviving the transitions from a telecommunications company (Nortel and 3Com) to an IT-hardware organisation (EMC), to a solutions business (Fujitsu) and then to an IT software and services business (Symantec). Another achievement would also be my ability to pull together and lead a strong team that consistently delivers results.
From a personal perspective my greatest achievement is having a family – a supportive wife and two lovely and healthy daughters of whom I am very proud.
What challenges/hurdles have you faced along the way?
One of the greatest challenges I face is working in such a large, geographically dispersed territory. The team in Asia-Pacific and Japan is spread across more than 14 countries and comprises some 5500 employees – all from different cultures and backgrounds and a mix of developing and developed nations. Having such a large region means lots of travel and trying to be everywhere at the same time - that can be a real challenge, however, it has provided me with the opportunity to appreciate many cultures and cuisines.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
When I was young I didn’t have much idea of what I wanted to be when I was an adult. However, throughout my career I aspired to be in a role that gave me lots of autonomy in what I do and how I work; offered the flexibility to travel so I could see the world; and could challenge my skills so I could learn more and become a better leader. I also wanted to be in a role that provided me with an opportunity to meet new people and make a difference. Symantec offers me all these opportunities and provides me with the satisfaction that by keeping people and businesses safe and secure online and delivering trust to the Internet, we are making a real difference to this world.
Have you had any mentors along the way? What was one of your biggest lessons?
I have not had any specific mentors but there are many people that I do admire in the business and political world such Jack Welch, Nelson Mandela, and John Thompson. Books, observing people both in the IT and business world, and regular introspections has provided me with lots of guidance throughout my career.
The biggest lesson is there is no replacement to simple hard work. One of the biggest lessons for me has been to work hard, be humble with your achievements and always focus on the end goal. When working with people, my mantra is to be very sincere, genuine, respectful and confident yet always remain focused on the end goals. For those of us in the IT industry, the other big lesson is to execute with speed and focus on winning together.
What are some of your areas of focus moving forward?
Symantec has always been a channel-focused, channel-friendly company, even before I joined the company. It has always been the culture. We derive 95 per cent plus of business through our partners. This is one area we continue to focus on. SMB is definitely one of our major focus areas moving forward.
Can you highlight some of Symantec’s cloud strategy?
When we look at the cloud or software-as-a-service, we get into it in two areas: we continue to enable our partners to play the cloud operator, cloud service provider role. Even in the cloud, you need to have backup capabilities. You need high availability and you need to have security protection capabilities. So we pay a lot of attention to help our customers build a cloud environment. And second, we want to give our customers a different form factor in getting the same functions like backup, like archiving, like message filtering, like endpoint protection. We want to provide various ways of doing that. In fact, we’re rolling out an appliance to offer similar capabilities as our software license. So we want to give our customers the flexibility to choose.
What are some trends we’re seeing in the security market?
The threat landscape is changing. In 2008, we generated 1.6 million signatures to detect various malicious attacks. In 2009, we saw 2.9 to 3 million signatures, which is more than the sum of the previous 18 years. The reason why we’re seeing this type of high volumes of attacks is in the past it would be one virus, one malicious code attacking the entire set of network in Australia. Now the attacks are very targeted to one PC, two PCs, ten PCs. There are a lot of socially engineered threats and targeted at specific individuals. It is highly targeted, and the aim is to steal your identity for financial gain. When you talk about security, what’s most important is information and people. It’s about identity management.
What’s it like being the boss for the majority of your working career?
I don’t consider myself as the top dog. It is a privilege to be in this particular position. I am quite excited in sharing the vision with our team and with our partners. Hopefully, together with our partners, we can share the excitement with our end customers. I didn’t always start at the management layer – my very first job was as a dish washer. In college, I was a dish washer, I was a gardener, I was a house cleaner. I was a bus boy, I was an electrician, a waiter. I eventually became a junior engineer, and I took a 50 per cent cut in pay to become a junior engineer because as a waiter in the US I made a lot of money from that. I was just fortunate in terms of my career and many companies have given me opportunities. One of the challenges that I see if how do we continue to give other colleagues the aspiration to have the talent, the commitment, to give them the opportunities to provide a framework where they can excel.
You appear to live out of a suitcase. You’re affectionately referred to by some colleagues as a George Clooney. How do you get the worklife balance?
I keep telling people exercise is part of my work. I pay a lot of attention to my own personal health and fitness. Also having a positive mindset and having a little bit more confidence in myself and my team gives me peace of mind, otherwise you’d worry yourself sick every night.
What advice can you give to others looking to follow in your footsteps?
I always remind myself that at this particular position of leadership, I need to - and I also keep reminding my own colleagues - to be as sincere and as genuine you can be. We need to be humble and confident at the same time. We need to be humble so we can continue to grow – ourselves as well as our business model.