Richard Marko began his career with ESET during his college studies and is one of the co-authors of the ESET NOD32 Antivirus scanning engine. Fast forward a few years, and he’s now the global CEO of the company.
He sat down with ARN’s Hafizah Osman to have a personal chat about his rise to power, changes he has seen in the global channel space and direction he intends to take the company on.
Hafizah Osman (HO): You’ve had a long history working at ESET. How’d you get to where you are today?
Richard Marko (RM): My only real job was ESET from the beginning. I started off at ESET as a student – that was in 1994. ESET as a company was founded just two years before that, but its product range was started around 1987. At that time itself, there was a problem around computer viruses and I was a student doing computer sciences and this avenue was something that I found very interesting.
ESET was a small company back then and consisted of just the founders of the company and some technical people. Now, after some 20 years, I’m the global CEO and I’m based in ESET’s HQ in Slovakia. The fact that I joined the company so early meant that originally, there wasn’t a strong differentiation between job roles. Back then, I was predominantly working on research and development but I had to help with technical support, etc. I was always interested in other areas and managing people.
So for me, the technology was only a stepping stone for me to solve problems and achieve bigger things at ESET. And as the company expanded through the years, I became a technology leader, leading the development teams and then I held a position called chief software architect for a number of years.
I then became the CTO some eight or nine years ago, and that transitioned me on to the CEO role. All the original owners moved from managing positions to sitting on the board of directors. They don’t deal with day to day operations but they still get involved in important decision making processes.
Me being in the company for such a long time meant that I’m familiar with the whole company and it was probably a natural selection for me to step in as a global CEO. I took on this role from early 2011 – it’s been more than five years already.
HO: How has ESET progressed as a company since you joined?
RM: It’s always challenging to grow from a small company. I saw it go from just having a few staff to now having hundreds. When you see it reach 100, it’s sort of a milestone for the business. But with that growth spurt, we had to consolidate the whole company together – it was a little fragmented in its early stages. We had to set our goals and priorities and communicate them internally, and that was a challenge.
The company started in central Europe, so expanding to more mature markets like western Europe and the US or Japan or even here in Australia was a learning curve. We had to establish partnerships. We’ve now grown to have 15 offices around the world and that does have positives and challenges.
On the positive side, tech is at the heart of ESET. We attract the best talent and to do that, we needed to open up to the rest of the world. One of the important attributes of our company is being able to manage and attract people from different parts of the world.
Originally, we were focusing on products but now, as a real vendor, we need to take care of sales, marketing and the channel. That’s why we opened more offices in the various regions – they serve the specific areas. In terms of expansion, we’re officially opening a new office in Toronto. We want to work more closely with our partners and customers.
HO: What sort of changes have you seen in the security space?
RM: Looking back, 20 years ago, computer viruses were catching public attention. From the DOS viruses came the email epidemic and more sophisticated attacks that didn’t require user interaction and uses the vulnerability of the system. It has been a huge shift from this perspective. The fact that the world’s become more and more connected with the Internet, computer viruses and malware are taking advantage of that.
Another change is that back in the old days, virus writers were probably mostly students that were interested in the field and wanted to show off their hacking skills. Right now, there are some people like that but the majority of the cybercrime space revolves around financially motivated attacks. They’re all very well organised. Endpoint protection has become more challenging.
HO: How is the Asia-Pacific market different from the European market?
RM: Asia-Pacific is a very colourful market – there are many different cultures and economies in different states of development. We’ve got a strong presence in Japan and we’ve been in that market for a long time. The one thing we learnt from that market is that they expect top notch service, everything needs to be of the best quality. They even invest a lot of energy into measuring these things.
The Australian market is an interesting story. It’s the number two market within the Asia-Pacific market for us in terms of growth. We needed to find a way how to expand the business further, so we want to build long-term relationships in this market. We support our partners and they know the local market and culture here. This symbiosis works well for us and so it makes sense for us to pay extra attention to this market. Australia is a developed market and there are parallels to western Europe or the US. The know-how and the experience we have in these markets we can more directly use here.
HO: In terms of direction, where are you taking ESET next?
RM: I’m trying to maintain what has been our strength for years – the focus is on our products and services. We’re trying to have the best research team that consistently provides insight into malware. We want to be the leader in research within the security area. That allows us to design our products properly. Five years ago, malicious software was about protecting Windows workstations but that has changed to mow include other platforms that are becoming just as popular, and cybercrime is reflecting that.
For example, it has become proliferant on mobile and it means we need to pay attention and provide similar levels of protection and features for all these different platforms.
And as we grow bigger, we’re working on a new line of business products. We already have some of the biggest companies as our customers and this is the top priority for ESET as a company. We want to focus on business, with a keen focus on enterprise. There are different segments that aren’t conquered enough by us so there is a lot of potential.
The enterprise space, from a product perspective, is currently important for us and I think there is a huge potential in that direction. But we try to be present in all the different segments of the market. We have some good opportunities already, for example in the healthcare space, so we’re exploring such options.
As a company, we are experiencing double digit growth over the past few years and that allows us to continue our strategy to expand. In Australia, we grew 30 per cent last year and we have another 30 per cent growth planned for this year. We don’t want to take shortcuts where things work in the short run but fire back in the long-term. We have a long way to go to the very top.