“… When I’m in the office, I go around talking to people all the time – at their desk, over green tea in our canteen.”
— Eugene Kaspersky, quoted in the Financial Times
Here’s a slightly offbeat success story from Russia, this time from the Internet security space. Mention Russian entrepreneurs and most likely the all-too familiar oligarchs come to mind. Some years after the dust settled on the controversial sell-offs which pushed oligarchs into the limelight, Eugene Kaspersky, a cryptologist by training, made his triumphant entry into the global Internet space by co-founding his dream company Kaspersky Lab along with his colleagues.
Born in 1965 in Novorossiysk, Russia, Eugene Kaspersky had displayed a knack for solving problems published in mathematical journals right from his high school days. In his blog, Kaspersky thanks his mother for giving him a specialized education in math and physics. In fact, as the company website puts it, it was Kaspersky’s love for mathematics that determined his technical future. Kaspersky completed his graduation in mathematical engineering in 1987 from the Russian Institute of Cryptography, Telecommunications, and Computer Science.
However, Eugene’s first brush with computer viruses came when he joined a multi-disciplinary research institute where he began to analyze computer viruses after finding the Cascade virus on his personal computer in 1989. The young Kaspersky eventually succeeded in developing a cure for the virus. Then onwards, he took a fancy to all malicious computer programs and started developing disinfection modules, so much so that Eugene came to be known in the facility as the “guy who kills viruses.” In 1991, Eugene and his colleagues developed the AVP antivirus program, which would become the prototype for Kaspersky’s flagship product. In fact, these collections would later form the foundation for the eponymous antivirus database in Kaspersky Antivirus software. Ten years after founding the antivirus and security software company Kaspersky Lab and after serving as head of the firm’s antivirus research, Eugene was named the chief executive in 2007.
Looking back, Kaspersky actually showed the way for the likes of Yuri Milner as well as the co-founders of internet search engine Yandex to venture into the Internet space some years later. It was Eugene who single-handedly gave the anti-virus program named after him a global renown, giving U.S. rivals such as McAfee and Symantec a run for their money. In the process, Kaspersky also showed that there is more to Russian business than becoming the owner of big oil and natural gas companies. Small wonder the chairman and CEO of Kaspersy Lab is called the Virus Pope in Internet circles.
Based out of Moscow, Kaspersky loves to go skiing in the Alps with his three children, when he is not on the road with his BMW M3. An avid fast-driving enthusiast, Eugene laments that Moscow roads leave much to be desired. Though an Internet evangelist, Kaspersky keeps at his fingertips only three devices that he needs the most: a laptop, a mobile phone, and a camera.
The jet-setting executive, who spends half his time outside Russia, where more than 90% of the company’s sales are derived, also confesses to being obsessed with the “bad news” having spent about 20 years in the IT security industry dealing with how to tackle new viruses. As Kaspersky commented to the Financial Times, he is very much a hands-on guy and values feedback from customers, comparing himself to the human nervous system that reports pain in the body.
Of course, Kaspersky Lab has come a long way from where it started, having become the fourth largest anti-virus software company in the world. Kaspersky now has offices in some 29 countries, and in 2010 clocked sales of more than $500 million. The fast-growing company attracted global investor attention when early last year General Atlantic became the second largest shareholder with a $200 million stock purchase, and more recently, when the U.S. investor sold off the entire stake.
Still, Eugene told Financial Times that he thought it would be best for the company to stay private for the time being and remain focused on organic growth as well as research and development. Today, Kaspersky Labs has become a household name for Internet users even in far-flung places such as India, with pricing the key to the company’s success in these emerging markets. Catering to corporates and consumers alike, Eugene Kaspersky has set his sights on becoming the top choice in the Internet security market…. sooner, rather than later.
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© Thomas White International, Ltd. 2018