Press "Enter" to skip to content

Q&A With Juhani Hintikka, CEO of F-Secure

In October 2020, Juhani Hintikka was appointed CEO of F-Secure, a cyber security company operating in three main markets – business security, consumer security and cybersecurity consulting. Here, Technology Reseller asks him about his first year in charge, his impressions of the cyber security industry and his future plans for F-Secure. 

Technology Reseller (TR): I understand you have been in the role for a year now. What have been the highlights of your first year in charge? 

Juhani Hintikka (JH): What made these first 12 months challenging and interesting at the same time was that I became CEO in the midst of the pandemic. I was able to go to the office to start with, but after the first month it was all remote. Trying to get to know and understand the company and its people in fully remote mode is quite an experience. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a highlight, but it was certainly different to what I was used to. 

As any new CEO does, I initially spent time forming a view about the company before working on renewing our strategy in the Spring. There are a couple of highlights relating to the decisions we took then. One was the announcement of our intention to launch two distinctive brands – one for the B2B business and one for B2C. 

We also said we would explore options to list our consumer business separately, turning us into two listed businesses on the Stock Exchange. We said we would make an announcement by the end of H1 next year, though I expect us to do it sooner. That raised a lot of interest. 

Another highlight was the launch of a new product portfolio on the B2B side called Elements. It is not just a product but a full-blown business system through which our partners can do business with us. Those would qualify as the biggest highlights. 

TR: Why are you considering a separate listing for the B2C business?

JH: Historically, we have always taken the decision to invest in B2B or B2C. But results show that all our market segments are growing, so rather than saying we are going to favour one or the other in terms of investment, we want to create an environment where both B2B and B2C do well. It is partly related to the capital structure we have for supporting these businesses. 

TR: You have held leadership roles in the telecommunications, software and materials handling industries, and have board experience in the aviation and construction sectors. Had you had any experience of the cyber security industry before joining F-Secure? 

JH: My only previous experience of the cyber security industry was as a private investor. That said, there are certain aspects of cyber security that are very close to what I have done before. For example, I was in the communications industry for about 20 years and some of the things relating to the assurance of quality in networks is very similar to elements of cyber security, such as ensuring you have the right configurations in place. That is both a quality question and an information security question, so there are interesting parallels. But I can’t claim to be a cyber expert. I am on a very steep learning curve now. 

TR: What are your first impressions of the cyber security industry?

JH: That it is a very crowded market, a big market, with companies coming in from left and right with new ideas. All the segments are growing, so there is a lot of activity, but because it is evolving so fast, it is hard for any company to have a comprehensive offering covering all the bases – this is especially true for product companies, because sometimes there simply aren’t yet products available that cater to certain needs. This has led to the development of a fairly large services-driven cyber market, especially in consulting. 

TR: What challenges have you encountered over the last 12 months? 

JH: On a personal level, I would say the pandemic is the biggest one. I haven’t been able to travel, and we have 25 locations around the world. My leadership style is very much about meeting people in person and combining anecdotal experience with data from the reports we use around the company, so that has made things a bit difficult. And, of course, the people would benefit from getting to know me a little. In times of change, people like the leadership to be visible, so that has been a bit of a challenge. Regarding the industry as a whole, we have had some serious data breaches and attacks, especially in the past 12 months – Solarwinds, Vastaamo in Finland – and we have been part of the response. Those have been highly publicised events and created a lot of demand for our services. 

TR: What are some of the long-term challenges facing F-Secure?

JH: We would like to see a world in which nobody is hit by a security breach. That is a bit of a moonshot goal, I know, but one we would like to pursue in partnership with our customers. The essence of what we do and how we see ourselves revolves around good partnerships. Yes, of course you need to have good products and great people, but we think you need something else to stand out from the crowd and the partnerships we have with our customers, our partners and amongst ourselves are, I think, a really important element of that that we want to take forward to help us deliver that ambitious vision. 

The other thing we are seeing, especially in the last 12 months, is a leap forward in digitalisation and the requirements that places on infrastructure. That is a common challenge shared by all of us, but if we look specifically at some of our B2B customers, many of them have been making the transition to a public cloud environment for quite a while now and CIOs are really thinking about that environment and how they can ensure it is safe. Helping them secure that is both an opportunity and a challenge for us. 

TR: In the UK, there is a severe skills crisis in the IT industry. Is this something that F-Secure has had to contend with?

JH: Everyone is seeing more churn than normal, and there are multiple reasons for that. If we start with the pandemic, the fact that people have been working remotely has clearly alienated some people from their company and the work context, so it is easier for them to consider doing something else or working for a different company. 

And, of course, there are plenty of other options. This is a hot industry and there is real demand for talent. As a company, we can’t concentrate only on hiring the best and most talented people we can find; we must also offer a platform of growth for our employees and support them in their development, so we collaborate closely with institutions like universities to make sure we train up our people. 

Finally, we have seen some salary inflation across the industry. That too is a factor, although one of our mantras is to be the most loved place in cyber security, and we think there is much more to that than a competitive salary. We really want to provide an environment where people feel the company cares for them and where there are good opportunities and interesting projects for them to get involved in, so they feel they are doing something worthwhile. 

Many of our people also feel it is important for us to have a positive impact on society. For example, when the Vastaamo remote mental healthcare service was breached in Finland we offered free of charge advice. 

TR: What are some of the growth areas you are most excited about for F-Secure and your channel partners?

JH: One concept that is driving our entire portfolio forward is what we call the servitisation of security. Instead of talking about products or services specifically, we prefer to talk about outcomes-as- a-service. In this industry, many people can claim many things and not every customer is able to validate those claims. Sometimes it comes down to who has the loudest voice and the most marketing money. We would like to shift that dialogue more into outcomes – what impact are we actually having? – and make that very simple. That is very exciting because it connects everything we do and customers only pay for what they use. 

The other key thing is recognition that this is a data-driven, algorithmic world. Today, humans are using the systems but tomorrow everything will become increasingly automated, so those systems, algorithms and data need to be protected. Consider autonomous vehicles, for example; it will be critical to protect them. 

Then, as I mentioned earlier, there is cloud, which is now mainstream and a concern for many CIOs – how do we tackle security once we have migrated everything to one of these public platforms? 

TR: In the context of the servitisation of security, how has your Elements usage- based security platform been received by channel partners? 

JH: Even better than we had anticipated. What makes it special is that we not only looked at the products themselves but at the whole business system and how we operate and do business with our partners. We wanted to come in with something that is partner-friendly so we provided a user interface where they can conduct their business, and in the case of small, simple transactions, we have automated the entire process and removed the need for any human intervention from beginning to end, from delivery all the way to billing. In addition, we have added programmes for our platinum, gold, silver partners that support the business models we offer, so users can actually pay as they consume those services. Those have been welcomed as something new and exciting. 

We are also giving partners the opportunity to ‘Elevate to F-Secure’ so that when a partner feels they are not able to meet a particular customer need with their own portfolio of security services, they can tap into our resources and deep expertise. 

TR: What are your priorities for the next 12 months?

JH: We would like to take this outcome- based security approach forward, which is very much driving what we call the solutions business – a combination of consulting, managed services and detection and response. Then, we want to accelerate growth with our Elements platform and usage-based model. Finally, in consumer, we are regrouping our entire offering under the sub-brand of TOTAL, which provides all the protection needed to secure online activities in one package. Instead of having to download several applications, the consumer just selects the different point applications they need within TOTAL. 

TR: Is your consumer business sold through the channel as well or direct? 

JH: Seventy-five per cent of it is sold through partners, primarily telecoms service providers that incorporate our technology as part of their application – F-Secure Inside, if you like. We are also exploring new channels like insurance companies where a similar logic would apply. Then, about 25% is sold online, mostly to consumers in the Nordics who buy directly from F-Secure to protect their endpoints. 

TR: If there was one thing about the cyber security industry you could change what would it be?

JH: I would like to change the notion that security is somehow a separate thing. I would like to see us increasingly influencing products and systems so that security becomes a feature, an embedded quality. If we want to strive for a more secure and better environment for all, something like that needs to happen, so that we are not always bringing in an outside solution to address deficiencies in the initial system or product. 

Please follow and like us:

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

TechnologyReseller: 2021