On the lighter side of things, we ask the industry-experts what makes them tick.
John McLoughlin, Managing Director, J2 Software.
1) What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?
This is a big question as there have been so many. We fly though life and I don’t think we can ever rest on one specific achievement. Whether it is my marriage, the birth of my children, fighting and surviving a long cancer battle, the first day we launched J2 Software or signed up our first customer – these are all achievements that evoke very powerful memories and a great deal of pride.
However, none of these are my achievements alone. In all these amazing moments there are others involved in this success. I am extremely fortunate to be surrounded by amazing team members in life and business, all of whom play their part in helping to make even the most improbable achievements possible. As much as this may be a cliché, I cannot take all the glory and praise for the success of our business over the past 12 years during truly challenging international and local economic times. I think that in business, the fact that we managed to go through several global down turns and not only survive as a tight knit team, but also grow and develop as a business speaks volumes to the approach of wishing to add value to our customers. It is easy to sell something and move on to the next thing. It is far more difficult to continue to provide value long after the initial sale is concluded. Guaranteeing customers gain value from their investment separates us from the competitive pack and ensures that we are not merely suppliers, but strategic partners – this approach brings mutual benefits for all stakeholders.
2) What first made you think of a career in technology?
As a youngster I was amazed by James Bond, specifically by all the gadgets and cool technology that he got to use in every movie. I was always waiting to see what he would be given and how he would handle it. This sparked a desire to be involved in technology. I believed from a young age that the right technology, applied correctly, can help save the world. This is where it started and from there my love of technology has never waned. Computers and systems have always amazed me and this continues to be the case today as we get smarter by utilising technology to process massive amounts of information and use that to fight cyberattacks by applying intelligence and learning from monitoring changing behaviours.
3) What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?
Management style is a constant work in progress. Like our cybersecurity solution, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to management. But micromanagement does not work and devours valuable business focus time. So, I try to find people to join the team who are virtually capable of managing themselves. This means that my time is freed up to focus on business efficiencies and growth. I believe there is always something that I can improve on and set myself high standards. In an ideal world, outcomes are clear and processes are well defined. This means that the specific team member knows what is expected and can deliver.
Of course, we don’t live in an ideal world and things change constantly, so we need to approach business in the same way. We are ready to respond to the next requirement or jump onto the next opportunity as it is presented.
Each day is different and so is every individual member of the team, we remain dynamic and rather than ongoing planning and strategy we focus on execution. My directive is to operate our business as a 12-year-old start up. I like to provide the benefit of the doubt and do my best to see things from all sides. Listening to different opinions with an open mind before deciding also allows for open communication and this enhances innovation.
4) What do you think will emerge as the technology trend of 2018 and why?
I believe that 2018 is the year of increased cybersecurity. With the rise of global attacks and the very high likelihood that cyberattacks can destroy businesses and cause the loss of life, 2018 must be the year of cyber security. We are pushing very hard to raise awareness among everyday users and deliver a new range of solutions to identify and combat cyberattacks. The attackers are getting more innovative and changing the way they target and deliver cyberattacks on your business, this means without innovation as our defence – we are bound to lose. The attacks are driven by greed and untraceable cryptocurrencies make the possibility of finding the attackers virtually impossible. Defence is being able to identify that an attack has started and stop it before there is any further damage.
5) What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?
From our perspective as a security services provider, we would identify investing into constantly changing technology stacks as one of the biggest in the industry. As a company we concurrently invest in skills development and internships to address the skills gap in cybersecurity skills on the continent.
In the cybersecurity space, from a customer perspective, there is major investment in outsourced managed cybersecurity monitoring services. This is driven by the fact that there are such a limited number of skilled individuals who can do the work. Additionally, businesses have limited budgets and appetites to bring on entire security teams, consisting of analysts, researchers, security specialists and ethical hackers. Why spend all that time and effort when for a far lower cost they can contract a team of specialists to do the work? In a rapidly changing threat landscape companies need experts who eat, drink and sleep cyber security. This cannot be achieved by part timers.
6) How do you deal with stress and unwind outside of the office?
The best stress relief is to go for a run. I run with my wife (okay, it might be more of a jog), but we love to have the time outside while we run and we do a minimum of two half marathons a year. When we run I switch off any outside stress and focus on that moment, making sure the pain is not too intense when we hit the long hills. I also love to play hockey and spend time with family and friends whenever there is an opportunity.
7) If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?
I would trust my gut more. Over the years some of the primary reasons that we have had success is due to the instinctive gut feel around solutions, customers or methodologies. There have been occasions when my gut told me that there may be something wrong with an individual in relation to our team or a choice on some pricing option and I went ahead anyway. In every one of those situations, things did not turn out well and it caused a great deal of unnecessary stress and ill feelings. If I was a time traveller I would go back and make sure that I trusted my instincts. This is what drives me to be an entrepreneur and attack a market gap. Give your gut the benefit of the doubt. If you can’t trust yourself then you won’t be able to trust anybody.
8) What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in Africa?
I am of the belief that there are not enough African developed technology solutions. This brings about massive problems in adoption due to several factors. Firstly, many African businesses lack the same infrastructure and resources that the international developers take for granted. This includes high speed networks and often the latest hardware is simply beyond the reach of many African businesses. When you add the additional burden of pricing based on volatile exchange rates, the complexity in getting pricing to an affordable level can be quite a challenge. Finally, we still have many users who lack some of the IT skills required to run complex solutions. This increases the risks around cyber security and ensures more accidental breaches as we make our way through these things.
9) What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?
I have seen changes driven by technology. This has meant changes to the way I access systems and manage my time and the roles of the rest of the team at J2 Software. I have had to empower other members of the J2 Software team to get things done that I would have done myself in the past. In the next 12 months this will evolve even further as our cyber security centre grows and team management gets moved out to other management staff along the way. It is an exciting time to be at J2 Software and I look forward to the changes and growth that is coming our way.
10) What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain C-level position in your industry?
I honestly believe if you want to be successful and climb the ladder, you cannot have an attitude of “that’s not my job”. One must work harder than anybody else. The truth is that if you get involved and learn about various parts of the business you are in – you can pick up how the various departments run and how it all fits together. With this insight you can develop methods to improve and streamline processes as well as make sure they become easier and more efficient. This means that your value is easy to identify and makes you a key member of the team. My philosophy is not for everybody and I understand that not everybody is programmed the same way because it is hard. But the extra hours that I put in allow me to try new things: faster; fail; adapt and deliver while others might just be planning. Ideas and plans are worth nothing without execution.