For the past four or five years, Vancouver’s Wurldtech Security Technologies, founded as a tech startup in 2006 by cybersecurity expert Nate Kube, has derived almost all of its revenue from outside Canada. But the company’s international outlook—the vast majority of its customers are in the U.S., the Middle East, China and Japan—isn’t all that surprising. After all, Wurldtech operates in a space in which geographical borders matter little.
The company develops highly sophisticated security systems for multinational energy giants that rely on the so-called “industrial Internet.” As facilities such as oil refineries and large electrical utilities become ever more reliant on remote-control systems linked by far-flung digital networks, the demand for highly reliable security has taken off.
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As Wurldtech CEO Neil McDonnell explains, the market for this kind of security has been propelled forward by two forces: many large firms are pushing hard to reduce costs with investments in automation and remote systems control. At the same time, government regulators are increasingly concerned about the integrity of large-scale infrastructure assets, which security experts regard as obvious targets for terrorists. U.S. President Barack Obama, in fact, has issued various executive orders calling for stricter security for firms that control critical infrastructure.
Wurldtech’s edge is that the company has developed diagnostic technology that allows it to do thorough security assessments without taking these massive pieces of industrial equipment offline. Inside the firm, Kube has developed many of the proprietary technologies, branded “Achilles,” that give Wurldtech its edge.
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But, McDonnell says, the company also has bulked up its technical understanding of the security problems facing large industrial organizations as Wurldtech has expanded its customer base. The particular solutions that Wurldtech develops for individual firms become the foundation for further innovations, he says: “We got good at being able to talk to people and figure out their problems.”
Culturally, the company—which ranked 46th on the 2013 PROFIT 500 ranking of of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies—is a compelling example of how an R&D-based outfit has transitioned into a very sales-oriented, export-minded firm. McDonnell, who has years of experience in senior executive posts in the tech world, stepped into the top job four years ago and moved quickly to create a sales-oriented ethos at the firm.
He recalls once hearing a speech by former U.S. general Norman Schwarzkopf, who espoused an action-oriented management mantra for both his military underlings and his post-retirement corporate clients.
Stormin’ Norman, McDonnell says, believed fervently in two rules for senior executives: one, make decisions; and, two, surround yourself with smart people. It’s a self-correcting outlook, McDonnell explains: if the senior person makes the wrong call, his or her underlings will catch the mistake and have the confidence to let their superior know. Says McDonnell: “We as an entity believe that.”
Wurldtech’s client base now includes some very large industrial companies, including Siemens, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and Schneider Electric. McDonnell says Wurldtech has expanded its customer base in the predictable way—referrals, word of mouth, distribution/reseller partners and search-engine optimization, as well as through appearances at technical conferences. Yet, McDonnell firmly believes that the best way to close a deal, no matter where it happens in the world, is to get in front of his prospective customers with rapidly escalating overtures that quickly move from salesperson visits to calls from the vice-president of sales and, finally, meetings with McDonnell himself.
The firm’s hard-driving, solution-oriented sales culture has produced a new set of clients in a space that may seem to have little in common with energy giants and others in infrastructure. These days, Wurldtech is building a presence in the medical space, developing security systems for Internet-enabled health devices such as wearable insulin pumps and other wireless devices that could be susceptible to what McDonnell calls “nefarious” forces.
To an outsider, such a move may seem like a bit of a head-scratcher; after all, what do portable medical devices have in common with massive Middle Eastern refineries? For McDonnell, Wurldtech’s evolution speaks to its willingness to take chances: “It does take luck, you will make mistakes and you won’t win them all.”
In the security business, a bit of insecurity appears to be a winning strategy.