Driving defence: Richard Mallett, VP of Thales Critical Information Systems & Cybersecurity for Asia-Pacific, talks about his rise as a digital defender
A career in computers and mastering the challenges of IT was the last thing on Richard Mallett’s mind when he graduated from Nottingham University in 1982 with a degree in English literature, but the vice-president of Thales Critical Information Systems & Cybersecurity for APAC has thrived in an environment that he explains has become increasingly dynamic.
“When I got into computers [in the early ’90s], demand for technical staff was growing but the pool of talent wasn’t around,” he says. “I joined when it was a fairly young industry and it was a very exciting time. I remember 300MB disc drives being the size of cabinets, but now, of course, you can get gigabytes of storage on tiny devices. Even when I began working for Thales 17 years ago, a lot of the technical support staff had things like German degrees ... there weren’t so many hi-tech degrees around then.”
Originally from the UK, Mallett left for Australia as soon as his studies finished. “I didn’t want to start my career in the UK, and I remember doing the milk round and didn’t get a job offer. That was probably a good thing in hindsight.”
He worked in Australia for eight years and did a stint in the TV advertising business, but quickly realised that he didn’t want to work in that field for the rest of his life. He also felt like he had to beef up his educational background, so he took courses in accounting and marketing at the University of Technology in Sydney.
He later moved to Hong Kong, where he worked for Fujitsu as director of business development. After a successful six years there, his career hit a major turning point when, despite knowing little about the security side of the industry, he was headhunted by Thales. He was immediately attracted by the opportunity to grow a region.
“In my Fujitsu job, there wasn’t an aggressive APAC strategy in place. So it wasn’t the security that attracted me, it was the business plan. Thales has a sound footing in Hong Kong ... the Hong Kong stock exchange and quite a few of the banks use our software, and I wanted the challenge of working with such a client base.”
Moving into security, however, worked out much better than he thought. “Fifteen years ago, most security firms were just managing banking accounts, and if the internet hadn’t come along, it would have been a very narrow market. Security may just have been a stepping stone to something else for me.
“But what’s happened in the last five, six years has thrown up much more opportunity. In ten years’ time, we’ll look back and say it’s just begun. People think the security industry is mature, and we’re running out of problems to solve, but that’s far from being the case.”
Mallett says one of the biggest challenges in his current role is keeping his stakeholders happy. “We’ve got stakeholders in France, China and the UK, and each of them look at things differently and have their own objectives. You have to satisfy each of their different aims and I quite enjoy that,” he says.
Another big challenge over the past few years has been adapting products to different markets, as well as expanding into services such as cyber consulting. “Our DNA is pure product, and although our products are available globally, a lot of customers want additional features and functions – and that’s been very successful. Five or six years ago, services accounted for about 17 per cent of our business and we put a strategy in place to drive that up to 50 per cent.”
His approach to achieving is goals is straightforward and direct. “Once we’ve decided to do something, I just want to do it, monitor it and then come back. I’m not a meeting person – I like them to be very quick.”
If something goes wrong, he makes sure to always keep his cool. “I ask the person responsible what happened, as they know better than anyone. If you go in and say, ‘you’ve done that, that and that wrong’ it doesn’t help the relationship. Most people’s intent is good and they don’t do something wrong on purpose. So I tell them to go away and think it through and come back with their suggestions. It’s important to let staff own their part of the strategy and delivery.”
Mallett considers himself lucky to have fallen into an industry which he finds so fascinating and is constantly changing. He explains that seemingly every new technical trend has unique implications for the cybersecurity industry, such as the “I nternet of Things” (IoT), where every device is an “intelligent” one.
“From our point of view, we love it as everything becomes an access point for hackers. We’re dealing with some very big companies and that’s their biggest concern. We’re working with them to make things secure, and that’s something that’s just begun.”
Succeeding in security
Richard Mallett’s top five tips on leading a business.
Rate reliability “Get good staff in place who you trust. Once you make a decision, most people want to do a good job.”
Focus your aim “People like a clear strategy – not everyone will agree with it, but once it’s in place, at least you have a way to go forward and people want that.”
Be picky with people “Hire well and, if you can afford it, go for the best. I’m looking for someone who can fit in with the way we think.”
Spread the load “Younger staff can take on more responsibility than you think. I was one of few school kids who went to university, but the bar’s gone higher and higher. Today’s generation have got multiple languages, are doing internships overseas … they’ve done a lot at a very young age.”
Stay hands-off “I know some people like that micromanagement style, but in this company it’s more about monitoring and advising.”
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Driving defence.