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Programmed for greatness

Published on Friday, 08 Feb 2013
William Saito and his role models (from top right) Einstein, Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Ford and Mark Twain.
Illustration: Bay Leung
Book: An Unprogrammed Life: Adventures of an Incurable Entrepreneur
Author: William Hiroyuki Saito
Publisher: Wiley

Data-security guru William Saito has come a long way

Some lives unfold so extraordinarily that it is tempting to ponder the stark imbalance of talent and drive with which some people are born. This is certainly the case with William Hiroyuki Saito, one of the world’s foremost experts on data security, whose life story makes for both a captivating autobiography and a business self-help text of considerable value.

An Unprogrammed Life starts with Saito’s familial roots in northern Japan’s Yamagata Prefecture. The trials and tribulations that his grandparents endured during the early post-war years, in a Japan that Saito tells us was literally “a Third World country”, are humbling.

Saito’s parents met in the US, and the way he describes how supportive they were when they discovered he had a gift for computer engineering is particularly uplifting.

We follow the journey from his days of being an anonymous, but gifted, teenage geek to becoming an authority on encryption, authentication and biometric technology by the time he hit his 30s. We witness his many triumphs, including selling three separate companies to Microsoft. Throughout the book, Saito never appears to be bragging, and his clean, lucid prose is always sympathetic.

The book describes his seemingly never-ending war against crooks, terrorists and rogue nations to safeguard personal and corporate information. He eventually becomes such an accomplished anti-terrorism authority that his services are sought by bodies such as the US Department of Defence and agencies of the British, Russian, and Japanese governments. We are given a number of insightful peeks into his work with these nations.

An Unprogrammed Life is a truly inspirational book and one of the few Asian voices in this genre. Parts delve into the fiddly nuts and bolts of high technology in a remarkably accessible manner. Other sections convey business wisdom by means of succinct boxes at the end of each chapter.

This reviewer particularly enjoyed Appendix 1, in which Saito lists 25 pithy and inspirational quotes from the likes of Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Mark
Twain, and adds a sprinkling of clever Japanese proverbs.

By the end of the book, we discover that having founded many profitable companies, Saito now devotes himself to helping others to do the same, through balancing business imperatives with a strong moral compass and common sense. By doing so, he is sowing the seeds for many more amazing lives.

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