Exclusive Q&A with new Ferrari sponsor Eugene Kaspersky 04 Apr 2011
Given that they were the well-publicised victims of intellectual property theft a few years back, its perhaps appropriate that Ferrari have signed cyber security experts Kaspersky Lab as a new sponsor. But Eugene Kaspersky, the companys founder and CEO, is much more concerned with the future. After training in the KGBs cryptography department, Kaspersky seized his chance when the Soviet Union collapsed to turn a handful of highly-skilled cryptographers into one of the worlds leading IT security companies. Now hes turned his attentions to the gains that can be made for his company in the F1 paddock
Q: Eugene, how cool is it to have your own name on a Ferrari?
Eugene Kaspersky: I think its a bit difficult to explain. Sometimes there are feelings that create a lot of adrenalin. It is like being on top of a volcano that is just about to erupt, or being on top of a building in strong wind. Having my name on these red cars makes me sure that I have done something right in my life. It proves that the way I follow is the right way. It is not easy to find an answer to the question of why what I do is successful, because it is not just the right team of people, not just hard work, not just experience, not just the taste of success that drives you. Maybe there is something extra. And obviously that extra is on these Ferraris!
Q: So what brings a Russian entrepreneur not involved with the automotive industry into Formula One racing?
EK: I started the company as a start-up and we were only a handful of motivated, high-skilled and ambitious people. After 20 years of hard work we now find ourselves at the top of the IT security industry with a company that is big and still growing. We pay a lot attention to technology and products. We are building and constantly broadening our partner network, and some of our partners are in Formula One. It is not just our expertise and knowledge, which we share - our knowledge about cyber-crime and IT security issues - but of course we also develop our brand recognition. Formula One is not our only sports-related sponsorship. In Australia, for example, we sponsor the football team. During the credit crunch, the football team found themselves in the doldrums and were looking for help. They got in touch with us. The Australian football team is famous and, if they are looking for help, we will do it. We did some other Samaritan-like projects, and then we decided to do something really, really cool. Formula One is one of the strongest brands if you want to do something really serious. After that first step was taken we started to research the Formula One world and started to talk to people who know that environment. We visited a couple of races just for our enjoyment, but simultaneously started to talk to different teams. We had the list of all the team names and I asked what team is number one in this environment. And the answer was Formula One itself. So whats the second number one? Obviously, the team that starts with the same letter F. When we started to talk with Ferrari I started to recognise that this team is very friendly and professional. They didnt push us to sign as quickly as possible. They sat down with us and explained the rules of the game. They explained the best way to enter this world. They told us to start as beginners and not to get too deeply involved at the start, because if you dont like it and want to leave, you will do this with less of a financial loss. They explained to us the optimum way and I really do respect how they handled all these negotiations, because it is an honest way of doing business and I respect honesty in business.
Q: How aware were you that you were joining the most iconic team in the paddock. Was that ever your plan?
EK: Well, the plan was to be in Formula One. The plan was to find the right team, or maybe a driver. And we finally said to ourselves that if we do that we should do it with the best. We dont want to be with number two or three. We want to be with the team that is most visible - and of course the most expensive! But, like the English saying, you get what you pay for. Usually I dont sign contracts myself - my management team does that - but in this case I told myself that this was my choice and my responsibility, so I signed this one personally.
Q: Did you have to convince your board of directors?
EK: Well, not all of them agreed, and of course, not all of them understood. This is not wasting money, it is a serious project and I talked to my top management team many times. I also explained it to my employees, as this company is more like a family. I wanted everyone to understand the reasons behind the commitment and most of them now understand. They immediately understood that this project can be developed into a perfect two-way street. Weve just launched a special edition of our internet security box together with Ferrari, so now my people do understand and see the beauty of it. My advice to companies who want to promote their brand with the help of Formula One is to go there step-by-step and explain to your senior management team and your board of directors one by one the benefits of such cooperation. Unfortunately Ferrari is already booked by an IT security company, so should you guys out there come to the same conclusion that I have about Formula One being the place to be, then you had better find another team!
Q: A few years ago Ferrari was the victim of an intellectual property theft, although a photocopier was used in that instance. The next attempt could be a cyber attack. Did you know about that when you joined them?
EK: We are already in deep talks with Ferrari about that. Ferrari is very interested, even though we havent definitely agreed on a project yet. We have offered our help and Ferrari have agreed to talk to us should there be a need in terms of security and software cooperation. It would even be possible to control the car remotely. Its forbidden, of course, but technically it is possible. Lets face it, Ferrari is a company that needs protection for their company network. This is level number one. The second level is onboard security. So there is a lot to do in the future.
Q: You look proud to be wearing your red Ferrari jacket
EK: Oh yes. Theres no more comment necessary.
Q: Russia has many companies which have emerged as global players, but they are still under the radar in terms of sponsorship. Why is that?
EK: I am not sure if my answer is right but my feeling is that many Russian companies are still managed by people who grew up in the times of the Soviet Union. They dont speak English, they are a little bit afraid of western and eastern cultures, and many still have the iron curtain in mind. They like to go to the west on vacation, they like to own houses in the south of France or in Switzerland, but obviously business is a step too far for them. I think that is also the reason why Russian businesses are not as integrated into the world economy as they could be. There are still too many companies in Russia that act only domestically or in countries that were part of the Soviet Union. This is because they all speak Russian and they have a similar mentality, so doing business seems easier for them. I think Russia has so much more potential to grow international businesses and my guess is that the next generation will not have the iron curtain in their heads. I am sure that when this generation gets into the driving seat of companies they will make Russia much more open to the west and Russian companies will be much more integrated. In the future, you will see the names of many more Russian companies on Formula One cars. At the moment there are only three - on the Ferraris, on the Renaults and on the Virgins.
Q: Security is a problem that every company and every individual owning a computer has. Will you also use Formula One racing as a platform to seek business-to-business opportunities?
EK: Of course we are seeking opportunities to start building strong relationships with companies who are also Ferrari sponsors. Being here gets you in contact with some of the biggest global players. That should be a huge gain for every company thinking of entering Formula One. It has a far bigger return than just playing golf.
Q: Leaving aside the pros and cons of a Formula One commitment, there is still an emotional level
EK: Well, I have to say I am not a bigger than average Formula One fan. In the majority of cases you have two kinds of people - those who are not interested in Formula One at all and those who suck up everything like a sponge. Then you have a third category of those who are really interested with a thorough knowledge of the sport and its protagonists. In that third category you have a sub-category of those who are just interested. I would count me among them. Probably that is why Ive decided to get involved. I am interested, I see the beauty of it, but Im not getting carried away as a fan.
Q: How much do the connections Formula One racing offers add to your interest?
EK: There are three reasons to be a Formula One sponsor. Firstly brand recognition. How many hundred of millions watch Formula One? Secondly its the business contacts, and thirdly you can introduce Formula One to your business partners. I dont want to calibrate these reasons, labelling which is more or less important. But hey, the business contacts really work. Weve seen some of our partners here and they asked what Im doing here. I replied that I am a Ferrari sponsor! They are impressed. Then its by the way, weve been talking about a contract for years and still its not done. Lets sit down tomorrow And finally its done!
Q: So have you already got what you paid for?
EK: Not yet. I still see many more opportunities for us to employ our presence in Formula One, to use our relationship with Ferrari and I think it is just the beginning of a story. We are just beginners and we are a minor sponsor of Ferrari. But I think this sponsorship will grow year-by-year and I am sure that we will do more with Ferrari, and maybe with Formula One as well.