The outgoing chief discusses going public on the London stock exchange, the AVG acquisition, and the joys of being a UC Irvine Anteater
This summer Vince Steckler is retiring as CEO of Avast after a decade leading the cybersecurity company. A native Californian and proud alum of the University of California at Irvine, he began his career as a programmer. He served as Senior VP of Worldwide Consumer Sales at the cybersecurity company Symantec before joining Avast. When he joined, Avast had about 40 employees and sales of under $20 million a year. Now it employs more than 1,500 employees and earns more than $750 million in sales, and its security software stops over 1.5 billion attacks per month. He sat down with the Avast Blog as part of a tour of the company’s global offices to say goodbye to employees.
What was your biggest achievement as CEO?
Probably the acquisition of AVG Technologies in 2016. We didn’t just acquire a company, we gained the AVG team, AVG customers, and the carrier and channel partners. For nearly 30 years, AVG and Avast grew up side by side, and the similarities made integrating the two pretty smooth. We’ve been able to support both the AVG and Avast branded products, and transformed into a full service security company with the largest consumer installed base in the world. This expanded our user base to more than 400 million users worldwide. It was a big deal, and I’m very proud of what we all – everyone in both companies – were able to accomplish through it.
What was the hardest challenge in your tenure as Avast CEO?
The IPO (Avast’s initial public offering last year on the London Stock Exchange), without question. That meant we were no longer just grappling with the day-to-day realities of the tumultuous cybersecurity world, but also managing the expectations of investors. People think of tech IPOs as being like Google or Facebook or Uber, but it’s really very different in Europe. European investors are more interested in financial fundamentals, not skyrocketing growth. Our stock took a dip out of the gate, which is not unusual, then performed nicely. It was the right thing to do, and we handled it the right way.
What’s the toughest obstacle facing cybersecurity today?
The Internet of Things, but I would see it more as an opportunity than an obstacle. Suddenly, everything is an endpoint – your average middle-class household is full of them. Companies sell smart devices and people install them without thinking about security implications. When new parents buy a baby monitor, they’re doing that to make their family safer, but that device can become a vector into their household for criminals. Security companies have to provide a broader overall view of the home, and an accessible control center that average people can master.
What does being a UC Irvine alum mean to you?
I’m on the Executive Committee of the UCI Cybersecurity Policy & Research Institute, and if you look at the people on that committee, it is really world class. When a large public university achieves that kind of excellence, it helps a lot of people. Cybersecurity needs the best minds and lots of them, and you don’t always get there by being exclusive and prestigious, like some private colleges. A large, diverse student body can really provide great competition. Avast is protection for people, and UC schools provide top education for people through a real meritocracy. I like that atmosphere of meritocracy more than aristocracy when people are launching their careers. Personally we also fund a number of scholarships and fellowships at UCI focused on women in computer science. In cybersecurity, tech, and science generally there is a real need to diametrically increase diversity in some key areas. UCI is making great strides there, and I love being part of that.
What’s next for you?
This is my first time in more than 40 years without working, so I imagine it will be quite a change. It’s time to put the family first and enjoy time with our two younger children. I’ll remain an advisor to Avast for this next year. I also expect to remain involved in tech as an advisor and investor. I have some hobbies like Formula-1 racing, and my wife is opening a cafe in Northern California to go along with one she runs in Singapore. I also really enjoy helping the Magical Bridge Foundation, which has a mission of building playgrounds for kids of all abilities and disabilities, so there’s a level playing field for all people at the beginning of their lives. That’s a mission I think is valuable and profound. But mostly, I want to focus on being a dad.