ForeScout Knows the Right Kind of Downsizing

Why Michael DeCesare left an info-security giant to channel his energy into ForeScout

It wasn’t easy for Michael DeCesare to leave the comfort of his perch as president of Intel Security. But just months into his position as president and CEO of ForeScout Technologies Inc., DeCesare’s enthusiasm for his work has already erased any lingering doubts, thanks to the excitement of running a small business that’s “growing like crazy” in both workforce and revenue. He’s putting all his energy into making the privately owned, Campbell, California-based network-security provider a great company with a best-in-class culture.

“I always knew at some stage in my career that I wanted to be able to brand a company in the culture that I wanted to bring to the company, and that’s much easier to do in a smaller company,” he says.

DeCesare isn’t the only one to have this goal; he sees a trend of executives leaving bigger, more stable jobs to take a chance on smaller companies, especially in the cybersecurity arena. Similarly, customers may be more willing to buy from security startups than from fledgling companies in other realms of IT, like data storage or infrastructure.

“People want to feel plugged in. They want to feel like the work that they’re doing means something to the bigger picture.”

The industry as a whole is facing sophisticated and more numerous adversaries. The second a software company stops innovating, DeCesare explains, the bad guys get a leg up and leverage attacks. The security industry was designed to go up against very different types of hackers than those threatening networks today. DeCesare says that’s part of the reason he left the established firm Intel Security, the corporate descendant of McAfee, which was acquired in 2011 by Intel.

Unlike typical attacks of a few years ago, recent attacks have featured foreign governments suspected of orchestrating breaches on major corporations on multiple occasions. Viruses and malware are more sophisticated and difficult to eliminate as well.

Ahead of the Curve

ForeScout was included on the list of twenty fastest-growing security companies in 2015 named by Silicon Review. There were four major factors that led to this inclusion:

  • Increase in personal devices in the workplace and a BYOD culture that requires an all-encompassing security strategy
  • The continued explosive growth of the Internet of Things, which ForeScout is addressing by including IP-connected smart devices in the security sphere
  • High-profile data breaches that continue to signal the need for ForeScout’s agentless visibility for enterprise networks
  • Increase in staffing at ForeScout, which plans to grow its workforce to 600 employees by 2017

“That’s just a very different set of characters that you’re going up against, and it takes newer, more innovative smaller companies to be able to have a chance at really stopping them,” DeCesare says.

DeCesare led a team of about 8,500 people at a $2.5 billion business when he left Intel Security. ForeScout, on the other had, had about 300 employees when he joined in March 2015 and has grown to nearly 450 in seven months. ForeScout’s trailing twelve month revenue is in excess of $100 million and is experiencing accelerating growth rates, with the most recent quarter exceeding 90 percent year-over-year growth.

It’s a lot easier to develop a new culture when a company is growing 50 percent or more each year, and DeCesare wants his employees to look back on their careers and say working for ForeScout was their best job.

“When I wake up in the morning, I love going to work, and so I want that same thing for everybody else that works for me,” he says. “When people are emotionally connected to the company they work for, the work product they put out is going to be better, so the results on the bottom line are incredibly tangible.”

DeCesare insists that CEOs must balance the scientific and artistic sides of the role by ensuring the business is strategically on the right track while also fostering a positive environment that allows employees to thrive creatively. He promotes a culture of respect and accountability through focusing on best-in-class onboarding, training, and talent management. He recognizes the importance of work-life balance and takes a family-first approach with his employees.

He also celebrates employees and emphasizes open communication. He talks to the entire workforce every ninety days and meets with leaders and direct reports more frequently so they understand how their work fits into the company’s goals.

“People want to feel plugged in. They what to feel like the work that they’re doing means something to the bigger picture,” he says.

It’s a culture shift for ForeScout, which parted ways with its former CEO in 2014 and named a board member as interim leader until DeCesare joined. The company, founded in Israel, used to operate like two separate islands, with engineering in Israel and sales in the United States. But DeCesare has worked to change that; he’s started by instituting a two-day meeting of the company’s leaders every forty-five days.

“The way that our executive team interacts with each other is just unbelievably positive compared to where it was only eight months ago,” he says, adding that his frequent, open communication is also different than before. “I think if you ask almost any ForeScout employee, they would tell you they feel far more plugged in and energized on what’s going on in the business right now than they did before I got here.”

With more than 1,000 recent security startups jostling for attention and funding, investors have begun casting a more discriminating eye over the sector—seeking profit potential as well as innovation and energy. With its blend of timely leading-edge products, strong culture, and consistent business success, ForeScout appears focused on the forefront.