Learning from the greatest business leaders of the world
Eva Yi-Hwa Chen, usually referred to as Eva Chen, is a Taiwanese businessperson and the co-founder and CEO of Trend Micro, the world’s largest security firm.Currently she is graded as one of the top 100 most influential executives in the industry and also as one of Asia’s 50 Power Businesswomen.
Chen was born in 1955 in Taichung, Taiwan. Her grandfather was a politician who started a bank, which her father, a philosophy graduate, inherited. Chen followed in her father’s footsteps by earning a degree in philosophy at the National Chengchi University in Taipei. “I think I took the right decision because, as I realised later, philosophy is a base that trains you how to think,” she once told the New York Times.
After graduation she worked briefly in the publishing industry. In 1984 she moved to United States where she received a Master’s degree in management information systems from the University of Texas at Dallas. Coming back to Taiwan, she worked briefly for Acer Inc. in their research department before leaving to write for a Chinese newspaper.
In 1988, she co-founded Trend Micro,specialising in IT Security, with her brother-in-law Steve Chang and her sister Jenny. Chen was the executive vice president of the company until 1996 when she became chief technology officer (CTO). During her tenure as CTO she developed an early malware scanner called House-Call, to detect and remove viruses, worms, Trojan horses and other malware. In 2001, the Nimda worm infected computers around the world, crashing Trend’s own network. The company was able to offer its clients tools to repair the damage done. Chen realised that the company however did not have any mechanism to prevent such attacks in future.
Chen came up with the idea for a piece of hardware sitting between servers and protected devices that would scan data packets and compare them with real-time information about current malware threats. She and a team of chosen engineers worked round the clock at her home, with the engineers sleeping in shifts in the spare rooms, to develop a prototype.
There was resistance to the solution, since it was a piece of hardware and the company’s expertise was in software, but it worked exceptionally well. Trend micro decided to enter the hardware product into its product profile.
In 2005, Chang decided to step down as CEO to concentrate on his role as President. He nominated Chen to replace him. But Chen saw herself as primarily an inventor, with her more outgoing sister and brother-in-law taking the lead. After heavy persuasion, she assumed the position of CEO at Trend Micro.
Having finally accepted the post, however, Chen set out on a risky new strategy to move the company, which by then had established itself as a supplier of online security services to the corporate sector, into the highly competitive consumer retail sector. She argued that this was essential if the company was to become a well-known name and a global brand. Chang eventually gave his support, as he told Forbes magazine in 2007, with the comforting words, ‘Make sure you don’t screw up.’
Chen pursued her idea of taking on U.S. consumer online security market leaders Symantec and McAfee by targeting Best Buy, the leading U.S. electronics leader, undercutting her rivals on price and working with Best Buy to include the features and meet the standards that would make Trend Micro products a recommended buy. Trend Micro began to gain market share.
Chen’s strategy of establishing a consumer brand began to pay off as she struck deals to ship Trend Micro security software with Dell computers and Sony PlayStations. She set herself a new goal, positioning the company as a leading provider of security solutions for the growing trend in cloud computing.
Speaking to the news media Chen later commented: “When I took up this responsibility, I found an additional talent in myself. I’ve changed from an individual inventor to a kind of inventor that can put people together and make them innovate. And, believe me, that had been really fun.”
Under her leadership, Trend Micro has shifted its focus from traditional antivirus to cloud protection, purchasing Canadian security company Third Brigade in 2009and cloud storage service Humyo in 2010. In 2012, she received a Cloud Security Alliance Industry Leadership Award for her contributions to cloud security in the Asia-Pacific region.
Trend Micro receives its threat intelligence from TrendLabs, the company’s research, development, and support centre. TrendLabs has ten labs worldwide, and is headquartered in the Philippines and employs 1,200 security experts and engineers.The company’s Singapore-based lab provides malware forensics and analysis.
In February 2018, Trend Micro partnered with Panasonic to build more secure systems for electronic control units in automated cars. In April 2018, the company released a tool that helps identify individual writing styles and combat email fraud.
Today Trend Micro is a multinational cyber security and defence company with global headquarters in Tokyo, Japan, with regional headquarters and R&D centres in Asia, Europe, and North America. The company develops enterprise security software for servers, containers, & cloud computing environments, networks, and end points.
What lessons can we learn from Eva Chen?
In her own words:
“Focus. Yes, focus is really important at Trend Micro. We focus on security and that’s what keeps us on our toes. For example, a competitor such as Symantec is also in data storage. But data storage doesn’t change much, it pretty much stays the same, and that affects management. At Trend Micro we focus on security, an area of constant change. That keeps us fresh.”
“Collective Responsibility.Trend Micro believes in collective responsibility. Each group atmust be fully responsible for their activities. Few years ago, we have had to reorganize the company to deal with the new security challenges. We had our various groups such as anti-virus, spam, malware etc. We managed by objective, so we would give each group their objectives, and each group would build large databases to manage their security risk information to meet their objectives. We did away with that system, now each group shares all their information about vulnerabilities, and we give collective objectives to all three groups, which leads to a much better result.”
“Appreciate cultural differences. Some of the cultural differences are interesting. US teams are very “star” based, there is a lot of emphasis on individual performance. Asian teams are much more collaborative. For example, in the US, commissions are paid to individuals based on their performance. But in Japan commissions are team based. In the US the attitude is ‘why should I be punished by someone else’s poor performance?’ In Japan people don’t like to stand out in that way. Their attitude is that they don’t want to make more money than their team colleagues, because all work towards one goal. Trend Micro believes in Asian culture.”
“Innovation is the key: The philosophy at Trend Micro is to drive our growth by innovation; we encourage risk-taking and our management style dares the employee to fail.”
“Every obstacle is a challenge:Every time we overcome one obstacle, we feel we have learned something and you grow. That’s the joy of taking challenges.”
- Study widely; explore many avenues
- Don’t get used to being ‘in the back room’; consider your own leadership talents
- Be bold: compete with major brands
- Develop new goals; keep adapting