Innovation and systematic change is key

Steve Chang, CEO of Trend Micro, believes that the ability to innovate and change is the key factor responsible for the company's success.

When we started Trend Micro in 1988, there were fewer than ten known computer viruses in circulation. In fact, some experts were still arguing that viruses were "urban legends" – they didn't exist at all!

Few pundits would have predicted the existence of more than 50,000 viruses and a billion-dollar antivirus market by the turn of the century. And who could have imagined that the company my wife and I started in our garage would become a global organization with 1,000 employees in 18 countries. Certainly not me! Life is full of surprises.

Why has Trend Micro been so successful? If I had to choose the single factor most responsible for Trend Micro’s achievements, I would say it’s our ability to innovate and change.

Innovation is a continuous process. We’re always striving to improve our products and services. But some innovations are so far-reaching that they demand radical changes in the way business is done, and only flexible, dynamic organizations can reorient themselves so quickly and thoroughly.

Several times in our history, Trend Micro has completely transformed its business model and each time we’ve seen our market grow dramatically.

One early change was our focus on the network. The concept that defending an entire network required more than just securing each individual PC led to the introduction of server-based products and integrated border defenses for enterprises.

About six to seven years ago, we began to undertake the enormous changes required to adapt to the Internet. The nature of our business has changed fundamentally since then. Just a few years ago, it would not have been possible for a Melissa or Love Letter outbreak to circle the globe in mere hours, bringing thousands of computer networks and e-mail systems crashing to a halt. By all counts, Trend Micro won some notice in the media for managing to react quickly. We were able to handle this situation because of our preparation to meet potential threats from the Net.

While our product line focused on securing Internet and e-mail gateways, we also leveraged on the global network to improve, speed up and coordinate our responses. We put a global emergency team in place around the clock to provide immediate service during major outbreaks.

A few years ago we pioneered a new business model aimed at building security into the Internet’s infrastructure by enabling service providers like ISPs to scan and clean content before it reaches the end-user.

Today, we’re extending variations of that concept to wireless devices and especially to the broadband access market – which introduces a new set of security issues to address.

How can a company foster systematic change and innovation? At Trend Micro I have always tried to bring together the best and brightest creative people, and keep them motivated. Creativity needs to be managed, through inspiration, encouragement and reward. While I strongly support stock options to give employees a stake in the company, motivation requires more than just money and benefits. I think it is more important to keep people challenged creatively.

Our corporate culture definitely rewards creativity, even if it involves a degree of risk, and allows room for failure. After all, failure can be a great learning experience, much better than not trying anything new at all. Can systematic innovation continue as a company grows larger? Ask me again in ten years! But based on our track record thus far, I’d say the odds look pretty good.

Read Steve Chang: the anti-virus king