The former top US diplomat to Finland has joined F-Secure’s board of directors.
Bruce Oreck, who holds the distinction of being the longest serving US ambassador to Finland (2009-2015), brings a unique and colorful perspective to the board along with an enthusiasm for technology and a passion for innovation.
In addition to diplomacy, Mr. Oreck’s career spans from tax law to business and real estate. He is currently an Executive in Residence at Aalto University in Helsinki focusing on business and entrepreneurship.
I sat down to chat with Mr. Oreck about his thoughts on F-Secure, the importance of a customer mindset, and seeing things others don’t.
Your ambassadorship ended last year. What keeps you in Finland?
Finland is an amazing place. It’s a country of extremely well educated people with a wonderful set of values. I have met so many people here who are hungry to throw off the old way of thinking and take on the opportunities and challenges of the 21st century. Finland is undergoing an immense transition, shifting to the entrepreneurial mindset required by the global economy. And of course I immensely enjoy the lifestyle – from sauna to the connection to nature.
Being around the millennial generation – the digital natives – and to be able to teach at Aalto University is a great opportunity. They think that I’m teaching them, but really they’re teaching me.
Why are you joining the F-Secure board?
I like that the entrepreneurial spirit is part of F-Secure’s DNA. That of course is very familiar to me, I come from an entrepreneurial family.
I also see in F-Secure a company with strong core values: security, privacy, dependability. Certainly the technology is critically important. But a business has to be about more than just its product. When you take smart people with a clear understanding about their values and a deep commitment to those values, that’s very compelling. Because the businesses that really succeed are the ones who understand their core values, who are driven by their ideas and their ideals.
What do you think you can contribute to the board?
I’m a creative thinker. I’ve always been one to process problems differently from others. I was a tax lawyer for a long time – that’s a very dry area. But in all my years of practicing tax law I never lost a case. That wasn’t because I was smarter, but rather because of my ability to look at a problem and see it differently than other people saw it, to see an opportunity where others didn’t.
Additionally, all of my business training has been completely customer centric. My family used to be in the vacuum cleaner business – that’s not a very exciting business. But we dominated in our sector. We had the highest margins and great brand recognition. All because we were committed to the customer in ways that none of our competitors – the “big” companies – were able to match. Understanding the where the customer ranks in the hierarchy of your business has never been more important. So creative thinking combined with customer focus, I think that adds value.
What potential do you see in the company?
In a world where everything we’re doing is becoming digitalized, security and privacy are challenges that will continue to grow and the opportunities as a business around these will continue to multiply. Every day each of us puts more and more of ourselves out there into the digital universe, both public and intimate details. There are all sorts of risks we take on that we do not intend to. When you go to a Chinese restaurant and order Kung Pao chicken for example, you’re not intending to ask for a case of identity theft on the side.
Digital security is both complex and fast moving.. F-Secure has plenty of opportunity to be a very robust competitor in a marketplace that continues to evolve at an amazing pace.
How do you see the potential of a mid-sized Finnish company seizing the European leadership position we want to take in this industry?
I think Europe is fertile ground for a company that really values the customer. Americans do a lot of things wrong, but we do some things right and one of those things is the customer relationship. A European company that prioritizes the customer experience will stand out above the rest. I see a huge potential in going after the European market with F-Secure’s enhanced set of skills and values, a creative way of problem solving, a laser-like customer focus, and with its European heritage and Finnish credibility. That’s a very potent combination. There are many critical pieces in place that present great opportunity.
What risks do you see in the marketplace?
The marketplace is fluid. Tech is fast moving. You can make a business call that ends up being the wrong one. You think the trend is going to go left and it goes right. You miss an opportunity – or you miss a transformative consequence of technology. For example, the hotel business never saw the internet as a competitive threat. But then AirBNB came along and overturned the business model.
Business cannot run from risk. There is simply no place to run and hide in a digitally transparent world. You can either prepare for your going out of business sale, or you can get out there and go for it.
Any parting thoughts?
The bottom line is, there are some things that don’t change. In the old days security meant writing on a scroll, rolling it up and sealing it with a wax seal. While we have come a very long way from the wax seal, the need for privacy and security has never been more critical. That sounds like a very compelling business to me.
Prior to his ambassadorship, Mr. Oreck practiced law specializing in business and taxation and represented many of the top 100 companies in America. He served as Executive VP and General Counsel for Oreck Corporation, the floorcare and consumer products company. Mr. Oreck also currently serves on the Board of Directors of the US Green Building Counsel. He is a public speaker on topics such as entrepreneurship and innovation. He has a Bachelor of Arts from Johns Hopkins University, a Juris Doctorate from Louisiana State University and a Masters of Law from New York University.