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Sophos CFO uses loyalty to inspire dramatic growth

Nick Bray, CFO of IT security company Sophos

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The number of businesses whose product or service's purpose is clearly meaningful to everyday life probably doesn't amount to more than a handful – IT security, however is one that is increasingly critical in almost every aspect of our lives whatever sector of society or business we work in.

The litany of IT security breaches in the form of viruses and worms – some graver than others, some simply embarrassing – that have occurred over the past few decades could easily fill a book or two, so it's not difficult for staff at IT security company Sophos to understand what their employer does, why it's important and what purpose it serves the wider public.

Sophos' chief financial officer Nick Bray believes that working in IT security gives people a strong sense of their usefulness. The company may not have universal name recognition outside of its customer base as it's not a consumer-facing business with a household name, but from the laboratory workers identifying the latest virus or internet-borne threat, to the customer service specialists based in any number of territories where the company operates, members of staff believe in what they are doing, he says.

"The people in the labs, they know that they're finding threats; they know they're doing something useful, that we're also doing collectively as a company. You have to have that, along with a sense of 'I want to work here. I like the culture. I like the people I work with and I'm respected as part of this company.' You get that right, that's where you do great things."

And achieving great things is what Bray seeks out from a role. A Price Waterhouse-trained chartered accountant, he has 20 years' experience in telecoms and technology companies and 12 years as a finance chief. In particular, he is used to fast growth companies. In the five years he spent in his previous role at software company Micro Focus he saw the business grow from 500 to 1,500 people, a trebling of revenues to $430 million (£274.6 million) and a market capitalisation that rose almost tenfold from $0.18 billion to $1.7 billion.

Pastures new

But when a new CEO was due to join Micro Focus back in 2010, Bray felt he would either have to commit to a few years more or move on. "I thought that it had been a really good journey at Micro Focus. And for me personally it was time to do something different. It was time for another challenge."

Bray is a relative newcomer at Sophos, joining in September 2010 shortly after venture capital firm Apax Partners took a 70 percent stake in the company. The business is, he says, the perfect fit for him, with a strong management team and ethos. He likes that with a private company there is more time to focus on the business.

Other than that, it's not so much the culture or ownership model that counts, to his mind, as the internal motivation. "To me, it's always about how you constantly improve, how you constantly build value. It doesn't matter whether you are public or private: you build the trust and confidence of your stakeholders, whoever they may be, and if you do that you'll deliver value, build a great company and build a great career on the back of it."

Bray's first task at Sophos, as part of the senior management team and in a company with new owners, was to undertake a strategic review.


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