Pete Woodward – Securious
The world of cyber security is an often misunderstood and mis-represented one. Many a Hollywood flick has distilled the industry down to hackers in hoodies having their way with whichever victim the storyline dictates. That, or the stomach-churning dangers or pitfalls – often portrayed in the tabloid media – that await those unlucky enough to click on the wrong link or open up the wrong attachment on an email. Don’t get me wrong… the online world has many dark corners and does require some street-smarts and education. However, Pete Woodward (the Chief Technical Officer of Exeter-based cyber security experts Securious), is a man on a mission. His mission is to demystify, educate, empower and brighten up the cyber security scene. A noble mission and one that, when I met him recently for coffee, I found out he had been well trained for.
Born and raised in Solihull with his two sisters, Pete’s parents divorced when he was at junior school. He moved in with his Dad and went on to have what he described as a “terribly normal childhood.” Leaving school with a sprinkling of CSEs and O Levels, Pete’s real passion and interest lay in technical drawing, mechanics and machines. He had always been fascinated by aeroplanes in particular and had joined the Air Cadets as soon as he was old enough to.
This passion only increased over the years and Pete told me,
“I never really had a Plan B to be honest. At seventeen years and four months old, I joined the Royal Air Force and moved to RAF Swinderby for my basic training. I trained to become an Aircraft Engineer and was fascinated by the mechanical workings of the planes, going on to work on Harrier Jump Jets and Tornados amongst many other incredible feats of engineering.”
SOMETHING HAS TO CHANGE
Pete was in the RAF for twelve years, leaving in 1998 and re-entering civilian life to join an Industrial Gas Turbine company. This meant that he got to travel the world – North Africa, Middle East and Europe particularly. It also meant lots of offshore work, including long stretches of time on oil rigs in the North Sea.
“It was about two and a half years into my time working predominantly offshore that I met Roz (my now wife and fellow Director at Securious). That sort of changed my outlook on everything and I went from a single chap who was very comfortable with risk to suddenly re-evaluating and having a totally different perspective on my time, my job and what I wanted from life in general.”
“I remember sitting in the Helicopter Departure Lounge waiting for my flight home from an oil rig to shore and looking at all the men sat around me. I was the youngest there and most of them were around fifty years old. I had this lucid and profound moment of thinking to myself, ‘I don’t want to be sat here when I’m fifty years old doing this job. Something has to change.’”.
So, Pete determined on finding a land-based role – preferably in a warm office – and set his technical sights on a career in I.T. Starting with entry-level Microsoft and Cisco courses, he started learning the ropes of the industry, familiarising himself with the systems, platforms and hardware behind I.T networking and security. This led to him securing his first big role which saw him move to the South East to join Azure Communications before moving into more specialist roles which focused on network security in particular.
He established himself in the industry quickly and both he and Roz decided that they wanted to make a lifestyle change and move to the South West, but still continue working in I.T. After a short time, they moved to West Devon, near the Cornish border, where they still live to his day.
Pete told me,
“We wanted ‘The Country Life’ far away from big cities. It isn’t a unique one by any means, but this was our dream and we went for it. Within just two months of being down in Devon, Roz became pregnant. There must’ve been something about the Devon air! So, we have a now thirteen-year-old boy who keeps us on our toes and, since then, both my Dad and Roz’s Mum and stepdad have moved to the area too.”
GOING IT ALONE
After working for some of the leading communications companies in the region (including swcomms and Nexus), in 2007, Pete decided to go out on his own, becoming a contractor under the name Securious and working with large corporates and some global brands. More and more of the clients that he was working with started to ask to visit their offices (which, at the time, they didn’t have) and it started to dawn on Pete and Roz that this small limited company was turning into something bigger.
So, about three-and-a-half years ago, they were one of the first businesses to take on some office space in Exeter Science Park, soon after that opened. It was just a small space with, at the time, three people in it and Pete explained,
“There was suddenly nowhere to hide! The space immediately leant itself to collaborative working and we’d constantly be bumping into new people who had lots of questions about what we were doing with Securious. This sort of forced us to hone and refine the way that we communicated our offering and our mission. It was actually really helpful and it accelerated our growth.”
Since then, Securious have moved four times within Exeter Science Park – the space allowing for their continued growth and development as a company. This is all part of the ethos and framework of the Science Park, in partnership with SetSquared – a business incubation network run by five universities, including the University of Exeter. This framework includes the time and services of a Non-Executive Chairman and Experts-in-Residence, both of which help to add focus and resource to everyday business for Science Park tenants.
So, what exactly do Securious do? Well, they are essentially a one-stop shop for all things cyber security. Offering everything from initial audits and testing to fully compliant and robust cyber security solutions, they are positioned as one of the South West’s leading cyber security companies. Importantly, although being able to service clients across the globe, they have placed themselves strategically to offer a more personal service to clients in and around the South West. With a growing big-data and tech sector in the region, there is an obvious need for a forward-thinking and reliable cyber security firm to be based here too. Securious are just such a company.
ACCEPTING CHALLENGES AND SORTING PROBLEMS
I asked Pete about the ethos and objectives of Securious and he expanded,
“Business owners can’t sit back and expect for these kinds of issues to be sorted for them. The online world is moving quickly and they need to take ownership of some of the challenges that come with this. Frustratingly, the media at large do a very good job of scaremongering around cyber security which means that most people turn off when they start to hear about it, as it just comes across as ‘white noise’. Our job is to try and de-mystify cyber security, communicating openly and honestly with people and, in turn, empowering them to feel able to do something about it.”
He went on,
“Also, we find that cyber security is a real taboo subject in modern business. People don’t want to admit what they don’t know or what they haven’t got sorted within their network. We try to de-stigmatise the issue for people and give them the peace of mind that comes with admitting the problem and then getting it sorted! We also tell businesses that user-error and user training play a vital part in cyber security. You can have the most secure network in the world, but if a user isn’t clued up on the basic do’s or don’ts of cyber security then you can end up in a pretty sticky situation, very quickly.”
Pete went on to tell me about their journey in business since launching in 2007. We discussed the common growing pains, staffing issues and funding challenges that most new businesses face as well as the fruitful but difficult process of working out your company’s values. In all of these cases, the ability to learn from one’s mistakes is one of the most important outcomes – one that Pete told me they have intentionally done at Securious.
They are now looking to double their turnover year-on-year for the next five years, hoping to add another four or five people to their team in the near future and are also planning to launch their new Security Operations Centre in the new year. It is clear that Securious are in ‘gear change mode’ – ready to kick things up into 5th and put the pedal to the metal.
“We established Securious at the very beginning of the tech-wave that is emerging here in Exeter. That brought us opportunity but also challenge and responsibility to build momentum and forge a path for others to follow down. With so much talent coming out of local universities, We really want to inspire those looking to enter the I.T industry that they don’t have to move to London to work for one of the global giants. There is an infrastructure developing here in the South West which can provide opportunity and development for them.”
And with the government stating that it is their mission to make the UK the safest place to do business online in the next few years, organisations like Securious are set to become the necessary backbone to what will become the bright digital future of our nation. With integrity and openness at the core, we surely need companies that we can trust, just like Securious, in the digital space.
Written by Joff Alexander-Frye
Image of laptops sourced via Unsplash
Other images taken by Nick Bowring and supplied by Securious