Every time you safely send an email, surf the web or upload photos to the cloud, chances are you’ve got Greg Clark to thank.
The Griffith University graduate is Chief Executive Officer at Symantec, a Fortune 500 software company that is a global leader in cyber security.
Symantec turns over more than US$5 billion annually, employs around 13,000 people in more than 35 countries, and protects some of the biggest organisations and more than 50 million individuals and families around the world from hackers and cyber criminals.
In every byte of the world wide web, Symantec products, including Norton Security, help protect against a never-ending stream of threats.
Leading the fight against a constantly evolving enemy is Clark, an Aussie surfer and rugby fanatic who grew up in Yeppoon, a coastal town west of Rockhampton, central Queensland.
Born in Idaho, in the western United States, Clark moved to Australia as a young boy after his father, Professor James Clark, was offered the chance to teach the first computer science course in Australia.
Already a “pretty good geek” before university, Clark, 52, followed his father’s footsteps into the world of science. He studied a Bachelor of Science at Griffith’s Nathan campus, concentrating on thermal physics and the study of subatomic particles, before graduating in 1988.
“My old man always had computers lying around and I was interested in maths and science, particularly the problem solving and reimagining of how to do something,” Clark says.
“One of the great things at Griffith was when you were working on STEM topics, you learnt how to solve very complex problems, which is such a valuable skill.
“I really enjoyed my time at Griffith; I had some memorable moments and it was definitely a great experience.”
Clark has particularly fond memories of Professor Bill MacGillivray during his time at Griffith.
“He was certainly someone influential in my thought-shaping,” Clark says.
“I remember taking an analytics mechanics course and he started off by saying, ’75 per cent of you will fail this course. It happens every year and this will be no different’. I looked at my mate and said, ‘It’s not going to be me.’”
The challenges haven’t got any easier for Clark, and his current task changes on a daily basis.
“Cyber defence is a cat and mouse game,” he says.
“Symantec operates the world’s largest civilian cyber defence threat network and is a fantastic company. But the adversary is very bright, well-educated and there are real rewards for the criminals. And it’s changing all the time.
“Techniques and methods we used last year to stop threats are completely different to what we use now. We should get the movie rights for some of the scams we find out about.
“But I like working on cyber defence. If you can go to work in a technical field and you can work on protecting corporations and individuals against cybercrime and cyber hacking, it’s a rewarding problem to work on every day.”
After graduating from Griffith, Clark founded security software firm Dascom with a uni classmate, Paul Jensen, and two friends from QUT and UQ. The company, which established a facility on the Gold Coast, was acquired by IBM in 1999.
Not only was it a “big moment” in shaping Clark’s future career, the deal also started a legacy of IBM engineers on the Gold Coast which continues today.
“It was good for Australia and a big catalyst for me,” he says.
“If you’ve built a few start-up companies from the garage to success, you learn everything
because you have to do everything.”
With no formal business education, Clark earned his “MBA on the street – I know my way around a spreadsheet.”
It has served him well. Clark has founded and led companies including cloud-based supply chain software provider E2open, global software giant Mincom, and web security leader Blue Coat. He joined Symantec as CEO last August, after the company acquired Blue Coat.
“You can’t be in technology if you don’t understand the finances of it,” Clark says.
“I’ve raised billions of dollars from investors over the years and made people billions of dollars. My realised gains would crack US$17 billion for investors so far in my career.”
Such success in a highly competitive industry should inspire the current crop of Griffith students. The School of Information and Communication Technology, recognised in the top three in Australia for teaching quality, provides Queensland’s only Computer Science degree, including an option to study networks and security.
It is a world in which things change quickly, but Clark’s advice for students is tried and tested.
“You’ve got to do the work. You can’t go to university and catch it all up in the last two weeks,” says Clark, who employs several Griffith graduates in international roles at Symantec.
“And study something you like. If you find a pursuit you really like and it doesn’t feel like work, that’s very lucky. Everybody says to me, ‘Greg you work too hard,’ but I actually like it. It’s fascinating.”
Clark admits university was not all work and no play for him, but after one too many cane toad-related pranks he got the advice he needed from then-housing residence manager, the late Ron White.
“He was very influential in my upbringing. He called me to his office and said, ‘for god’s sake, Clarky, when are you going to grow up?’,” Clark says.
“He was a very firm but fair guy. When you’re just out of high school from the country and you show up at university, sometimes you need a bit of authority hanging around.”
When he’s not protecting millions of people from cyber threats or making movies in Hollywood, Clark still catches up with old uni mates, rides the occasional wave and follows his beloved Queensland Reds.
“I’m definitely Australian; I have family there and come back regularly,” Clark says.
“I can’t live without the rugby. If I couldn’t watch that here [in the US], I think I’d have to move