With over 30 years of experience, Steckler joined Avast in 2009 as chief executive officer, and is the architect behind Avast’s becoming the world’s most trusted antivirus.
Originally a programmer, he is a respected voice on the subject of online security. Under his leadership, Avast established the Avast Foundation, which strives to make a difference in the communities through four distinct and impactful programs, including supporting palliative care.
Prior to joining Avast, Steckler was the senior vice president of worldwide consumer sales at Symantec Corporation in 2000. Before joining Symantec, Steckler had over 20 years of experience in software development, system analysis and engineering, project management, and business development. He holds two B.S. degrees from the University of California, Irvine; one in mathematics and the other in information and computer science.
Tell me about your early influences.
My earliest influence, obviously, was my parents. I come from a big family. My parents have five kids, and they never had the opportunity to go to college. However, they always had a sense of self-respect and wanted their children to be well-spoken and prepared. They instilled in us a strong work ethic. All five of us went to universities and earned a bachelor’s degree, MBA or PhD.
In high school, my physics and chemistry teachers got me interested in science. From there, I went to college and studied mathematics and computer science. I’ve always been interested in science and am thankful to have had great science teachers.
What are the biggest challenges of leading a firm in the software industry today?
The biggest challenge for the software industry is how quickly technology changes. If you just sit back and think you or your company are successful and think that will continue, it won’t. I think the one who is successful is the one who is paranoid about the next piece of technology coming out — the piece that will make things easier and more exciting for consumers. If you don’t worry about those things, you will not succeed in the long term.
What was a professional challenge you personally faced in your career?
After college, I started out as a computer programmer. I spent two years writing codes. I’m not a profound technology guy, but I excelled at figuring out how to apply technology to business situations, so I moved to a management role and just kind of grew from there.
When I came to Avast in 2009, we had about 40 employees and about 18 million USD of business and consumer security software had a slow growth. It was a challenge for me to set out to grow the company, but I am very grateful to have a strong, dedicated team. The team rose to the challenge very well and we became successful. In seven years, we transformed from a small company into the world’s most popular consumer security products. I learned that whatever the circumstance, you can always keep moving forward by developing new skills. You can always make the most of any situation.
What are some leadership lessons you’ve learned?
I like to create an empowering environment where the best ideas can surface. In meetings, I might make comments and interrupt. I like people who argue and have different opinions, because great things happen when you start to think about a problem with a group of people and collaborate toward finding a solution; good ideas come from this type of discussion. The number one thing that you need is a very open culture and an open environment. Top-down leaders are not always the best; it’s about giving people the opportunity to rise to the occasion.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I am a very challenging leader. I aim to be tough on issues, have high standards and expect a lot from my team. I like people around me who are highly motivated and willing to take on as much responsibility as they can.
When it comes to inspiring my team, I look at what makes people happy. Team happiness is the core to success. For instance, if a project is successful, people naturally tend to feel happy. Employees must be motivated by success; some people are motivated by financial success, and some engineers are more motivated by treating users right and building good things for them. As a leader, I pay attention to what matters to people.
What is the key to your company’s success?
We don’t forget about our users. We don’t exist without our users because we are a free software company. Without our users, we are nothing. As for our company culture, we have built a tribe of people who pull hard, together. Everyone appreciates each other’s contribution and knows that he or she is doing something that matters.
What advice do you typically give college students?
The most important thing is to be passionate. Creating something is very difficult; it requires perseverance, takes a lot longer than you want it to and is more difficult than you think. You need passion, commitment and energy to levitate over the obstacles you will encounter. Always continue to learn — you never want to feel like you’ve mastered anything