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Business Observer Friday, May 15, 2020 2 months ago

For highly driven cybersecurity CEO, mindset is everything

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Brian Murphy brings a relentless focus to his work, an effort that's put him at the forefront of an in-demand industry.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

Maniacal. That's how Kyle Griswold, a friend and business associate of Brian Murphy, describes the founder and CEO of Tampa-based ReliaQuest, one of the nation’s fastest-growing cybersecurity firms. 

Maniacal about process. Maniacal about constant, incremental improvement. Maniacal about never being satisfied. Maniacal about personal responsibility. 

“He sets really high goals for himself on a year-to-year basis,” says Griswold, a partner at FTV Capital, which invested $30 million in ReliaQuest in 2016, and a ReliaQuest board member. “He sets goals that are aspirational, knowing that they’ll be really, really hard to hit, but that’s his way.” 

‘It doesn’t matter how good or bad things are in the news. If you aren’t doing the daily steps and punches that it takes to build a business, it won’t matter what the economy does.’ Brian Murphy, founder and CEO of ReliaQuest

Murphy, 43, launched ReliaQuest at an inauspicious time, in 2007, just as the economy began to crumble under a recession. A decade later, the company, with 451% revenue growth from 2017 to 2018, was named to Deloitte’s Technology Fast 500, a ranking of North America’s 500 fastest growing tech, media, telecom, life sciences and energy firms. (Murphy has steadfastly declined to disclose specific revenue figures for the privately held firm.)

“We have consistently grown at greater than 50% per year, year-over-year,” Murphy says, adding that 2020, because of the COVID-19 crisis, will probably see 40% growth. But he doesn’t expect a slowdown in hiring and says that the firm will likely grow to 600 employees by the end of the year. For some eye-popping context, it had 200 employees in 2017. 

The coronavirus pandemic forced the majority of businesses to suddenly transition their staff to remote work. That didn’t happen during the previous recession, but Murphy sees more similarities than differences between the two crises when it comes to how businesses get through them.

“I’m very big on focusing on what you can control,” Murphy says of his approach to COVID-19 challenges. ReliaQuest “does a lot of training around how you think impacts how you feel, and how you feel impacts how you perform.”

Going back to his “maniacal” focus on not only solving problems but also making improvements, Murphy has gone so far as to hire Derin McMains, a mindset coach who has worked with the San Francisco Giants and University of Notre Dame athletics. 

“He's always saying, ‘Control the controllable in any situation,’” Murphy says. “That’s what I learned from 2007 to 2010. It doesn’t matter how good or bad things are in the news. If you aren’t doing the daily steps and punches that it takes to build a business, it won’t matter what the economy does. CNN, MSNBC … all those things are irrelevant.”

In navigating the current crisis, Murphy has distilled his approach into some simple advice for other business leaders: “Listen to your government leadership to know when you can and can’t do something, protect the people on your team, but then step back and look for opportunities, for shards of light coming through the cracks that have been created by what happened. That’s how we built the business back in 2007-2009, while the bigger companies were distracted by what the economy was doing, but share values and that kind of thing didn’t matter to us. 

BUILT FOR GROWTH

In many ways, ReliaQuest, despite being launched amid a recession, was the right company for the right time. As opposed to focusing on one particular problem, like phishing, computer viruses or malware, it has essentially created an entire operating system, which it calls GreyMatter, for cybersecurity. With major, global enterprises moving their information networks into the cloud in the late 2000s and early 2010s, ReliaQuest was there to provide a much-needed back-end solution that automates threat detection and response. 

“We solved a very large problem,” Murphy says. “Essentially, we help our customers get better visibility. If you think about the technical infrastructure that an enterprise has — whether it’s a hospital, bank, retailer — they have all types of software and technologies, both in the cloud and on premises, that run their business.”

All that technology, Murphy explains, is vulnerable to cyber attacks, and because critical business information is often housed on different platforms, it can be difficult to “see” all the different places in the network infrastructure that could be vulnerable to hackers. 

“Cybersecurity is difficult because the whole objective is to get visibility across all those different platforms in order to be able to assign risk,” he says. “Like, ‘What’s good? What’s bad? What should I look at more? How fast should I look at it?’ That’s really the drain on enterprise cybersecurity teams: ‘Of the things that I see, am I looking at the right things? And what can’t I see?’”

PERSONALLY INVESTED

High-profile clients continue to flock to GreyMatter for their cybersecurity needs. Most recently, in mid-February, the NBA’s Boston Celtics turned to ReliaQuest to firm up their data and network security. 

“We’re confident their GreyMatter platform will enable the best possible protection of our in-house and cloud-based assets,” Celtics Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Jay Wessland states in a press release. 

It’s rare for ReliaQuest to lose an established client, particularly in the past few years, when its rapid growth has allowed it to go after Fortune 1,000 firms. But during the sales process, sometimes a potential customer won’t be swayed by the company’s pitch, even after weeks of courtship. It’s at those times Murphy’s will to win and highly personal investment in ReliaQuest’s continued growth shine through like a lighthouse in a hurricane, Griswold says. 

“Losing an individual client pitch, I think that would roll off the back of a lot of CEOs,” he says. “But Brian, he takes it personally. He’ll be stewing about it for weeks. Even if he wasn't involved in that particular account, he views it as the firm failing, and he’s the guy at the helm. He’s the type of guy who will then redouble his efforts because that’s his fuel.” 

Griswold describes FTV Capital as “incredibly bullish” on ReliaQuest’s long-term prospects and Murphy as an “exceptional CEO, certainly one of the best I’ve ever worked with.” FTV has made additional investments in ReliaQuest over the past few years, he says, because it sees potential for the company to become a $300 million, or more, operation.

“That growth was going on before we were there, and it has persisted after,” Griswold says. “They didn't really need the capital, but we thought they could use the capital. It’s not like ReliaQuest was some company that was burning money.” 

TRUE GRIT

ReliaQuest’s solid financial footing could be attributed, at least in part, to Murphy’s formative years. His parents moved the family to Florida with barely any money and had to scramble to provide for Brian and his two older brothers. 

“I can't imagine how scared they were,” Murphy said in 2017 during a commencement address at Florida State University, his alma mater. “If you grew up in the Murphy family, you learned how to work. They worked hard, and they were there for us all of the time.” 

Like Murphy, his brothers grew up to be ultra-successful: One is a top executive with Publix, and the other is a special agent in charge with a federal law enforcement agency. 

The intrinsic value of hard work stuck with Murphy, Griswold says, describing the CEO as “gritty” but also polished and articulate. 

“There’s just something to coming from humble beginnings, your parents working for everything they had, and you observing that and realizing that nothing's gonna be handed to you, and also realizing that you're going to have to work pretty hard for everything you're going to get," Griswold says. "I think a lot of people forget that. And Brian's just never forgotten it. He does not get comfortable.” 

(This story has been updated to correct the name of FTV Capital.)

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