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How I Made It: Steve Jillings

Steve Jillings, CEO of cyber-security firm TeleSign, works grueling hours and has seven start-ups under his belt.

October 07, 2012|By Salvador Rodriguez, Los Angeles Times
  • “It doesn't matter how smart you are as a leader,” says Steve Jillings, chief executive of TeleSign, a cyber-security firm. “If you don't have the right people around you, you're never going to accomplish your goals.”
“It doesn't matter how smart you are as a leader,” says… (Jay L. Clendenin, Los Angeles…)

The gig: Steve Jillings is chief executive of TeleSign, a Marina del Rey company that provides security services to websites. Jillings, 50, took the helm two years ago, and since then TeleSign has grown from 10 employees to more than 100 — with similar growth in revenue. Its clients, mostly in North America and Europe, use TeleSign's software to authenticate users logging in to their websites. Jillings declined to identify his clients but said they run some of the world's largest consumer websites.

Starting fast: Jillings grew up in New Zealand, where his father started a business after working as an executive of an international company. Jillings never doubted that he'd also run a business. Just one week after graduating from high school in 1980, Jillings started a textile company, selling fabric overruns and unused clothing on a contract to another company.

"That certainly got me hooked on understanding that I'm never going to get rich working 9 to 5 for someone else," he said. "I had to do it for myself."

Serial entrepreneur: He continued to found and run businesses. His seven start-ups included a plumbing services company in Canada and various technology companies in Southern California. One of the start-ups he ran, FrontBridge Technologies, an email security company in Marina del Rey, was sold to Microsoft in 2005 for $200 million. After a short stint with Microsoft, Jillings left to run online search marketing firm Vantage Media for nearly four years before taking the job at TeleSign in 2010. Jillings says running start-ups isn't for everyone, but if you can handle the challenge, "there's nothing more fulfilling."

"And honestly, in 2012 it's as good a time as any," he said. "There's probably more opportunities in this day and age today than there's ever been in the history of time."

'You can't kiss all the pretty girls': Jillings said one of the best lessons he ever learned came when he was working in Canada in the 1990s. He said he was trying to tackle several opportunities, and got some good advice from an older businessman: "You can't kiss all the pretty girls." Jillings realized he had to choose one project to focus on, and that's what he's done ever since.

"You got to choose one that really makes sense and see it through," he said. "If you can't give it the right level of attention, things start to crumble."

Surrounded by good people: But focus alone doesn't yield success. Jillings said the key to his accomplishments has been good teams. He said he's sought out people who share his vision and have experience in leading their own teams.

"It doesn't matter how smart you are as a leader," Jillings said. "If you don't have the right people around you, you're never going to accomplish your goals."

Always have a plan: Never do anything on a whim, Jillings said. Rather, build a plan with the right strategic decisions that will allow you to grow faster than your competitors. It also helps to choose a field that's about to take off. That's what TeleSign did, Jillings said. The company chose to get into cyber security with a focus on mobile — two areas in technology that have been in high demand the last few years.

Balancing work and play: Jillings wakes up before 4 every morning and checks on TeleSign's European business. He then heads to the gym before going into the office, where he works until 6 p.m. Once home, he checks on work through the night until he heads to bed at 11. It's a grueling workday.

But on weekends, he checks out and focuses on spending time with his family. "I really enjoy my weekends," he said. "And that really is the relief or the balance for me from the workweek."

salvador.rodriguez@latimes.com

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