Why a SaaS Cybersecurity Chief Technology & Product Officer and Co-Founder is Pursuing an EMBA

This key decision maker turned to an EMBA to quickly and efficiently bring his cybersecurity firm up to scale.

The humble email account might be your most critical IT tool. Why? If a hacker takes control of your email, chances are that he or she will be able to break into all your other tools and accounts.

Easy to understand, then, that recent years have seen explosive growth in email protection services as part of a broader boom in the cybersecurity services market.

HEC Paris EMBA participant Adrien Gendre, EMBA ’23, is on the forefront of this gathering wave. He is CTPO (Chief Tech and Product Officer) of Vade Secure, an AI-based email security firm which he has co-owned for the better part of a decade. His firm is a major player in global inbox security: to date, Vade protects some 1 billion email inboxes worldwide.

Starting small

The native of a small town in Charente-Maritime has been there since the beginning.

“Back in the day when we were just a small challenger on the market, I lived the typical grinding startup experience,” he recalls.

“I remember just how hard it was to get meetings. I would pretend that I was in my target’s area just to increase the chances of getting an appointment. Then, if I got one, I would have to jump on the plane to go. Once, I flew from San Francisco to Toronto to Sao Paulo to Dubai to Melbourne to Tokyo to Munich to Lisbon to Boston and then back to San Francisco. Eighty hours of flights over 27 days. All to combine as many meetings as possible as quickly as possible.”

In all, he reckons he has logged some 850,000 flight miles, crisscrossing the globe 34 times in 7 years.

And his firm has reaped the rewards of all those trips.

Adrien helped grow a 20-person office in France into to a 180-person global cybersecurity player with offices and employees in the US, France, Japan, Canada, and Israel. It scores top marks in consumer reviews from vaunted software review sites like Gartner and G2. It even weathered a recent legal kerfuffle in the famously litigious American SaaS (software as a service) arena, marking it as a rare example of a European startup with a secure foothold on the US market.

Indeed, the success and heft of Adrien’s firm is such that French President Emmanuel Macron once evoked its name in gushing about French cybersecurity SaaS successes.

From “how?” to “why?”

Having what often amounts to the final word in the fortunes of a burgeoning global SaaS firm is the dream of many considering an MBA. So why would Adrien— who, at 33 has called the C-suite home for more than a decade, and has an ownership stake in his firm— want to do an Executive MBA from HEC Paris?

He sat down with us to talk about how and why, as a member of its most recent March intake, the Executive MBA program from HEC Paris makes all the sense in the world to a globetrotting SaaS CTPO.

HEC PARIS EMBA participant Adrien GENDRE

Tell us about your company background and why you wanted to pursue an EMBA at this stage in your career.

Vade has a mission that is critical. We protect companies and institutions against the most aggressive cyberattacks. As the Chief Tech & Product Officer and a member of the board, I make it my personal mission to provide the best governance leading to the best results for our customers. My background is technical, and while getting to lead a 100-person engineering team is very humbling, no matter what, theirs is still a language I speak and understand at the end of the day.

But as the company grows, different challenges emerge. These are legal, financial, branding, operations scaling, and a much higher level of management and leadership. Even if I am able to handle pre-sales and product in addition to my technical focus while we’re still growing, I need to make sure I’m able to scale my skills. Because after all, with everything that is at stake, it’s critical for us to bring the company itself to scale.

So, at this point of my career, doing an EMBA is going to fast-track my skills where there might be a gap, to expand my network— both with the professors and my peers— and to accelerate my executive-level management capabilities.

When I started to look at the Executive MBA, I quickly looked at the rankings. HEC Paris is at or near the top of many.

So, I already had a very good feeling about the school and its impact on the community, its publications, and the level of the professors.

I am very instinctive. A lot of my decisions are based on feeling I have with the people— this is how I started at Vade, back when it was an unknown company called Vade Retro. It ended up being one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Similarly for HEC Paris, I started my application process with a very good feeling about this program. The alumni with whom I interviewed convinced me. We had a very good connection and it convinced me of the overall atmosphere and ambition of the school. It is all about people.

HEC Paris EMBA march track begins in paris

Adrien on the first day of his EMBA at HEC Paris.

 

How will your Executive MBA from HEC Paris assist you as you look to impact your firm moving forward? Has it helped so far?

It is already helping significantly.

First off, the coursework itself is obviously incredibly insightful. Doubly helpful is being able to discuss each topic in detail with professors and our classmates. It’s very easy to then apply the discussions to challenges at work. For example, I would come back from sessions with ideas to apply right away in the company, whether it is soft or hard skills. Looking at what’s next, I am extremely excited to go over the rest of the courses and bring more to the company.

Secondly, every discussion shared with the other members of the cohort is inspiring. We are all in the same boat, so we share our experiences very easily and openly. This is powerful, because we can combine all our brainpower to address challenges we face at work or life in general.

One of the most remarkable parts about the program is how good it is at at organizing sessions to deliberately generate these fruitful moments. It puts us in the position to then have a lot of moments on the side, whether it is in the hallway at breaks, during lunch and dinner, or at after-class parties. It is a true fast track experience, with different approaches, different points of view and cultures addressing situations enriching each of us individually.

I heard the EMBA is a lifechanging, transformative experience. I already feel it.

HEC Paris EMBA march 2022 track

 

If you can think of one, in your opinion, what would be the defining piece of added value on offer at the HEC Paris EMBA?

To me, the best value of the HEC EMBA is the people.

The professors are impressive. Each member of the cohort is inspiring. HEC does a great job at mixing complementary but compatible talents and creating the whole context for those talents to bloom. The multiculturalism is a great value both from a personal standpoint and a professional standpoint to change the perspectives of looking at situations

 

What would be your go-to piece or pieces of advice to tech leaders considering an executive management training program like an EMBA?

Do it. The HEC Paris motto is “learn to dare.” In other words, learn to capitalize on your luck when it comes around.

This is exactly what the EMBA will bring you.

It will make you break through your current limits. Of course, just being in the program isn’t enough. The school or even the diploma will not do all the work for you— but it will put you in the best possible position to succeed.


More CEOs of Fortune Global 500 companies have graduated from HEC Paris than any other university in Europe. Nearly 4,000 graduates are currently CEOs, CFOs, or have founded their own companies. According to the Financial Times, the HEC Paris offers the best EMBA program in the world; click here to learn more.

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