BBJ: You joined LogMeIn in January 2020. What attracted you to the company, and what is your day-to-day role today?
John Ford: Having worked in software for 30 years, half of that based here in Hungary, I was intrigued by the quasi-mythical reputation that LogMeIn enjoys on the local tech scene. The quality, curiosity, and openness of each person I met, from CEO Bill Wagner down, convinced me that this was a special opportunity. I have a dual role which encompasses firstly leading the local kft., a significantly-sized company in its own right, driving the incremental growth of the Hungary team (+10% year on year since I’m here), ensuring our voice is heard and needs met (currently Hungary has the highest employee engagement anywhere in EMEA or North America), and communicating key global messages to the folks here.
Secondly, I ensure that our non-commercial software is developed and supported to an excellent standard so that customers, partners, and employees are best enabled to do their job. For example, our Care Support Platform, the unique landing page for any customer needing contact support, is currently more than 90% automated through the innovative deployment of AI chatbots.
BBJ: You have worked in your native United Kingdom and Italy. What brought you to Hungary in 2006? Was there a personal connection to the country?
JF: I met my Hungarian wife while we were living in Italy; we married within months and lived on the south coast of England for about 10 years before moving to Budapest 15 years ago. It was honestly one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I’m now a Hungarian citizen in my own right.
BBJ: What drew you to IT in the first place?
JF: When I was a kid in the ’80s, my history teacher advised my parents to buy me a computer, as this would be “the next big thing.” So, I learned to code aged 10, swiftly moving to assembly language to reduce lag when creating video games. However, I specialized in foreign languages, doing Russian and German at Oxford. After uni, I moved to Italy and ran the sales and marketing for a tech startup in the recreational vehicle industry, which taught me the business processes involved and the crucial fact that technology must serve business needs to deliver true value. Coming back to the United Kingdom, I moved into SAP consultancy, where I effectively used the translation skills gained in studying languages to translate technical capabilities into business facilitation, then configured and coded the system to deliver this. It’s not the usual way people get into IT, but it’s certainly worked for me.
BBJ: LogMeIn is now a much more mature global business. Has it had to let go of its startup mentality?
JF: Yes and no. LogMeIn is now the size of a corporate enterprise; it needs a level of governance that can only be provided by processes, systems, and dedicated teams (HR, Finance, IT, Procurement, etc.) However, the startup mentality is baked into our DNA and comes out in several ways. For example, the empowerment given to individual groups to operate as internal “startups,” such as our team in Hungary that is adaptively developing a partner portal; the proactive use of personal networks at every level of the organization; the sheer dynamism of our environment, where significant changes happen extremely frequently but are delivered with a flexible “can-do” attitude; plus the continual encouragement to “Think Big,” “Move Fast,” and “Keep Growing,” which are three of our company values. Moreover, in theory, since the company was acquired by a private equity group last August, we are once again one big startup.
BBJ: How does the company maintain its innovative mindset?
JF: We work hard at encouraging innovation, mainly through empowering self-sufficient teams, providing space for them to work on what they think needs to be done, recognizing and adopting ideas from engineering teams into the product roadmaps, as well as celebrating the internal successes and rewarding excellence in the technical domain publicly. Specifically, we run quarterly hackathons to accelerate innovative development. These are widely attended, and I’m proud to say the last two have been won by teams from Hungary.
BBJ: You have posted on social media about how proud you are to work for a company that gives staff extra days off. Was this related to the pandemic, and what has been the reaction of the employees?
JF: Yes, we soon realized that the remote approach brought additional meetings and “screen-time,” which needed to be managed to preserve people’s mental health, so, from March 2020, the Self-Care Days have been running. People are extremely appreciative of this, and it’s become a custom to share photos via an internal Slack channel of where you’ve been to rest and recuperate.
BBJ: Given where LogMeIn started from, I guess you must always have had a fair proportion of digital natives and digital nomads. Will your work patterns change permanently as a result of COVID?
JF: We’ve always had some people working remotely at any given time, and we declared early on that LogMeIn will become a “remote-centric” company even post-COVID. This means that we have actively down-sized our office footprint, closing three offices in Hungary and opening a new, specially designed “collaboration hub” for meetings, workshops, UX design, and team-building or social events, but managers can never insist that their people are physically present – this is a choice of the individual – and the expectation is that you do your actual work remotely, meaning that at any given time at least 90% of our people are remote.
BBJ: Are you worried about being able to attract colleagues with the right skill sets given Hungary’s tight labor market?
JF: Thankfully, LogMeIn has a good reputation locally, which was confirmed by Randstad Hungary awarding us the “Most attractive employer in the IT category” in 2021, which helps. Obviously, though, there’s competition for good talent, and some skillsets are simply non-existent here. I wouldn’t say it’s any tougher in Hungary than in other countries, but if more people were available, we would have grown more. If we can jointly find a way to expand the talent pool, all tech companies here would benefit.
BBJ: What should we look out for next from LogMeIn?
JF: We’re focusing strategically on the three critical areas of “Connecting,” “Securing,” and “Supporting” the remote workforce. We have a flagship product for each sphere, delivering strong growth, interlinked and complementing each other. We focus on offering the simple-to-use integrated portfolio required for small-to-medium businesses (SMBs) to flourish.
Specifically, GoToConnect, LogMeIn’s unified communications as a service (UCaaS) platform, combines cloud telephony, video conferencing, messaging, events, training, contact-center capabilities, and more, is cost-effective, takes less than a day to deploy, and is tailor-made to support SMBs. It includes a unified admin system and many out-of-the-box integrations, which are built by our Hungary team. In the security domain, our award-winning password management solution, LastPass, is 100% developed in Hungary and increasingly supports the requirements of service providers, enterprise customers, and our massive consumer base. Finally, for remote support, GoToAssist is benefitting from enhanced security that befits the increased threat level we are seeing nowadays, as well as bundling visual engagement (our LiveLens component lets you “show” a support agent in real-time using your mobile phone’s camera) and guided co-browsing using LiveGuide; all of these innovations stem from our engineering teams in Hungary.
And, of course, over the years, several products or business areas have been profitably divested to streamline our focus, meaning that LogMeIn is not only one of the most successful tech companies in the country but has also actively contributed to kick-starting several other entrants on the Hungarian tech scene, a fact of which we are extremely proud.