By Clint Kelly
Photo by David Cho
When he speaks of the enormity of what his newest tech startup has pioneered, Tempered Networks co-founder and CEO Jeff Hussey does so with absolute conviction. “Computers and computer networks secured with our cloaking software are unhackable,” he says. “You can’t hack what you can’t see. We fixed the fatal flaw in the protocol.”
The pioneering technology is encrypted invisibility, or in Tempered Networks’ parlance, Identity-Defined Networking (IDN). Cyber criminals and prank-prone adolescents alike are unable to prey on IDN-protected computer systems.
For the global impact of his innovative developments in cybersecurity, and the global good his innovation supports, the 1983 Seattle Pacific University graduate in finance has been named the 2017 Alumnus of the Year.
“Jeff was quick to grasp the value of the technology,” says Alane Moran, Tempered Networks vice president of marketing. “Technology isn’t always about having the best mousetrap. Timing is everything. Jeff’s timing was impeccable.”
It’s not the first time Hussey has co-founded a tech startup. In 1996, he started F5 Networks, today a $7 billion international company with more than 100,000 IT customers. As with his most recent venture, Hussey and his team had the right technology at the right time. F5 earns top dollar helping e-commerce sites give their customers a stable operating experience.
“I don’t do this for the money,” Hussey says. “I want to be part of real change.” With hackers increasing in sophistication, he is especially concerned about the vulnerability of America’s critical infrastructure, such as the industrial control systems of hydroelectric plants, gas refineries, and nuclear facilities. Providers of infrastructure are primarily governments, he says, notoriously late adopters of new technology.
In the cybersecurity world, Hussey and his Tempered team of 70 employees experience a heightened sense of urgency. “Around here, we say ‘minutes matter,’” he says. “We’ve got to get this done today, get the protections in place. Last year, cybercrime cost industry in excess of a trillion dollars.”
That presents Tempered Networks, founded in 2014, with a lucrative challenge. Security technology for the company’s growing client list could this year alone result in business worth $100 billion. Early adopters such as banks, airlines, hospitals, and retailers are flocking to IDN to protect ATM machines, ticket kiosks, medical devices, and client records.
“Jeff cares about helping people create resilient, secure, and easy-to-manage networks,” says Bryan Skene, Tempered’s vice president of product development. “He has world-class sales skills and sets audacious goals.” His zest for life and lead-by-example managerial style, Skene adds, makes Hussey worthy of emulation.
“Jeff is a wickedly bright and passionate individual with a healthy cynicism and a successful track record,” says Moran, who, like Skene and two-thirds of Tempered’s staff members, was with Hussey in those heady startup days at F5. According to Moran, strong loyalty carries over to the marketplace. “If Jeff believes a technology is innovative and differentiated, odds are quite high the market will embrace it.”
In his Seattle Pacific days, Hussey saw Christian faith in action. Raised with strict conservative principles, he learned to appreciate the people he lived with and learned from at SPU. “They weren’t nearly as strict but were every bit as grounded in their faith, he says. “I came to see the breadth of approaches that God accepts and embraces. The road is narrow, but it’s not a tightrope.”
Mostly even-tempered, sometimes excitable, and often intense, Hussey says he views his tech team much like a pastor would his congregation. He sees his role as a servant leader and encourager-in-chief, and he likes to reward good performance — in this case, with company stock options. “He puts his money where his mouth is,” says Moran. “He treats his employees like an extension of his family.”
Wins are celebrated daily. A ship’s bell rings whenever a sale exceeds $10,000, and a gong sounds for a tough-to-get Fortune 500 account. On “Bring Your Parents to Work Day” last fall, nearly 50 employee parents turned out because, says Hussey, “they are the ones most acutely interested in what you do.” Hussey is dad to Taylor, a University of Denver finance graduate. Hussey’s father, Gerald Hussey, is a 1961 SPU graduate, and his younger brother, Joel Hussey ’84, is Tempered’s vice president of operations.
Life-changing philanthropy is in Hussey’s DNA. He and his classmates and good friends, Jeff Martin ’82 and Donna Dyk Martin ’83, are owners of Pura Vida Create Good, a coffee brand and foundation that through fair trade practices and customer donations, improves the lives of hundreds of thousands living and working in coffee-growing regions of Guatemala.
“Money is harder to give away effectively than it is to make,” says Hussey, who serves on several business and community boards, including the Seattle Symphony. “I like to invest charitable giving in places where I can be hands on. In clean water and education, you can make an enormous impact without it requiring an infinite amount of money.” As chairman and co-owner of Ecofiltro, he is most proud of the Guatemalan social venture that is on track to reach 1 million rural families with clean water by 2020. Low-cost Ecofiltro ceramic and clay filters, handmade by artisans throughout the country, are used in homes, classrooms, and following natural disasters.
Hussey, who early in his career was vice president of an investment banking firm, senses a deep calling to his work. “When I was young, all I wanted was to be on Wall Street. Then I discovered computer technology. In the ’90s, I made a commitment to God that if F5 turned out well, I would give away 20 percent of what I earn. It did great, and now there’s real magic at Tempered Networks. To again solve a big problem with most of the same team is incredibly motivating.”