At Fortinet, golf and cybersecurity collide

Throw in support of Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids and you have a glimpse into the week that was at the company’s Tech Expo and Fortinet Cup Championship.

Photo credit: Gordon Phillips / LinkedIn.

“I heard we were bringing this to Calgary and I got all red and excited,” Gordon Phillips says to a packed boardroom at Country Hills Golf Club in Calgary. I had made the trip one province east from my Vancouver HQ to attend Fortinet’s Tech Expo and the Fortinet Cup Championship. My itinerary mentioned that there would be a collision of different worlds exemplified by the two distinct events. The former is cybersecurity, Fortinet’s bread and butter. The latter is golf, the company’s champagne: the Championship is the ultimate tournament in its season-long golf sponsorship. 

While I was part of the pack crushing coffee and eyeing the boujee divot tool that came in our swag bags, Phillips was delivering the opening remarks. He is Fortinet’s sales VP for Western Canada. Different worlds, indeed. It was a home game for Phillips, who spent the days leading up to the events supporting a school lunch program. 

Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids is a local organization that provides nutritious food for school-age kids. Every day, volunteers come together and prepare healthy lunches that are delivered to schools in every quadrant of the city. In May 2023, Fortinet announced that the organization would benefit from proceeds generated by the tournament.

“As the top cybersecurity vendor in Canada, Fortinet invests in community efforts and organizations that align with our corporate social responsibilities,” Phillips said at the time. “As part of this work, Fortinet is designating the proceeds from the Fortinet Cup Championship to benefit Brown Bagging for Kids, a local non-profit organization focusing on helping underprivileged children. We’re continuing to drive innovation through our partnership with PGA TOUR Canada initiatives, which will ultimately benefit our customers, the local community and non-profit organizations across Canada.”

It was not just Fortinet’s dough that was up for grabs. It was the time of its team, too, which is why Phillips was wearing a hair net 24 hours before we chatted. 

He’s one part of a robust Fortinet presence in the province. In Alberta, Fortinet has 54 people of which 40 of them are based in Calgary. The majority of that is in sales and marketing. The company also has customer service and professional services teams based out of the province. Those customers run the gamut from oil and gas to retail or banks and everything in between.

The big excitement right now for this segment of the Fortinet team is its operational technology. Phillips sees this as a particular boon to the oil and gas companies it works with. Another key piece for Fortinet is its proactive detection. The team is building tech that actually lets its clients know they have a potential breach before it happens. 

This is coinciding with a period of growth for Fortinet. The company is looking to hire, which means it needs more space. It just signed a new lease deal in Calgary. The growth aspirations align with the company’s revenues, which routinely see 30 percent growth year-over-year. According to Phillips, 72 percent of firewalls in Canada are Fortinet firewalls. 

“We're a clear leader in the cybersecurity space,” Phillips told me. “That growth gets harder because the number of addressable customers lowers because we have such a big market share with 660,000 customers globally. In Western Canada, we have over 3,000 active customers and that number goes up every day.”

All this points to why Fortinet would want its premier golf sponsorship in town. The company inked a deal with the Tour in 2022. The company will sponsor the tour’s season-long points competition, the Fortinet Cup, and be the title sponsor of the tour’s season-ending and flagship event. After playing its first Championship in Ontario, Country Hills Golf Club became the 2023 stop. 

“We are extremely excited to partner with Fortinet as PGA Tour Canada returns to a full schedule,” said the golf organization’s executive director Scott Pritchard in a release. “The Fortinet Cup will give players a week-to-week gauge of how they’re doing, with significant benefits available to them thanks to Fortinet.”

While specific course selection is a secret sauce according to the company — Marc Asturias, Fortinet’s VP of marketing — was able to reiterate why Calgary is an important market for the company and why operational technologies are so key. 

“Calgary is a booming town,” he explained “Fortinet provides cybersecurity solutions and services to companies of all sizes and shapes as well as government. And particularly here in Calgary with the oil and gas industry being so big, operational technologies need to be protected. It's critical infrastructure. That’s really quite key for us as well. It’s great to be here.” 

Asturias went on to illustrate that there are only two companies out there: those that have been attacked and know it, and those that still haven't figured out that they already were attacked. Fortinet is hoping to get as many as possible to be resilient to these threats. Hosting events like the Tech Expo and Championship provides a venue for the company to talk, out of an office environment, with its clients and potential customers.

It’s also an opportunity to shepherd the next generation of professional golfers. Some of them have even become Fortinet brand ambassadors. The company has been blown away by the calibre of golf. The PGA Tour Canada is a minor league. It’s a stepping stone to the next-level Korn Ferry Tour or the PGA Tour proper.

“You're seeing history written in these kinds of events,” Asturias said. “I was part of the group that designed the cup itself. It's a very unique cup. It sings Canada. It’s about Canada. It’s for Canada. We’re really, really happy about that.” 

And with that, I went out to check out the golf and see who would take home that cup. As I watched, I couldn't help but think back to that itinerary’s disclaimer that these worlds of golf and cybersecurity were so different. The sport demands that its players identify threats. The hole we were situated at featured a well-placed bunker and a green known as a false front. This means that a portion of the landing surface that, while appearing to be safe, is actually too steep to stop the ball. A golfer would talk with their caddy to identify this hidden threat and discuss the best course of action to mitigate it. 

It’s not dissimilar, then, to a phishing attack. Something that is seemingly safe is rife with danger. Fortinet’s analysts are the caddies of the business world. They help identify those blatant threats like bunkers or phishing attempts like false front greens. 

Maybe these worlds aren’t so different after all.