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Qualys, software community mourns the loss of "transformational leader" Philippe Courtot

"Exceptional leadership, vision and passion"

Former Qualys CEO Philippe Courtot has died at the age of 76.

Courtot, who passed away on June 5, first invested in the cybersecurity company 1999 and built it into one of the world's first cloud-powered, subscription-based security companies and a rare profitable business in the space. He had stepped down as CEO for health reasons in March.

Remembered as a visionary; softly-spoken and approachable, and an entrepreneur who kept his finger firmly on the pulse of innovations in the software world well into his 70s, Courtot was the son of a lawyer and a Spanish teacher, and born the day after France's liberation from Nazi rule.

Putting aside artistic aspirations, he pursued a degree in physics but struggled to find work in France after graduating, getting turned down by IBM and Philips, among other large IT companies. Despite confessing to barely speaking English and not knowing "anything" about computers, he went on to become the French distributor of microcomputers for US's Modular Computer Systems.

After becoming a self-described "very good sales guy" (he credited the experience with a focus on letting products speak for themselves) and being recognised for it with a welcome commission, he decided to move to the US, which he felt was a more meritocratic society.

As he told one interviewer in 2007 "In France I had diplomas, I had a degree in Physics... but I struggled to get a good job. I was not from the big schools, so I was a second grade citizen.

"My parents were not connected, so every step of the way the French top society was telling me, 'OK, we are satisfied with the work that you are doing, but you are not one of us, so be happy with what you have and where you are. Be happy that we give you a job.' I realized that American society was based on what you can do. So, it was then that I realized that it would be best for me to come to the US and work internationally..."

He came to the US in 1981 and went on to become CEO of Thomson CGR Medical in 1986 where he received the Benjamin Franklin Award for the creation of a nationwide advertising campaign promoting the awareness and life-saving benefits of mammography. In 1988, Philippe founded cc:Mail and turned it into the dominant e-mail platform provider, achieving a 40 percent market share before selling it to Lotus in 1991. In 1993, Philippe was named President and CEO of enterprise knowledge retrieval firm Verity, leading the company through an initial public offering in 1995 before stepping down two years later and joining Signio.

“Philippe was my mentor and advisor; the entire Qualys team and I are deeply saddened by his passing, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family,” said Sumedh Thakar, Qualys president and CEO.

“We are forever grateful for Philippe’s exceptional leadership, vision and passion for helping enterprise customers with practical solutions to the biggest challenges around security. He was dedicated to making life easier for everyone from security analysts through to CISOs.”

Sandra E. Bergeron, Qualys’ Lead Independent Director, added: "He was a transformational leader with a passion for business and cybersecurity, who cared deeply about Qualys and its employees. We look forward to honoring him by continuing to grow the company based on his vision.”

Philippe Courtot also worked to expand and support the role of the security industry more widely and helped to support the foundation of the Cloud Security Alliance in 2008, founding the Trustworthy Internet Movement and the CSO Interchange. He was also a trustee for The Internet Society. He received the Decade of Vision Leadership Award from the Cloud Security Alliance in 2019 and was honored with the Benefactor Award from the International Systems and Security Association (ISSA) Education Foundation for his support of cybersecurity and cybersecurity education in 2020.

See also: Millions affected by 10-year old bug in a Linux utility that gives root.