From Code to Culture: Singapore’s Homegrown Cybersecurity Consulting Firm Redefines Technology with a Passion for People and Innovations

Security  |  20 Feb 2024

(This is a multi-part business profile series by IndSights Research, featuring inspiring business leaders from different industries in Singapore.) 

In the digital age, where innovation thrives and threats lurk in every shadow, cybersecurity companies face a unique conundrum: attracting and retaining the talent needed to build the future-proof fortresses of tomorrow. This requires a calibrated approach of balancing cutting-edge technology with the human touch, where brilliant minds are not just code-slinging warriors, but architects of a secure digital landscape.  

Meet Athena Dynamics, an award-winning cybersecurity consulting firm and one of Singapore’s top homegrown companies in the business-to-business cybersecurity space. In 2014, Athena Dynamics was established as a subsidiary of BH Global Corporation Ltd (an SGX-listed group that specialises in maritime supply chain management and operations) as a result of a digital transformation within the company.

 

The Creator of Athena Dynamics 

Ken Soh at the office of Athena Dynamics
Ken Soh, CEO of Athena Dynamics, CIO of BH Global Corporation, and Chair of SGTech SG’s Cyber Security Chapter, at the office of Athena Dynamics (Image credit: Athena Dynamics)

Helming Athena Dynamics is Ken Soh, a seasoned Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) veteran with more than 30 years of industry experience. Since 2014, Ken simultaneously serves as Group CIO of BH Global and the founding CEO of Athena Dynamics, while actively contributing to the wider cybersecurity community as the Chair of the Cyber Security Chapter at SGTech. He is also a recognised thought leader in Singapore’s ICT scene, where he has shared his knowledge and insights at more than 250 industry seminars, media conferences, and press publications.  

Ken believes that the ultimate firewall of cyberthreats is software working in tandem with humans. With this belief in mind, he formed a talent-centric culture at Athena Dynamics, creating an environment where innovation thrives.

READ MORE: Cybersecurity in Singapore 

 

From Unexpected Beginnings to Cyber Guardians 

At Athena Dynamics, “innovation” is not just a buzzword, but the very essence of their culture. In 2014, BH Global embarked on a digital transformation journey that unexpectedly evolved into a broader business transformation. Tired of products that felt more like leaky buckets than sturdy walls, BH Global’s IT department went on a global quest for something more robust to better shield the company from cyber threats. This hunt for “extreme innovations,” as Ken calls it, led the group to an innovative approach – a tool capable of addressing the undetectable.  

News of this innovation soon spread beyond BH Global, catching the eyes of many organisations, including government agencies in Singapore. The unexpected surge of interest led the IT department at BH Global down a fascinating path into the world of revenue generation. Recognising the immense potential of the tool, the company made a strategic decision to spin off its IT department into a dedicated cybersecurity consulting arm named Athena Dynamics. Today, Athena Dynamics has evolved into a trusted advisor and security solutions provider for over 250 government and enterprise clients.

 

Innovation and Digital Transformation Driven by Empowered ‘Enablers’ 

Staff and stakeholders of Athena Dynamics at the company’s booth during GovWare 2023
Staff and stakeholders of Athena Dynamics at the company’s booth during GovWare 2023 (Image credit: Athena Dynamics)

“In an effort to align with the company’s new growth direction, I encouraged some of my staff to transition into business development roles back then. However, the attempt was not universally successful. We learnt that transformation is never a bed of roses.”  

Athena Dynamics’ secret weapon and strength lies with its people –  in their keen eye for identifying cutting-edge innovations from around the world, subjecting these discoveries to rigorous stress-tests and ensuring they translate seamlessly into real-world applications.  

However, Athena Dynamics encountered a challenge when it first began pivoting towards becoming a profit-generating company: how to retain its technical talent while simultaneously building a team that could effectively connect with and help customers? 

The answer lies in unleashing the hidden talents of existing staff. 

Spotting the ambitions of these team members who yearned to see innovations take flight in the real world, Ken decided to put them through a job transformation.

“For some former team members, the loss of direct control over their performance proved challenging. The element of chance, inherent in sales, coupled with other external factors impacting outcomes, was a stark contrast to their previous roles with more predictable results in a much more familiar, comfortable setting.”

However, the transition was not always smooth. Ken recounted that an ex-staff, a programmer with strong technical skills, was eager to try a customer-facing role. While the staff was enthusiastic about the transition, it was unsuccessful because building rapport with strangers, navigating complex customer interactions, and meeting sales targets were challenging for him  

“At the end of the day, it is a mutual responsibility when some things do not work out. Unsuccessful endeavours, while disappointing, do not automatically imply fault. Instead, they can offer valuable lessons and opportunities for growth.”  

Ken’s transformation journey taught him a crucial lesson: embracing change for employees requires not only open minds and redesigned jobs, but also a willingness to acknowledge potential hurdles and embrace the possibility of failure as a learning opportunity. This is how Ken built a team of “empowered enablers,” individuals who excel while contributing to a shared vision.

READ MORE: Is digital innovation the future for businesses?

 

Navigating the Evolving Technology Landscape

Ken Soh speaking to a group of delegates at GovWare 2023
Ken Soh, CEO of Athena Dynamics, CIO of BH Global Corporation, and Chair of SGTech SG’s Cyber Security Chapter speaking to a group of delegates at GovWare 2023 (Image credit: Athena Dynamics)

“While the tech industry is a whirlwind, it is also a canvas of possibilities. By embracing change, nurturing knowledge, and staying informed, we can survive and thrive in this dynamic new world.” 

Ken noticed that the digital landscape has undergone a significant cultural shift, marked by a transition to a more informal work environment and the integration of work and personal life. In addition, artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly taking the centre-stage of how we work. He shared with IndSights Research his observations about the cybersecurity trends, and what company leaders should look out for: 

1. AI: The Rise of the Machines, But with a Human Touch 

AI, once a distant sci-fi dream, is now weaving itself into the fabric of our lives. Expect personalised content, tailored marketing, and even AI companions with a human touch. AI will no longer be about cold algorithms; it is about adding empathy and understanding to the world of technology. 

2. Cybersecurity: A Labyrinth of Deepfakes and Quantum Leaps 

While AI strengthens defenses, deepfakes, sophisticated scams, and the ever-present human factor will make cybersecurity a complex game of cat and mouse. The stakes are high, with the lines between real and manipulated information blurring ever faster. The most technology-savvy individual may still fall prey to a well-crafted deep-fake scam. 

3. Quantum Quandary: Superintelligence, Encryption in Peril 

The future holds a technological marvel – quantum computing. This powerful technology could propel AI to superintelligence, raising ethical concerns and potentially jeopardising the very foundations of cybersecurity. Encrypted connections, once considered secure, could become vulnerable, exposing user data and shaking the trust we place in the digital world. Worse, encryption, if not managed well, may end up protecting viruses rather than privacy.

READ MORE: IndSights Research’s thought articles on AI

 

Win Hearts, Not Battles 

“My leadership philosophies are derived from a Chinese couplet, titled “攻心”  (“Gong Xin Lian”), composed by a Qing Dynasty scholar and warlord. Guided by his beliefs, I recognise that employees who feel supported are empowered to excel and exceed expectations when tackling challenges.” 

In Ken’s world, employees are not merely cogs in a machine; they are valued individuals capable of shaping their own success stories. He rejects draconian schedules and micromanagement, instead unlocking the key to winning hearts and minds through trust, meritocracy, and a relentless focus on building a healthy workplace environment. 

“I have made it clear to all staff members that I have a zero-tolerance policy for office politics; I have personally experienced the detrimental effects of toxic work environments and witnessed the harm they can inflict on a team.” 

Ken is convinced that success flourishes through collaboration, respect, and open communication. He has witnessed firsthand how blame, gossip, and isolation stifle creativity, erode trust, and create blind spots within teams. This conviction led him to build Athena Dynamics on the following pillars: 

1. Open Communication and Accessibility: The door to Ken’s office is always open, reflecting a constant invitation for his team members to walk in, share challenges, and brainstorm solutions together. 

2. Empowerment, not Micromanagement:  

  • Managers are not solution machines; they are facilitators. While Ken oversees the big picture, he expects his team to be resourceful and think critically. He values initiative and rewards those who come up with solutions.  
  • Employees thrive when they have the autonomy to make decisions and execute their ideas. Ken empowers his team by providing them with the resources and training they need to excel. This translates into a sense of ownership and purpose, as employees feel invested in the company’s success.

3. Learning from Mistakes: Mistakes are not failures but stepping stones to growth. When someone stumbles, the motto at Athena Dynamics is “learn, adapt, conquer” instead of “find the scapegoat”. Ken creates a safe space for open discussion and honest communication among staff to prevent the fear of failure from hindering innovation. 

4. Clear Expectations and Consequences: Transparency is key. Everyone at Athena Dynamics knows what constitutes a serious mistake and the potential consequences that comes with it. This ensures accountability among staff. 

5. Integrity is the Bedrock of Trust: In a world fraught with uncertainty, integrity becomes the anchor that secures lasting relationships and is the cornerstone of any successful business. Without it, relationships crumble, teams fracture, and trust dissipates. This unwavering commitment to integrity in Athena Dynamics builds an aura of credibility that attracts clients who value substance over prices. Internally, it fosters a culture of collaboration, trust, and accountability, where every team member feels empowered to contribute their best. Thus, the company’s core value is investing in integrity as a way of life.

 

Humility and a Constant Drive for Growth 

Ken’s journey through the technology industry has carved a set of philosophies that guide his life and work. From navigating multi-million-dollar projects to building lasting relationships, the following principles offer a glimpse into the wisdom he has accrued: 

  • Humility:

Ken firmly believes in treating everyone with respect, regardless of their professional level. He highlighted a concerning trend where some employees with budgetary authority, who are representing their companies as end-users, tend to behave in a disrespectful and arrogant manner towards service providers. Such behaviours seem to stem from a misguided belief that their professional accomplishment grants them the right to treat others poorly.

He added that it is important to remember that the tables can turn one day, and that today’s end-user may become a service provider tomorrow. Thus, it is critical to build connections based on empathy and respect that transcends positions or fleeting professional titles. 

  • Small but Mighty:

Singapore’s former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew famously believed in the nation’s potential to defy its size. Similarly, Ken champions the idea that individuals and businesses hold the power to achieve remarkable things. He believes that humility, hard work, and a constant thirst for growth are the keys to unlocking this potential, regardless of where we start or what limitations we face. No one is an island, and no one owes us a living. There is no other way except continuously making ourselves relevant to the world via constant innovations.

 

Future Plans and Business Expansion 

Looking ahead, the company is planning for global expansion, and building a global brand. To achieve these, Athena Dynamics has strategically leveraged several government grants and initiatives to bolster its growth and success, such as: 

  • Market Readiness Assistance Grant: This grant enabled Athena Dynamics to significantly reduce costs associated with overseas market penetration, facilitating their international reach and brand awareness. 
  • Global Ready Talent Programme: The programme proved beneficial in attracting and onboarding fresh talent by offering government subsidies for internship positions. This helped Athena Dynamics tap into a wider pool of skilled individuals while reducing hiring costs. 
  • Career Conversion Programme: The programme played a crucial role in in attracting and onboarding mid-career professionals who are seeking to switch industries. The programme’s 6-month salary subsidy supported the training and development of these individuals, enabling the company to tap into their valuable skillsets and expertise.

Notably, Athena Dynamics successfully recruited a former hotel manager who transitioned into cybersecurity sales, demonstrating the program’s potential for talent acquisition in non-traditional sectors. 

Through utilising government initiatives strategically, Athena Dynamics effectively lowered recruitment and expansion costs while acquiring skilled talent and diversifying their workforce, contributing to its continued success and growth.

READ MORE: Business resources, schemes and grants

 

Small Team, Big Talents

Ken Soh being awarded the “Leader” award at The Cybersecurity Awards 2023
Ken Soh, CEO of Athena Dynamics, CIO of BH Global Corporation, and Chair of SGTech SG’s Cyber Security Chapter, was awarded the “Leader” award at The Cybersecurity Awards 2023. The award was presented by Mr. Tan Kiat How, Senior Minister of State for the Ministries of Communications and Information, and National Development. (Image credit: Athena Dynamics)

Athena Dynamics’ dedication to excellence has garnered itself numerous accolades over the years, including The Cybersecurity Awards 2023, organised by the Association of Information Security Professionals (AiSP), and Winner at the CIO100 Awards 2023. In the same year, the company also won the Most Progressive Employer of Tech Talent award, presented by the Tech Talent Assembly (an affiliate of NTUC), which honours organisations that actively advocate for better wages, welfare, and career opportunities for ICT professionals in Singapore.  

Further highlighting Athena Dynamics’ commitment to talent development, Mr Nyan Tun Zaw, a key executive at the firm, also received the Tech Talent of the Year award during the same event. This individual achievement reflects not only his dedication to the industry, but also exemplifies Athena Dynamics’ dedication to reskilling and upskilling its employees. 

While every company’s journey is unique, and what worked for Athena Dynamics may not be a perfect blueprint for others, we hope that the story of Ken and Athena Dynamics can offer valuable insights and lessons for business leaders. By carefully analysing their strengths and challenges, focusing on talent development and exploring available resources, firms can unlock their own potential to reach success.  

Remember, no matter the size of your company, it has the power to thrive.

 

About this article 

This is a multi-part business profile series by IndSights Research, featuring inspiring business leaders from different industries in Singapore. Each article offers insights into the strategies, obstacles, and achievements faced by various business leaders, offering practical takeaways for executives and entrepreneurs to draw from. Through this initiative, we hope to encourage business leaders to implement best practices in their companies to promote growth and development. 

About IndSights Research  

Established in 2018, IndSights Research is a not-for-profit industry research entity under RySense Limited, set up by the Ministry of Communications and Information. We are dedicated to better understand Singapore’s business landscape and challenges faced by companies across all industries. 

Using robust approaches, we seek to provide reliable insights to shape government policies and initiatives for the benefit of the industry. We work closely with key stakeholders and business leaders to conduct surveys, focus group discussions, in-depth interviews, and engagement sessions. In addition to research insights, we also provide local businesses with valuable information and support through curated industry perspectives and other business resources. 

 

This article is written by Cheng Ee Shan, Assistant Manager (Engagement), IndSights Research.



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