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McClatchy-Tribune  07/19/2014 12:01 AM ET
Fortinet cyber security business opens HQ in Sunrise [Sun Sentinel :: ]

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July 19--Cyber threats know no borders, so the business of cyber security is booming worldwide.

That's why a noted California company that provides network security for enterprises has just opened a Latin American and Caribbean headquarters in Sunrise, employing 30 people initially.

Fortinet, a supplier of network security equipment and services, expects to grow to 50 people at the office by January and up to 200 in the area within five years. That would include launching a local research center to expand on its months-old partnership with the University of Miami.

The company donated a $1 million lab to UM's engineering school for studies into cyber security.

"Our goal for South Florida is very aggressive," said Pedro Paixao, Fortinet's vice president of international sales for the Latin American and Caribbean region and the office leader. "Our scope here is bigger than Latin America, so therefore we will being doing a lot of local partnerships."

Fortinet, which hit $615 million in revenue last year, has been reaching out to Latin America for years.

It started out selling in the region through employees who worked from their homes in South Florida and traveled frequently to South and Central America and the Caribbean islands.

As business rose, the South Florida staff often ended up getting together at local Starbucks or Panera cafes, and they rented space at local hotels to meet distributors or others visiting from Latin America.

Now, sales have grown so large that the home-based model no longer makes sense -- especially when Fortinet is deploying more sophisticated equipment and services and needs more regular training sessions for visitors, said Paixao, a computer engineer from Portugal who lives in Weston.

The company chose Sunrise for its new headquarters for several reasons: easy access to Fort Lauderdale and Miami airports for travel to Latin America; availability of professionals fluent in Spanish and Portuguese across South Florida; and proximity to the Sawgrass Mills discount mall, so that distributors and others visiting from Latin America can bring their families to shop there.

"We also like the hotel right in our office complex. It gives us infrastructure for bigger events and lets visitors walk to the office and to restaurants and shopping," Paixao said.

Broward County has been seeking to lure Latin American headquarters because the offices typically generate high-paying jobs and significant spinoffs, including visits from overseas customers.

Employees at Fortinet's Sunrise office earn more than $100,000 each on average. Many speak two or three languages as well as mastering the technical knowledge of the products, Paixao said.

Broward already is home to Latin American headquarters for Microsoft, Citi, Emerson and Wendy's -- to name a few, said David Coddington, vice president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. The tri-county area hosts dozens of the offices, from Audi to Cable & Wireless and Marriott.

"You have so many people living across South Florida familiar with the Latin American market, and Broward serves as a central location for them," Coddington said.

From Sunrise, Fortinet also oversees a growing staff within Latin America. It employs about 130 people in the region, with plans to reach 150 later this year, Paixo said.

The company offers customers everything from basic firewalls "like a moat in a castle" to multilayered security systems "more like an airport," featuring some open areas and some high-security zones "that require you show a passport, pass through a metal detector and submit to a pat-down," he said.

Products sell at prices from hundreds of dollars each to millions for service contracts, he said.

"We've seen an evolution of threats and attacks and their complexity," Paixo said. While hackers used to take over a machine and clean out its hard drive, they now more commonly seek to infiltrate entire networks and exploit those resources long-term. "The stakes in cyber-security are higher every day."

dhemlock@tribune.com, 305-810-5009, @dhemlock on Twitter

 

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