Finland’s 15-minute billionaire is still prospering

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When I saw the headline on my RSS reader it brought back all sorts of tech-bubble memories: F-Secure Pays €27.5 Million For French Storage Startup Steek, it read. Continued the TechCrunch Europe post:

Finnish computer security provider F-Secure has acquired venture-backed French startup Steek for €27.5M in cash with the possibility of a further performance-based payment of up to €2.5M next year.

I knew F-Secure back in the day. From the April 3, 2000 Fortune:

In the global market for software that fends off viruses and hackers, Risto Siilasmaa is an upstart—small fry. In his home of Finland, the CEO of security software maker F-Secure is something else: He’s the richest man in the country.

That’s been the case since February, when the rapid rise of F-Secure’s stock, which began trading on the Helsinki exchange in November, pushed Siilasmaa’s net worth past that of Aatos Erkko, owner of Finland’s biggest newspaper. In March the value of Siilasmaa’s 55% stake in F-Secure soared as high as $1.4 billion, making him his country’s first dollar (or euro) billionaire. Finnish financial magazine Arvopaperi recently speculated that Linux creator Linus Torvalds, another Finn, may also be in billionaire territory—but Torvalds lives in California. The country’s most famous businessman, Nokia CEO Jorma Ollila, is worth a mere $100 million or so, and that’s all in stock options that are taxed at 65% when exercised.

Siilasmaa’s quick ascent (F-Secure’s stock and his net worth are each up 1,000% since the November IPO) appears to mark the first time a New Economy entrepreneur has risen to the top of a European nation’s wealth ladder. But Siilasmaa, a 33-year-old with a slightly world-weary air who founded F-Secure (until recently called Data Fellows) 12 long years ago, is not impressed: “Things are fairly crazy today on the market. You can sell almost anything.” He also says that in egalitarian Finland, it’s not easy being rich. “Every time the stock goes up, the tabloids write another story about how much I’m worth,” he says. “It is an awkward issue for everybody. It is a negative issue.” …

Siilasmaa is still the chairman of F-Secure’s board, but no longer the CEO. He stopped being a billionaire not long after that article appeared, and—to his great relief, I would imagine—hasn’t regained that status since. The company’s market cap at the moment is €392 million ($553 million), and it reported net earnings of €$19.5 million ($27.5 million) for 2008. It’s a success story, in part because its founder didn’t let the stock market’s crazy judgment that he was a billionaire go to his head.