June 17, 2019 • By Aaron Orlowski
On Feb. 24, 1989, the door of a 747 airplane flying from Honolulu to Sydney, Australia burst open mid-flight, tearing a 20 by 40 foot hole in the side of the plane.
A wiring short had caused the door to open, and the backup mechanism — an aluminum piece on a steel door — had failed. The plane started going down. Stuart McClure was on the flight that day, and recounted the incident to the UCI Paul Merage School of Business graduating class of 2019 as the distinguished executive Commencement speaker.
It was the day he found his purpose.
“The plane was literally falling out of the sky and into pieces. None of us knew what had gone on. All of us knew simply that we were not going to make it,” McClure said. But survive he did. “I’ve been given another 30 years of life and I’ve spent almost every year since trying to show the pilot who saved us all that I was worthy of that gift.”
For McClure, the source of the explosion and decompression made immediately clear to him his life purpose.
“I knew I had to find a purpose that was bigger and beyond me of preventing catastrophe. And in my place, it was cyber. It was cyber security and it was using AI to do it, and machine learning,” McClure said.
Six years ago, McClure founded Cylance, a computer security firm that was acquired in 2018 by Blackberry for $1.5 billion. Cylance applies artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict and prevent cyber attacks.
In his address, McClure urged the nearly 850 graduates across programs — from MBA to Specialty Masters to PhD to undergraduate — to push through fear, never let others define their limitations, be humble and kind, and, most of all, never give up.
McClure started his career working for large companies, including Ernst & Young and Intel, but found work he loved while starting and running his own businesses as a serial entrepreneur.
McClure launched his first company in 1992 and his second company, Foundstone, in 1999. At that company, he created a product that automatically hacked a company’s network for security purposes, and he rode the dot com boom of the late 1990s, and then through the dot com bust of 2000. In 2004, McAfee bought the company. McClure worked there until 2012, when he quit to start Cylance.
By 2018, Cylance had grown to nearly 1,000 employees and was on the verge of going public. Then, last fall, Blackberry acquired the company for $1.5 billion.
Throughout his career, McClure has overcome challenges, facing headwinds on his own with few mentors to guide him, but always pushing forward.
“I’ve failed more times than I’ve succeeded, probably on a 100 to one ratio,” he said.
Pushing through those challenges allowed him to develop guiding principles that he shared with the Merage School graduates.
In his teens, McClure left his home on Guam and went to Colorado Springs with the hope of training to be on the Olympic bicycling team. He was afraid, but he did it anyway.
Later, as a young entrepreneur, McClure faced people constantly telling him he couldn’t do something, but he chose to not let them define his limitations.
Through it all, he strove to be humble and kind, helping others to achieve the success that he had found — and share in it.
And ultimately, he’s learned that life is not fair, but that hard work will see you through. “You don’t deserve anything, but never give up anyway,” he said.
That’s the key to success: never give up. You don’t have to be the fastest or the smartest or the funniest. You just have to have perseverance, McClure said.
“Never giving up is certainly the definition of every entrepreneur and every business leader,” McClure said. “Forget about finding your passion. Find one problem — the bigger, the better — that you want to solve that you find you are passionate about solving. Then, of course, never give up.”