Sarah Merrion Isaacs is CEO of Conventus, a national information security consulting firm that protects companies from security attacks and data breaches. Founded in 2006, Conventus specializes in optimizing the performance and use of endpoint and server security software. The company also offers incident management as well as PCI, HIPAA, and SOX security compliance consulting.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Being told "no" never really stopped me from achieving whatever I had set out to accomplish. It may have slowed down my efforts, but it forced me to focus on other creative, alternative solutions. One leadership trait I admire is being open to different ways to achieve success.
How did your previous employment experience aided your position at Conventus?
My career path was a natural progression of starting from the ground up, developing a preference for one particular specialization within the IT field, and then centering my efforts to develop into a subject matter expert in a niche area. Specializing allowed me to work with a partner to develop an entire organization centered around one tiny aspect of data security and take it to market at a time when data security awareness was still in its infancy. When I look at the plethora of different technologies and apps in the market today, I see more and more individuals following this same career path to differentiate themselves.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
It took a long time to gain perspective on the delicate balance of making a living and making a life. I think I am better at it today, but it's often difficult to detach at the end of the day---because I truly enjoy (and am proud of!) the work that we're delivering to our clients. My personal life is filled with family and friends who are not associated with technology in any way. Our personal interests and activities are a refreshing contrast. Of course, the addition of a new baby last year also forced me to prioritize where I was spending my time, and optimize my working hours. I want to experience her development and happiness firsthand, and that constitutes a great deal of balance in my life!
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Conventus?
Highlights: The clients we're working with are asking us to develop some pretty cool technologies in their environments around security analytics. Hearing that our solution is a "game changer" has been great affirmation we're truly filling a gap.
Challenges: Conventus' value proposition is "quality counts." It's an industry that requires rapid solutions, no margin of error, high powered experts working with diverse clients, highly individualized technology skills as well as highly refined people skills, and unrelenting adherence to client satisfaction. One of our biggest challenges is recruiting, retaining and rewarding excellent employees.
What advice can you offer women seeking a career in the technology industry?
I have three simple ideas for women: First, be an expert. Know your field and know it well. Second, it's not enough to just "get by" in the any field these days. Competition is tough all around, and those that rise to the top do a good job of not only marketing their corporate brand, but also their personal brand. It's important to remember that you are your best promoter. Third, network, network, network. Surround yourself with people --men and women --smarter than you, and from whom you can learn the most.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Women do not spend enough time promoting themselves. We also do not celebrate our own accomplishments. If we don't, who else will?
What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
Overall, the theme of "pursuing your goals with gusto" by seeking challenges and taking risks in nothing new. It's only newsworthy because it's addressed specifically to women. Personally, I enjoyed reading the book and the reminder to look for new ways to succeed. Remember, Who Moved My Cheese? There are quite a few golden nuggets that everyone can mine from the book - not just women.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
As a leader instead of a formal mentor/mentee relationship, I have put together a personal board of directors. The complexities of both business decisions and personal success are such that no one person can possibly guide and contribute to my development like a team of "experts" who can offer sage advice professionally and personally. I've benefitted from a fantastic group of peers and friends whom I think are smarter than I am. Within the group is a wide range of talents upon which I can draw - some have keen sensitivities to certain business markets and strategies; others have sharp observations and insights that refine my personal approach.
A single mentor rarely has such a complete repertory of skills and knowledge...and while it may take more work to keep this network engaged, a different approach to a formal mentoring program might be the right fit for other leaders.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
Josette Sheeran, Hillary Clinton, Melinda Gates and Angela Merkel
Each of these leaders share a desire to engage thinkers and leaders across all industries, and think broadly and inclusively to solve truly global challenges in our modern, transforming world. I think integrated and intra-industry thinking is required for the future. This includes multiple institutions (healthcare, finance, education, faith-based, penal, automotive, cultural, pharmaceutical, etc.) and examining complex issues collectively to seek solutions. This is hard work and women are especially well suited for it, because most women have an orientation toward cooperation, not just competition.
What are your hopes for the future of Conventus?
We hope that we can continue to grow Conventus into a brand name that's recognized as an industry expert for helping our customers maximize their investments and minimize their risks.