Women in Business Q&A: Ebba Blitz, CEO, Alertsec

04/30/2017 07:37 am ET

Ebba Blitz, the CEO of Alertsec, specializes in fast deployment of IT security. Blitz has also covered the tech sector as a journalist for more than 20 years and has moderated events for some of the largest companies in the U.S. and Sweden, including Microsoft, Oracle and Johnson & Johnson.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?

In many ways, I had to work hard to find my voice, literally. I was born with nodules on my vocal chords, so as a kid my voice was hoarse, and I was teased about it. In elementary school I received training from a speech therapist and learned to use my diaphragm to develop a voice that was deeper and steadier than the one with which I was born. I learned to use it not only to stand up for myself but later worked as a professional “voice” for TV commercials and as the Swedish voice for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, earning extra money to support my university studies.

More recently in my professional life, I have learned that the ability to speak effectively is key to corporate success. For example, being the CEO of Alertsec, an IT security company, includes delivering keynote speeches. When speaking publicly, I rely heavily on my voice to ensure that my message is delivered clearly and forcefully.

I pay a lot of attention to how I speak, and now I find that my voice has become a tremendous weapon. When I want to get a message across, I use my trained voice – I go deep and speak slowly. Often when women are stressed or feel like we are not being listened to, we tend to go up in pitch and speak faster (in order to be able to finish before we are interrupted). We women can gain more respect and attract more attention when we use our “physical” voices. 

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Alertsec?

IT security is complicated and nuanced, so customers have a hard time understanding what problem the technology solves. My background as a journalist helps me better articulate what customers don’t understand. Simplifying is really key to getting the message out. I describe what we do in a succinct way: “Encryption keeps you, your company and your customers safe.” After that comes the technical details.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Alertsec?

Becoming the CEO of a U.S. business was like taking a plunge at the deep end of a swimming pool and quickly learning to swim. One challenge is to master all the nuances of a new business culture. I’d say the European way is a bit slower and more invested in relationships and getting everyone on board. In America, my experience is that it’s more no-nonsense and that business is more transactional and action-oriented. Perhaps that’s why we now have more than 80% of our customer base in the United States versus Europe. I love the speed and drive here!

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

I would advise anyone, man or woman, to consider a career in IT security. There are tremendous challenges ahead of us, and the talent pool is already too small. Cybersecurity issues have created a demand for security professionals that will be only increasing. By working in this industry, I feel that I have the ability to make a difference, keeping both companies and people safe.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

I’ve learned that life is both long and short – short enough so that I want to make every day count, yet long enough to not fear a few career changes along the way. If you want to change your direction in life, don’t ask for permission – take initiative!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I struggle with that, like many working moms. I believe that stressing over an unrealistic goal of living a “perfect” life is probably what wears us out the most. For me, the easiest way to deal with work/life balance is to try and lower expectations. It’s impossible to be a hard-working CEO and a rosy-cheeked housewife at the same time. If my daughters want homemade rolls, they are capable of baking them themselves. That reduces some of the pressure – while also teaching them practical life skills.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

Coming from Sweden, where fathers take paternity leave and change diapers just like any mother, I believe that gender equality is a crucial part of women’s ability to pursue a career and the biggest issue for women in the workplace. Why isn’t there affordable childcare for all working mothers? Look at all the incredibly talented and educated women who give up their careers when they have children. That doesn’t make sense for society from an economic standpoint. My personal advice to young women is to consider very carefully who they choose to father their children. Having a supportive partner is essential – even more so because of the lack of affordable childcare.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

I’ve never had a professional mentor. However, I’m very close to my father, an IT entrepreneur himself. He has always coached and pushed me and is the one who put me in coding class when I was ten. He has always encouraged me to pursue a career in tech. Even now we discuss business ideas and how to handle certain situations. It feels good to have someone I can share everything with and who is always on my side.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

Just when I was considering the decision to move from Stockholm to Palo Alto, I read “Lean In,” by Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. In the book she asks: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” This really spoke to me at that particular moment in my life.

I also admire how Sheryl Sandberg stayed so real and open during the horrific time when she was mourning the loss of her husband – it felt like a personal loss to me. To be structured, full of will power and vulnerable at the same time shows true strength.

What do you want Alertsec to accomplish in the next year?

To continue growth and support data privacy and safety, protecting American companies from the various challenges within IT security. Hacking unencrypted laptops is a growing challenge for any business. It’s not the hardware itself that’s interesting to crooks – it’s the stored data that can prove to be a treasure trove and be used for identity theft. A computer that contains personal information such as financial, healthcare or any identifiable information can cause great harm for individuals and organizations if it ends up in the wrong hands.

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