The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 8, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Nov. 12.
Next up is Cybersecurity Industry Executive of the Year (Private Company) finalist Michael Ewell, who’s executive director of Solutions By Design II’s National Security Sector. Here, he talks key achievements, career turning points and other career advice.
What key achievements did you have in 2019/2020?
Over the last two years, I have had the pleasure of helping SBD grow our cyber account almost 500% and one of our solutions being named a Center of Excellence. I am also proud to have had the opportunity to promote a lot of people in recognition of their individual contributions and haven’t had to lay off or furlough a single person due to COVID-19. We are all excited about carrying this positive momentum into 2021.
What has made you successful in your current role?
I am fortunate to have some of the best and brightest professionals in the cybersecurity and IT industry working alongside of me on my teams. My role as the executive director for the National Security Sector is to provide the resources my team needs to be successful, enabling them and knocking down the roadblocks for them to grow within their profession.
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
In my first management position, I met with my team and asked them what they wanted out of their careers. I got a ton of different answers and most weren’t what I expected. I immediately picked up that what motivates people or what their definition of success is, can vary greatly from person to person.
I learned a lot about adjusting my managerial style to simultaneously meeting the individual needs of my team members and aligning those needs to the success of the program.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
That’s easy — it’s the culture. Everyone at SBD genuinely feels they are part of a big family and always are willing to step up at any time to help out. At SBD, everyone can feel the momentum and wants to keep it going.
What are your primary focuses areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
My primary focus areas going forward are automation and growing managed services. Through automation, we can conduct a more thorough analysis, removing mundane tasks and focusing more on the anomalous behaviors and events. This also allows us to focus on larger data sets, including more information, to make better informed decisions based on a more accurate threat landscape and our overall risk.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
By challenging traditional thoughts and processes. Really focusing on the value add of activities rather than “this is the way it has been done.” Everything is moving at breakneck speed right now, and we have to challenge the traditional thought processes to really see how we can maximize our resources to lower our overall risk.
Which rules do you think you should break more as a government/industry leader?
It’s not necessarily a rule, but the one thing I would break is the mindset of “this is how we have always done it” by encouraging new ideas from my team members. I’m a big advocate of embracing change by implementing innovating ideas.
What’s the biggest professional risk you’ve ever taken?
I would have to say leaving a large established consulting firm to work for and help grow a newly formed cybersecurity small business. I gave up a relatively safe environment with a steady rate of advancement and pay because I wanted to do more — and couldn’t think of anything more challenging and rewarding than helping a small business succeed.
What was your biggest career struggle and how did you overcome it?
Learning to delegate authority to my team members, letting them be part of the decision-making process. As my management responsibilities continue to grow, I have learned to rely on my team members to make the right decisions and execute their authority… and have not regretted it one bit.
What’s your best career advice for those who want to follow in your footsteps?
Invest your time and energy into the people on your team. A lot of things will change throughout your career, but having great people around you will last you a lifetime. One of the most rewarding aspects of my role as a manager is watching those I’ve had the pleasure to mentored, coached and promote take on more responsibilities themselves and become the next generation of leaders.