The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Chief Officer Awards were announced April 15, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually May 27.
Next is Chief Information Security Officer Award finalist Gil Vega, who’s CISO at Veeam Software. Here, he talks key achievements, primary focus areas going forward, learning from failures and more.
What key achievements did you have in 2019/2020?
When I began my tenure as Veeam Software’s first CISO shortly before the pandemic began, I had no idea what was in store for me and my team. Immediately, we faced the significant challenge of remotely and securely connecting our 5,000 employees in almost 60 countries around the globe, while still having to support our customers’ technical needs and execute on our 2020 sales plan.
We implemented new and enhanced legacy technology to continue to run the business, support our employees and remain responsive to our 400,000 customers around the world. Just as importantly, we protected our company during a time when the cyberthreat landscape became more dangerous than ever.
What has made you successful in your current role?
I’ve been leading cybersecurity programs in government, financial services and now in the software industry since 1998. I’ve learned a few lessons — some the hard way — along the journey.
Hiring great people has been the greatest accelerator for me during my career. My success has been based on my ability to trust the employees that have worked so hard for me. I don’t have all the answers, but I trust and have the confidence that my teams, from junior to senior employees, do. Allowing employees to succeed and fail, while taking hard-earned lessons from both, is the greatest gift a leader could bestow.
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
The biggest turning point for me was when I arrived at DHS in the early days after the agency’s creation in 2003. There was a large focus on integrating 22 separate agencies into a single entity charged with defending the nation, while optimizing operations and supporting thousands of daily tactical missions, including life and death law enforcement activities.
I had the privilege of working for a CIO who not only mentored me in the aspects of executive leadership, but he also gave me a challenge and prepared me for my eventual ascension to U.S. government’s Senior Executive Service in 2011.
I learned about being dedicated to selfless service, ruthless prioritization of mission objectives and leading disparate teams across the globe while balancing strict federal procurement regulations. Additionally, I grasped a more profound understanding of ethics while leveraging the great talent in our civil service. I often and fondly reflect on my time at the Federal Executive Institute in Charlottesville how, when we graduated, we felt like we could conquer the world.
What are you most proud of having been a part of in your current organization?
In addition to guiding our company through the global pandemic of 2020, I’m most proud of the diverse team that I have developed here at Veeam to focus on the internal cybersecurity mission and support our customers. As I mentioned, having a great team with smart and talented leaders is the key, not only to my success, but to our company’s as well. I’ve been blessed to have the best team I’ve ever had working for me here at Veeam.
Very quickly after my arrival here at Veeam, our company was challenged like never before due to the pandemic. Not only did the task of securing our company become more treacherous, but we absolutely could not lose focus on our most important task: supporting our 400,000 customers, who, like us, were navigating through the very same unprecedented uncertainty.
I am incredibly proud of how dedicated our workforce here has been and remains, and it gives me incredible pleasure to be a part of a team that worked to ensure our customers were well taken care of.
What are your primary focuses areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
As a military veteran who has served in the U.S. Army in Desert Shield/Desert Storm and Operation Just Cause, and a civilian SES alum, I take great pride in making sure our country is safe, protected and successful. Here at Veeam, I have the privilege of continuing to support national security missions across government while helping our federal, DOD, and IC customers secure their data in a time of unprecedented cyberthreats.
On a daily basis, Veeam’s products provide resiliency and cyber protections for our customers in increasingly innovative ways. Data protection and backup are essential across government and civilian-owned critical infrastructure. It’s critical that these products are secure and meet our customers’ high compliance standards.
A key focus of mine this year is to ensure that Veeam continues to measure up and that we are providing all of the necessary protections to secure our customers’ infrastructures and supply chains. We’re all too familiar with recent events involving cyber breaches that have wreaked havoc across our nation and I’m fearful that these sophisticated supply chain attacks will only grow more prevalent.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
While managing large government programs, I learned that it is important to challenge employees with opportunities that they may not be ready to take on. For me, it’s about helping the forest grow, identifying promising leaders, developing their talents, giving them difficult assignments, and frankly, challenging them sometimes to the point of failure. It is impossible to truly understand and appreciate success, until you’ve tasted the bitterness of failure.
Leveraging the passions and innovative spirits of our future leaders is essential to their success — and ours as a company. We have to continue to find leaders that are better than us. I strongly believe that we achieve this by continually engaging emerging talent in new and exciting projects. Don’t let them burn out, keep their excitement levels high and never refuse their requests to contribute to projects that excites them.
What’s one key thing you learned from a failure you had?
As a young and less-experienced leader, I was passionate about my area of responsibility, as I still am today, but there were times when I failed to fully appreciate conflicting or alternative perspectives. I felt wounded when things didn’t go my way.
After a meeting on a very contentious, mission-critical issue, my boss pulled me aside and said I should have stayed home that day. He knew by my body language and my facial expressions that I wasn’t open to hearing any thoughts that were contrary to my own, and that I would lose my argument before I ever said a word.
I took this feedback, which I remember as if it was yesterday, internalized it and set out to correct it. I targeted this weakness while attending FEI and engaged a leadership coach to help me to overcome this barrier. While I can’t say that I have always been successful in suppressing the passions that put me into difficult situations, I can say that I now recognize many of those old feelings before attempting to act on them. Had I not been more self-aware and specifically targeted these tendencies early in my career, I would have derailed myself a long time ago.
Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of?
In my last role in financial services, I took over as managing director and CISO at a systemically important financial institution in a post-breach situation. Over my 5-year tenure there, I built a high-performing 160-person global team, transformed the cybersecurity program, culture and performance that not only restored the faith of the board of directors, but re-established the confidence of our very important regulators.
For me, this was an achievement that I will always be able to point to with pride and say, “I did that!”