The status of corporate security directors: has the pandemic changed perceptions of the leaders of security?
Chair: Martin Gill
Radek Havlis – Director Security (CSO) at PricewaterhouseCoopers (Central and Eastern Europe)
Letitia Emeana – Global Security Capability Manager at Unilever (UK)
Torsten Wolf – Head of Group Security Operations at Zurich Insurance Company (Switzerland)
Letitia Emeana notes that perceptions of security are wide ranging, and there is justification for this broad set of views. In some organisations security is not afforded the status of other professionals and that is a structural impediment. Security leaders must communicate the value, show how security work aligns with corporate objectives, see security as a product as much as a service, and be good at bringing people together. Too often traditional stereotypes of what security is, the old ‘guns and gates’ mentality, persists even amongst the C Suite. And security is still seen as a grudge purchase. Security officers are very visible, they don’t always look busy, their role not always obvious to others and that leads to questions about value. They need to be managed and where wrong challenged.
Torsten Wolf starts by highlighting three key focal points when discussing security leaders and the teams they lead. The first realtes to career paths noting that both the traditional route, having a police and military background, or the modern route, more organisational related skills are credible. The second, is the difficulty faced by security is communicating value, it remains an Achilles Heel. Third is the fact that security is most often a cost to the business and so immediately is seen in a less positive light. More generally he makes the point that security has not always been good at making its case. Security people are good at making difficult decisions, often better than corporate peers, but clearly as a group security is still having to state why it is important and that tells a story of its own. He too underlines the importance of good communication.
Radek Havlis notes that the key to effective security performance is effective communication to all parts of the organisation. While some functions have developed good skills at this, HR is an example, security leaders have not always excelled. He highlights the need for an industry initiative to address this, speaking up the benefits of good security, talking to other business leaders rather than internal to the sector. Security leaders need to be good at talking to other professionals in other sectors about their worries and concerns identifying the ways in which security can alleviate them. The allegation that security is at fault for not being better prepared is simplistic, ultimately business leaders make decisions, the question is whether security leaders were diligent beforehand. In any event, not many predicted this crisis or could claim to be prepared. Similarly, in response to the allegation that only those security leaders who led teams that were good before the crisis could be good during the crisis, Radek notes that different skill sets are required during each of these two periods and not everyone is necessarily good at both. The pandemic has provided opportunities for security to shine, and some leaders and teams have done so. The panel addressed many areas of strength and weakness but underlying the key differentiators one never gets far from being knowledgeable about security; being a good leader with business ‘nouse’; and being an effective communicator. Value is not a given in security, it has to be worked at, and while this is work in progress, there was optimism that much progress has already been made, albeit there is so much more that still has to be done.
4th March, 2021