Michael Brown reflects on a career decision to leave his CISO position in financial services and join a vendor company.

Back in May of this year, I made a major career transition. After many years in CISO and similar roles in the banking and financial services sector, I started a new job on the vendor side. Now, as Field Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), Financial Services at Fortinet, a $1B information security company, my role is to act as a trusted advisor and thought leader helping client enterprises with secure digital transformation and information security compliance.

When I decided it was time to make the transition out of financial services, I targeted the vendor sector. Vendor companies are often painted in a poor light, but I have always seen them as critical partners. What C-level executives on the client side mainly see are entry level employees trying to win or expand accounts through cold calling and unsolicited e-mails. What they don’t see is the many years of experience these vendor companies have in product development and engineering, plus the passion to help customers solve their biggest business and technology problems.

Working for a vendor, I was excited to be an industry peer who clients could leverage for advice. Because I have walked in their shoes and know their challenges, and I was confident I could make a difference.

Targeted Career Strategy

In order to make this move I leveraged my professional and veterans network and, after extensive research, I decided to target Fortinet, my current employer. Fortinet is very supportive of veterans, which was very fortunate for me, and it is how I found my champion. A champion is a person at your target firm who has the vision to see the value that your experience would bring to the firm, will actively support you as a candidate, and is in a position to make strategic decisions.

Finding a champion is a critical step in any strategic job search, and I urge you to take your time here. Rather than solicit a large list of people who may not know you, look to your first degree connections, as these will be your strongest champions. After that, look for direct connections who know employees at your target company, or tap into your alumni or volunteer organization networks.

As a C-level technology executive I received unsolicited pitches daily. It is probably the same for many of you. But rather than maximizing transactions and revenues, most vendors are interested in the long term mutually beneficial partnerships with clients. My reason for targeting a leading company in the information security industry was that they stress long term partnerships over maximizing revenue. Industry leading firms also invest significantly in both their products and their people. They have the ability to hire the top talent in their industry, due to their reputations, and invest in resources such as industry vertical trusted advisor roles, like mine.

 

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Value and Passion

For anyone looking to make a similar type of move, the most important decision is to find the industry or sector where you would add the most value, and about which you have a great deal of passion. From there, focus on the industry leader in your target area, ensuring you do your research on the company, including the corporate culture. There are many sites like GlassDoor and others where you can read reviews by current and former employees, but nothing beats a real testimonial from someone you know if you can get one.

I have discovered that one of the benefits of making the move to a vendor is that I am no longer required to secure approval from legal and compliance before I participate in podcasts or speak at industry events. Both departments were strong partners of mine, but also very busy. They needed to prioritize their workload, which is understandable, and often were unable to review and approve a speaking engagement within the time needed for me to commit to the event. Since joining Fortinet, I have been able to accept podcast invitations and speak on panels for industry events, often for my former peers.

One thing I will miss after working on the banking side is the mandatory two-week leave. Due to regulations, sensitive employees must take two consecutive weeks off and unplug from all corporate communications.

I also miss the noise and energy of the trading floor. In fact, I still keep the TV in my home office tuned to CNBC when I’m not on calls because that is what I am accustomed to hearing. The non-farm payroll announcement is one of the largest economic events in the financial services world, and it happens the first Friday of every month at 8:30 am EST. I still find myself glued to the screen right as this number is released, but that still doesn’t come close to the energy of being on a trading floor.

I maintain my financial services C-suite network which keeps my finger on the pulse in my vertical, but now I have the added benefit of the Account, Engineering, and Product teams, which gives me a broader view of this industry. And they listen to my perspective on things such as regulatory impact.

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