This post is part of our Women’s History Month series – follow along with us on Twitter @VMwareCarbonBlack
In celebration of Women’s History Month, we’re continuing our six-part Women in Security series by highlighting a VMware Carbon Black customer who is making her mark on the security industry and helping keep the world safe from cyberattacks.
Meet Suzanne Hall, Global CISO and VP, Technology at Circle K Stores and a VMware Carbon Black customer. She has more than 20 years of experience as a security and technology executive. Suzanne has also held leadership roles at PwC, AARP, The Washington Nationals, and American Red Cross. She is also on the board for the Executive Women’s Forum on Information Security, Risk Management, and Privacy where she mentors women in leadership roles and entrepreneurs in the security industry. We spoke to her about her career path, what excites her in her role, and advice for women looking to advance a career in security.
Tell us about yourself and your career background?
I’m an accountant by training and I started in a role with the IRS at a really interesting time when they were excited to modernize. Working on a massive systems change, this was the first time I dealt with identity management and data security. This then led to an opportunity in the early 2000s where I found myself building out a cybersecurity program that had never before existed and my boss offered me a great opportunity to take over security and IT operations. I said, “Why not?” to the role and that’s where my career towards a broader role as a CISO began.
Over the years, I’ve worked with great organizations such as AARP, The Washington Nationals, the American Red Cross, and PwC. I’ve now been with Circle K Stores since 2018. My career has been in both IT operations and security, but my passion is security. This passion led me to spend time outside of my day job mentoring women in security. I’m committed to being a good steward for underrepresented groups and to building diversity in the industry.
What ultimately led you to Circle K Stores?
Circle K is the biggest company that most people probably haven’t heard of. 4I wasn’t sure what was going to be interesting in the world of convenience and fuel, but as I started to look into it, Circle K is truly a global organization with most of our stores being company owned and operated with a scrappy, entrepreneurial history. The entrepreneurial mindset of our CEO and the changing nature of convenience attracted me to the company. I saw potential in the global role on a primarily female IT team. I was also attracted to a CISO position that reported directly to the CEO – not all companies prioritize the role to this level of importance.
We know there are no typical days in security, but can you tell us about what a day entails as the Global CISO at Circle K Stores for you?
A typical day, especially in the pandemic, means calls from early in the morning until late into the night to collaborate across the globe. Like so many, my role has adapted in the past year to meet the needs of our many different employees. At the beginning of the pandemic, we needed to roll out a remote culture we previously did not have the infrastructure for. We’ve also been supporting our frontline workers in our stores as their work can not be carried out online – making sure they feel protected and supported during these times is a top priority. I love the constant challenge of the changing environment day-to-day in my role.
Who is your role model in tech or security?
I’ve had the benefit of working for many companies alongside really smart people. With every meeting I take a mental “basket” to collect important tidbits and insights to implement into my daily work. I’ve been lucky to have supportive bosses, which made me enjoy my journey. I’ve also found groups of women to learn from and network with and I now serve on the board of one of these groups to hopefully pass on knowledge to younger security professionals. In terms of folks I look up to, the long list includes Bill Gates and the previous CEO of Marriott, Arne Sorenson. What I’ve learned from my career is there is talent everywhere within this field.
What excites you most about security and the future of security at Circle K Stores?
The world of security continues to draw me in with its constant changes and unpredictability. Just when you think you have your arms around it with the right controls in place, something else changes forcing you to adapt. It’s certainly not a career for folks who like to put their feet up on their desk! I never envisioned security to be the industry it is today, but I’m happy to be in the midst of it. While it can be stress inducing, there is never a dull moment. It’s also a rewarding role. I cannot think of another role I’ve held where I feel I’ve made such a positive impact.
In honor of Women’s History Month, what advice do you have for women looking to get into the security industry?
I’d say just do it. There are so many opportunities for cyber learning these days. You don’t have to just go for your CISSP. Look into getting your CISA or getting certified in cloud security, for example. Different learning paths will benefit different people. I do think the most important lesson I’ve learned in cybersecurity is to not be afraid to say yes to opportunities. Don’t wait until you have all of the skills you think you need for a new role. It’s important to challenge yourself and ask “what would I do if I weren’t afraid?” Women often self select themselves out of roles because they don’t think they’re qualified. Remember that skill sets will be gained and mastered in the role. Opportunities don’t always come up, so have the confidence to take them when they do.
Stay tuned for more Q&As throughout Women’s History Month, and be sure to follow the #WomensHistoryMonth and #ChooseToChallenge conversations on Twitter: @vmw_carbonblack.