Scrambling for Cybersecurity Leaders is Big Business for Recruiters

April 4, 2016 – In the mid-1990s, when Joyce Brocaglia took on her first assignment to help build an information security operation for Citibank, it was a very different world. No one knew how much the Internet would grow and ultimately transform society. Technology was more primitive. Data was less accessible. And the massive connectivity we now taken for granted was a distant dream. Yet that initial call from the banking giant, sparked by the audacious theft of $10.7 million by a Russian hacker and his accomplices in 1994, would be one of the seeds that ultimately grew into cybersecurity’s rise as one of today’s hottest sectors in executive search.

Back then, it was all new terrain. Citibank had hired its first chief information security officer, Steve Katz, who wanted to go beyond technical security alone and deal with threats from the more encompassing perspective of business risk. Ms. Brocaglia and her colleagues at Alta Associates helped Citibank build out its core information security group of perhaps 30 people. But in the bigger picture of protecting corporations from cybercrime, that was just the beginning.

Unprecedented Demand for Cyber Talent

Citibank’s broader approach would reverberate down through the years. These days, it is more relevant than ever. “When we do searches today for cybersecurity officers we are still transitioning organizations from that old fear, uncertainty, and doubt mindset into a newer way of thinking,” says Ms. Brocaglia. “It’s a much more collaborative, strategic approach to figuring out how information security can actually add value to an organization in terms of generating revenue, protecting brand and protecting reputation.” Cybersecurity, she said, “has gone from being a completely back-office role that was often buried way down in an organization to a much more highly central and strategic function that is really getting a lot of interaction with the board and with outside organizations.”

Certainly, much has happened over the two decades since that landmark breach at Citibank, both in terms of cyberattacks and hunting for professionals to protect companies from such intrusions. As cyber breaches and their consequences have grown more expansive and menacing, information security talent is in unprecedented demand. In many ways, the changes feed into an even broader trend toward specialization in executive recruiting and the rise of boutiques.

Collateral Damage

One of the problems all recruiters have been encountering is a candidate pool that includes professionals with weak career paths to becoming top cybersecurity leaders. Ideal candidates, they say, are generally well-versed in many parts of a business – not just in technology. But candidates possessing this cross-section of corporate experience can be like finding needles in a haystack.

Nevertheless, cyberattacks are growing in magnitude, complexity and frequency, and these massive security lapses have left many companies vulnerable. The growing list of major businesses that have been compromised has forced leaders from organizations of all sizes and across industries to pay heed: JPMorgan Chase, Target, Anthem, Sony Pictures, and Home Depot are just some of the bigger players to have been hobbled, not only by the intrusions themselves but by collateral damage to their corporate reputations and the weighty costs of recovering. As such, many cyberattacks have never been publicly reported. In some instances, companies have lied about breaches even occurring. And given the complexity of the systems in question and inadequate protections, it’s anyone’s guess how many intrusions have gone undetected.

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One study, by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C. policy research group, and McAfee, the technology security firm, puts the annual cost of cybercrime to the world economy at more than $400 billion and perhaps as much as $575 billion, to say nothing of the immeasurable ripple effects on businesses, communities, and personal lives.

Fueling the threat is the ever-expanding inter-connectedness of web, cloud, social, and mobile technology. There’s also uncertainty about who these shadowy hoodlums might be, their motivations, intentions, and when they might strike. Certainly nation states like Iran, North Korea, and China have been implicated in a number of cyberattacks. Freelancers in Russia and Eastern Europe have done considerable damage, as have corporate competitors and whistleblowers. Even an adolescent hacker with too much time on his hands can cause damage. Who can say whether the perpetrator seeks to upend the economy, pilfer intellectual property, take revenge for a perceived insult, or is just bent on wreaking havoc?

All of us have access to information like never before. And we’re communicating through vast networks that are linked in one way or another. “As a result, more people are exposed to the risks and there’s more value in hacking into an account or phishing an account,” says Kal Bittianda, who heads the cybersecurity search practice at Egon Zehnder. “There’s more commercial value, whether it be for individual hackers or crime syndicates, and then of course there’s political activism and country-to-country activity as well. All of that means that the level of activity is a multitude of what it was 20 years ago and the number of people affected by it is pretty much everyone who’s connected online.”

In the early 2000s, a major change in the types of attacks began to emerge. Nation state attacks were coming with more sophistication and frequency. “The market’s been coping with this level of sophistication for the last 15 years,” says Matt Comyns, who heads the global cybersecurity recruiting practice for Russell Reynolds Associates. “However, if you talk to veterans of this field they will also tell you that the last three to five years in particular have seen tremendous scale of attacks – their volume and complexity has increased dramatically.” Therefore, he says, “the awareness at companies around the world has increased significantly, highlighted by the consequences of the attacks on Target and Sony, in particular.”

Cybercriminals come in all shapes and sizes. And efforts to fend them off are in many ways just getting started. “It’s almost multi-sector if you want to put corporate-speak to it,” says Stephen Spagnuolo, who was hired last spring to help launch ZRG Partners’ cybersecurity and defense-intelligence search practice. “You have entrepreneurs. You have emerging growth players. You have large corporates, the nation states. And the numbers don’t really matter. One bad dude could do a lot of harm to many points for a long time. It’s not a numbers game. It’s a will and commitment game. And it’s going to take an entire generation to even approach battlefield balance.”

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ZRG Partners, with headquarters in Rochelle Park, NJ, is a midsized search firm that conducts assignments across a broad range of industries, including aerospace and defense, consumer, cybersecurity, financial services, and healthcare, among others. Its recent cybersecurity recruitment and advisory work has seen a search for a CEO of a prefunded cybersecurity company, a COO and board member for an early stage cybersecurity services firm, and a head of business development for an emerging growth cyber analytics software firm. ZRG today has offices around the U.S., as well as in Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands, China, and Hong Kong. Clients in these locations all need need cybersecurity talent as much as their American counterparts.

The need for cybersecurity executives reaches across virtually all industries. Information security analyst jobs are expected to grow 36.5 percent by 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, with 27,400 new jobs being added. Areas like financial services, defense, and high technology have long focused on cybersecurity. But retail, healthcare, entertainment, utilities, and others have stepped up their efforts and are now seen as bolstering their defenses in the face of security breaches. All of these sectors recognize that information security is the ultimate competitive advantage. “Any B to C business is focusing very aggressively on it now, in a very public fashion,” says Mr. Bittianda. “B to B businesses are doing it behind the scenes.”

Demand is picking up just as risk and security executives are being elevated to the C-suite – turning security breaches into a C-suite problem. It is this convergence that is the result of what is now seen as a highly visible leadership need as well as a strategic imperative for every company.

High demand and limited talent supply lines are leading to bidding wars throughout the security sector, says Mr. Comyns, as cybersecurity transforms from an independent, functional focus to a fullfledged integrated business sector. With the shift, talent demands have come to exceed the available supply by a widening margin.

It would be tough to ignore the growing number of cyberattacks and the damage they have wrought for their corporate victims. “I think that growth can be completely attributed to the growing cyber threats as well as companies becoming more aware of threats and the challenges that are associated with addressing them both from an internal and external perspective,” says Marci McCarthy, CEO and chairman of ISE Talent. “When you start putting a price tag on some of these breaches, from credit monitoring and class-action lawsuits as well as personnel changes and then potential loss of customers and trust, you’re looking at a severe wakeup call for boards of directors, management teams and shareholders alike.”

ISE Talent, based in Atlanta, focuses only on recruiting information security executives and professionals. The boutique firm, which spun out of T.E.N., a national technology and security executive networking organization run by Ms. McCarthy, was officially launched early last year. The firm has conducted searches for chief information security officer (CISO) / VP equivalents as well as security team members like security managers, security engineers, cyber analysts, and enterprise security architects. Among its clients are Fortune 1000 businesses as well as security solutions providers.

In short, all the commotion means that business over the next few years and beyond should be brisk for executive recruiters who specialize in finding cybersecurity talent and have an established network of candidates and sources. Newcomers, on the other hand, may find it less than welcoming. “There’s a considerable amount of barriers to entry,” says Ms. McCarthy. “You can’t just have an IT search firm, then wake up one day and do information security searches. The security profession is about trusted relationships.”

Scrambling to Play Catch-up

As companies scramble to play catch-up in cybersecurity, too few qualified candidates are available to fill all the openings for roles like CISO, directors of information security, chief technology officers, and heads of information technology – driving up compensation, in some cases igniting bidding wars, and oftentimes leaving critical roles unfilled. A number of companies, in fact, avoid publicizing or even discussing their openings for fear of attracting cybercriminals who might consider them vulnerable. Search firms, too, report a burgeoning number of calls for candidates with cybersecurity expertise, especially chief information officers, to serve on boards.

There’s also been movement away from more traditional roles like chief security officer, which predominantly handles physical security, and the CISO, which focuses on information technology protection, says Jeremy King, president of Benchmark Executive Search in Reston, VA. More corporations are developing a new role, chief risk officer, to oversee the full range of risk exposure. “Bank of America went this direction in the wake of its big breach and more companies are following suit,” he says. In fact, Mr. King expects the role to be among the hottest in the cybersecurity sector in the next few years.

Board risk committees, meanwhile, are already a way of life in the financial services industry, but Mr. King expects other industries will follow suit. The biggest challenge is that corporate leadership must come to terms with the enormity of the cyber threat. “It seems like the best way to focus attention on this will be for CEOs to step out front,” Mr. King says. “We believe that boards are taking these threats seriously and will begin to assign an individual on the board to oversee all risks. Physical security, IT security, personnel security and certain aspects of compliance and legal are all components of risk. But with most new corporate initiatives, they do not bubble up but work top down. Companies need a holistic enterprise risk management framework tailored to their business and applied rigorously by management while routinely overseen by the board of directors.”

Peter T. Metzger, vice chairman at DHR International, who specializes in recruiting for cybersecurity, is emphatic that companies must make systems protection a top priority. “This should be one of the top three agenda items at every board meeting every quarter,” he says. “When you talk about a risk analysis, this is you-bet-the-business every single day.”

Don’t Expect to Stamp Out Cyber Threats

Despite a long history of attacks, and largely because of them, financial services companies are probably the most advanced in their cyber protection capabilities. Their people are frequently tapped by firms looking for top cybersecurity talent.

Turnover can be high for many cybersecurity roles. Supply and demand is a major consideration. “There are not many of these folks out there who are operating at the top level,” explains Tony Leng, a managing director at Diversified Search, who heads the firm’s San Francisco office. “There are some. What you find is that they get poached one firm to the other.”

Recently, Diversified recruited a head of cybersecurity risk management for a major West Coast utility, a CISO for a major healthcare provider in the Northeast, and a CISO for a Fortune 200 consumer products company. Based in Philadelphia, Diversified is among the top 10 search firms in the U.S., with offices in nine cities.

David Feligno, vice president with 680 Partners in New York, says the demand for talent reaches into the information security vendor market as well. “The cybersecurity industry is extremely competitive,” he says. “As a recruiter, you have to latch onto companies that you can tell a good story with, that are performing well within the market, that have teams that are extremely innovative, very collaborative, and that are culturally a place that people would want to go.”

That said, it is a candidate’s market. “They have a lot of opportunities available to them,” says Mr. Feligno. “So getting candidates excited, getting them into the vendors that we work with and keeping them there, getting them through the process, and then closing the deal is certainly a tough thing to do.”

680 Partners, founded in 1999, is a boutique search firm that helps find senior managers for a range of technology, software, Internet, and e-commerce companies. In addition to cybersecurity vendors that Mr. Feligno has known over his professional career, his firm is introduced to many others through PE-VC firms with whom the firm has longstanding relationships. “We’ve worked on sales, marketing, operations, software engineering, support, professional services, product management, product marketing, and executive positions to oversee one of those particular departments as well,” says Mr. Feligno.

For industry in general, client companies often erroneously expect their cybersecurity teams to completely stamp out cyber threats. Company leaders can sometimes be too quick to cast blame when their firm is breached, turning cybersecurity leaders into fall guys when in truth they were doing the best they could with the budget and resources they were given. Furthermore, no one can repel every attack. Cybercriminals are too numerous, too wily, and too relentless. And they always have new schemes and techniques in the works. “The burnout factor of the security executive is quite high,” says Ms. McCarthy, of ISE Talent. “There’s an expectation of, ‘You’re going to solve our problems, tell us what our problems are, and then when something does happen you are the scapegoat.’”

DHR’s Peter Metzger, who operates out of the firm’s Washington, D.C. office, says that when breaches occur – and they are inevitable, he says — company leaders should take stock of themselves. If they have failed to take proper precautions in terms of talent and action, it is they who hold the responsibility. “What the shareholders ought to do is fire the CEO and some of the directors if this happens,” Mr. Metzger says. “If it’s shown that they’re not taking it seriously enough, then there’s a problem.”

Trusted Advisor

DHR International, headquartered in Chicago, is the sixth largest U.S. search firm and its growth has been rapid in recent years. Like many of its rivals, the firm has expanded into assessment and leadership development. The firm’s CEO, Geoff Hoffmann, said: “Clients these days demand an integrated approach” to talent management. “As their needs evolve, we are being looked upon to find answers in specialization and advisory services.”

The firm’s assignments in the cybersecurity sector include recruiting a senior partner who had led the cyberrisk practice at one of the big four consulting firms for the world’s largest health insurance provider. DHR also recruited a top cybersecurity leader for a Fortune 50 American manufacturing company that had been breached by China. That mandate involved significant U.S. government oversight, says Mr. Metzger, and was preceded by extensive consultation to ensure that all parties understood the scope of the project.

Corporate culture also carries a big part of the load to keep businesses safe from intrusion. Employees have to buy into security policies if protection efforts are going to be effective. Companies with a laissez faire culture must alter some of that thinking, say recruiters, at least when it comes to cybersecurity. Disgruntled workers can also cause a lot of difficulties, both directly and indirectly. A simple lack of diligence can open the doors of the kingdom to cyber marauders.

“At the end of the day, it’s the cultural outlook,” says Julie Bridgen, managing director and CEO of the Bridgen Group in Brantford, Ontario. “You have to have people who want to protect the organization.” Indeed, any sensitive information that is compromised has the potential to be harmful. Carelessness can be a big factor. Even emails and Twitter posts can cause problems. “You can have a whole room of people who spent a year coming up with their company’s forecast for the future, and then in a sweep of an intrusion they can have to rethink an entire year’s worth of planning,” says Ms. Bridgen.

The Bridgen Group, formerly affiliated with the Canadian search firm Donaldson & James, this winter became partners with Vicinage, an international network of nearly 500 CISOs, based in Annapolis, MD. The Bridgen Group specializes in cybersecurity searches for senior to C-level executives and response teams. The firm recently recruited a senior team leader for the cybersecurity assessment and analysis group, who reports to the director of cybersecurity, of a St. Louis-based company. Among the roles that Bridgen Group helps fill are CISO, board positions, chief information officer, forensics experts, and security software developers.

Few companies have a formal risk management process in place, says Mr. King, of Benchmark Executive Search. “But the more important question might be: How many companies have created a culture of security, implemented policies, and allocated real resources for implementation?” he says. “Risk management is very complex. It takes strong people, processes, technology, and almost ruthless commitment by an organization’s top leaders.”

Finding good cybersecurity talent can be a challenge. Too few people specialize in this area, and the market has moved rapidly in just a short period. There’s simply more demand than the market has been prepared to handle, for senior roles as well as junior positions. “To further exacerbate the pressures on the human capital pool, companies are requiring these people to do a lot more than they did previously,” says Russell Reynolds’ Matt Comyns. “Their roles have expanded tremendously. So not only do we not have enough people doing it, but now we’re asking incoming leaders to do more. So to get people who can handle the new role and responsibilities and do that at scale to keep up with demand is very challenging.”

Pay is Inconsequential

Given the new and evolving nature of top cybersecurity roles, recruiters oftentimes tap candidates from related and tangential fields to fill these positions. Many have IT backgrounds, including management experience in security. Some come out of internal audit positions. Others have government and military histories in places like the Department of Defense, the U.S. Cyber Command, the NSA, or organizations like the FBI.

With demand for cybersecurity talent high, supply low, and companies urgently seeking to fill a myriad of positions, compensation is skyrocketing. “I watched one person go from making $200,000 a year to $650,000 in three years,” says Mr. Comyns.

Information security leaders at major companies typically earn upwards of $500,000 to $600,000 a year, including base salary, bonus, and long-term incentives, Mr. Comyns says. And while many companies are still struggling with the reality that an annual range of $250,000 to $400,000 for a top-fight cyber executive might be, in fact, no longer enough, Mr. Comyns says that 10 percent of the market will pay a good deal more than $600,000 a year to lure the right executive. Perhaps they’ve come to realize that some top banks and Fortune 50 companies have already settled on a new reality: you have to pay up for the best. Mr. Coymns says stand-out cyber security leaders can make $1.5 to $2 million a year.

Mr. Comyns recently recruited chief information security officers for a Fortune 100 company, one of the largest global retailers, a leading global automotive supplier, and one of the largest online / offline brokerages as well as a chief technology officer for a global multi-channel media company.

Mr. Metzger says that he’s pointed out to clients on numerous occasions that high pay for cybersecurity talent is inconsequential compared to the devastation that an attack can produce. “If you want to protect your bank, what difference does it make?’ he asks. “One breach can mean multiples of that compensation package. And the reputational loss is enormous.”

Sometimes, too, clients resist a recruiter’s suggestion to consider candidates from a business that has suffered a major cyberattack. Public perception is at stake, after all. “My contention is that’s probably the best place to go because there have been some serious lessons learned,” says Mr. Leng. “But they’re worried about that image.”

Clients must understand, too, that proper security involves far more than simply finding a talented individual and hiring that person. They have to have given thought to a bigger plan. “They will say, ‘I want to hire a CISO and here’s a laundry list of things we want to do and what we want to pay them,’” says Ms. Brocaglia of Alta Associates.” And we’ll say, ‘Well, you’re either going to have to pay them more, or expect less.’ They’re often unrealistic. We’ll ask them, ‘When they come on board are you going to let them build a team?’ And they’ll say, ‘I don’t know.’ ‘What’s their budget going to be?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘What’s the organization going to look like?’ ‘I don’t know.’ And we’ll say, ‘Well, maybe you guys need to think about this.’ Oftentimes, that leads to some drilling down with clients to try to answer those hard questions.”

“What I try to explain to them is that the market is so competitive that unless you really have a mission, a direction, and most importantly the support of your senior executive board, you’re not going to attract the kind of person that you need to do that important job because they’re not going to step into a situation that they know is going to be difficult and have the bottom fall out from underneath them,” she says.

Continued Gap in Cyber Talent Expected

In other words, companies must be prepared to pay for more than just a top cybersecurity leader. Teams of people are often needed to handle the expanding tasks at hand. The price tag may be high, but it’s impossible to get around the necessity. “This is a total re-think for companies around the cost of doing business securely,” says Mr. Comyns. “It’s an ocean change. It’s a new way of doing business. I don’t know how else to say it. Unfortunately, it’s a significant cost added to your business. It’s the cost of doing business in today’s world. And the sooner companies embrace that the better off they’re going to be.”

The best candidates for top cybersecurity roles, say recruiters, go beyond the technological skill base. The best cybersecurity leaders in place today seem to share one common trait: strategic perspective. And, they communicate well with top leaders. They also possess an open mind in an evolving world. “I tell all my clients, ‘I’m going to find you somebody who can do this job today,’ but really the currency of business nowadays is speed,” says Diversified’s Tony Leng. “And so your business is going to change. The world of hacking and theft and cyberrisk, that’s going to change. So you need to hire the right level of leader who is able to understand the change and move effectively with the times and pivot and understand what’s going on, constantly.”

One thing is certain: Look for greater corporate awareness of cybersecurity in the years ahead. “We’re going to see a continued gap in cyber talent,” says DHR’s Mr. Metzger. “We’re going to see an increase in spending. We’re going to see an increase in data analytics, which is very important in this field. And we’re going to see a further proliferation of cyberattacks. This is a big business both defending and attacking right now.”

As recently as seven or eight years ago, CISOs were much different from today, says Mr. Bittianda of Egon Zehnder: “They were introverted. There was a big focus on just technology skills. And they used to be more often than not the ‘Dr. No’ type who said, ‘No, you can’t do this; it will breach security.’ Today what we’re finding is someone who is much more extroverted, someone who can influence the board and the CIO, someone who is more of a facilitator, and someone who takes an interdisciplinary approach. So we’re already seeing that pool of talent evolving in terms of who will be successful. Going forward, I think we’re seeing it change even more, where they need to take much more of a multi-functional approach and risk-management type of approach.”

The bottom line, says Mr. Bittianda, is this: “The CISO you’re going to want to hire today is not the person you would have hired five years ago and will likely not be the same person you’d hire five years from now. So we look for things such as potential for someone to evolve as a way to figure out who may be the most effective hire.” Mr. Bittianda’s recent assignments have included a global search for a CISO at a top-five global enterprise software company, head of IT security for a Fortune 500 manufacturing firm, and a board director for a fast-growing cybersecurity business, among others.

Recruiters in this sector, almost across the board, speak of the satisfaction of helping companies find talent and solve their cybersecurity challenges. Most consultants in cybersecurity seem to feel they are truly making a difference. “I’ve combed the world to try to understand how people are approaching this, how people are thinking about it, and it is a full-time job to stay on top of it and then help companies think through it,” says Mr. Comyns. “I’ve done other types of recruiting, where I’ve walked in the door and they’re always happy to see you and partner with you. But in this functional area it’s a whole different ballgame. Many of my clients lean forward across the table to hear what I have to say.”

For recruiters focused on this sector, the business of finding cybersecurity leaders and teams of cyber professional talent to back them up has been exceptionally strong in the U.S. Increasingly, companies around the world are following suit. No one believes demand will ebb anytime soon.

“Starting last year we began to see the market pick up in Europe and now we’re seeing the market pick up in Asia,” says Mr. Comyns. “I’m probably going to be spending some time in Latin America and places like the Middle East. This is a global phenomenon.” He says the U.S. is clearly more advanced in its investment against the challenge but it still has a long way to go. “We’re years away from a mature market here in the U.S. And the rest of the world is many years behind us.” Demand for human capital in the space will continue unabated, he says, for at least five to 10 years, but probably much longer than that. Others concur. “I think we’re in the early innings of a doubleheader in terms of U.S. and global cybersecurity and security awareness,” says ZRG Partners’ Mr. Spagnuolo.

Contributed by Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor, Hunt Scanlon Media

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