Absolute Software CEO Christy Wyatt on the most important trait in an employee

In November 2018, Christy Wyatt joined the team at Absolute Software, the endpoint security technology company helps customers protect devices, data, applications, and users against theft or attack, Ladders spoke with Absolute CEO Christy Wyatt to hear her thoughts on the hardest part of being a CEO, the most important trait for employees to possess, and the most special aspects of Absolute Software’s work culture.

What would you say is the biggest industry trend to watch right now?

“In the enterprise space, I think the biggest conversation has to be about Resilience. The geek speak is all about data science and AI …but to me, the concept of Enterprise Resilience – the ability to heal and snap back after an inevitable incident – is so much more powerful.

We have spent the last decade buying layer upon layer of technology to solve IT and security challenges. But, what we’re also learning is that ‘more’ is not always better. The emergence of modern security and data platforms gives us the ability to think differently and more holistically, and to focus less on static controls and more on real-time risk detection and self-heal our systems. The ability to heal and respond resonates with me on so many levels.”

How would you describe your management style?

“I believe in delivering on your commitments, to the industry, to customers, to one another. In the cybersecurity industry, we have a big mission: protecting peoples’ valuable assets and preserving the trust they have in us. The only reasonable metric to measure ourselves by is: Are we living up to that trust? Have we delivered what we said we would? Did we take care in their experiences? Did we make it easier, or faster, to work with us? Did we make them stronger? Are we solving their problems? Did we support one another, and work collectively to deliver results?

When individuals want to talk about the scope of their role, or tenure …I want to talk about the results and impact. We are in the business of solving customer problems; they trust us with their data and their assets. I take that trust and responsibility incredibly seriously, and personally.”

What’s the most difficult part of being a CEO?

“Building a team is possibly the hardest, but also the most critical, part of my job. You need to surround yourself with leaders who are smarter than you, who are experts in their area, who own their businesses, who take initiative, who are strong executioners, and who are willing to collaborate. That last part is incredibly hard. Some folks are absolutely brilliant in their roles and managing their own teams, but do not see the power in collaboration. This is a deal-breaker. Small opportunities are easy to seize in silos …but the big ones never are. Leaders that do not understand the power of teamwork have a limited runway.”

Has Absolute Software ever tried something that failed? What did you learn from that?

“Of course! We fail frequently. To me, failure is not a negative term. I think you set the bar high, and you work like mad to surpass it. Sometimes, you fall short… that does not mean the effort was wasted. You still moved the ball forward. You learn. You adapt. What got you ‘here’ will not necessarily get you ‘there.’

As a person, or as a business, there are many times you are doing what you have always done and it is just not working. Our ability to recognize that, accept it, be objective about why, and then reinvent and move forward …that again is Resilience, which is why this is such a strong theme for us.”

What kind of skills do you look for in employees?

“When I am in a meeting with an employee, no matter the role, I look for passion. I want to be surrounded by individuals who love their work, who own their space, who are curious, and who are eager to collaborate and actively want to make things better. When you meet someone for the first time and they have that energy, that passion …it is like someone turned on a light in the room. It is visible and tangible; people are drawn to that energy.

When I am meeting new potential employees, I listen carefully as they describe other parts of their life and previous experiences or roles. If their descriptions focus on results or outcomes, why they were excited, what they were proud of, what they learned from the risks they took – then I know they love what they do. Someone who loves their work loves to tell you about their results… they often, almost have to pull themselves back. If they describe the circumstances, or people that held them back, or projects that were uninspiring, or why the world just “didn’t get it,” it leaves me with a sense that the individual is a product of what is happening to them …instead of what they are making happen.”

How do you think the future of work will play into what you do?

“As a company, we are quite distributed; we’ve had to rapidly embrace the digital workspace. The tough part of this can be losing the human connection. We have to insist that folks turn cameras on, or get together in the same room. Having a disconnected voice over the phone does not enable a human connection. We need to see one another, laugh together, experience frustration together. We need to see our teammates engaged in the discussion. Collaboration stems from human connection, and we have to work hard for that.

We also have a regular cadence of getting teams together. Once a week for example, as an executive team, we review the business top to bottom. And multiple times a quarter we have to be in the same location. My hope is that if we set the tone for collaboration at the top, our leaders and employees learn that from us, and it propagates throughout the company.”

Is your morning routine an important part of your day?

“I treasure my mornings; mornings are when I set the tone for the day. I can think about what needs to be done, and where we are going. That quiet time is critical for retaining focus. I also travel constantly – as in every week – so I cannot rely on environmental elements …I have to be able to be fully present wherever I am.

I am up pretty early, often 5am; it could be the travel or having small children, but I rarely sleep late or long. I like black coffee, usually in bed, while I do a quick read-through of emails and news that came in through the night and I think through the day. I also try to get in a little bit of exercise… even if that just means 15 minutes with a yoga app on my travel mat, it makes a huge difference for me throughout the day. I try to be in “the office” wherever that might be around 8:30, though I try not to schedule meetings until 9am so I have a chance to touch base with whomever I need to or address any hot topics before the day gets started.”

What’s special about your work culture?

“‘One Team, One Number.’ This is a mantra I find myself saying over and over again. Lots of leaders want to declare what their company culture is and what it looks like; I believe culture is a result of how you work and what you reward. Laminated cards with vision statements are words; those words don’t become reality until your employees see those values in action. If you want a team-focused and collaborative culture, then you cannot incent or reward folks who operate outside that model. And this can be hard. We have all had that incredibly talented team member, who you really like, but who just can’t work outside their own borders. It limits them and it hurts their teams, who end up disconnected and frustrated. It doesn’t work.

At Absolute, we have a rewards system that focuses on clear, shared goals and metrics. We have a company all-hands once a month where I show our scorecard and how we are measuring against it. Every employee knows their incentives are connected to these shared goals, they know how we are measuring them, and they know how we are doing. They see the connection between the work they are individually doing, and how we are all doing as a team. From the senior team all the way across, from the top down, we all have the same goal. We win or lose together. One team, One number.”

As CEO and board member at multiple companies, you must be extremely busy. What’s your advice for time management?

“Between my family, the company, and my board work, my time is incredibly precious. I have two principles I strongly believe in:

  • Forgive yourself. You want to be everywhere, for everyone …and it can’t happen. Be clear about your boundaries, make the tough decisions about where you invest your time, and don’t beat yourself up about it.
  • Be fully present. Do not shortchange yourself, or the people around you, by being distracted. Everyone’s time is precious. If I am in a conversation, or with my kids, or in a meeting, that is where I am. Turn the phone over, and focus.”

    Do you think cybersecurity gets the attention it deserves in the mainstream?

“Cybersecurity has gotten a lot of attention; for me, the real question is whether it is getting the right attention. We think of cyber as hunting bad guys, but in reality, cybersecurity is about keeping businesses going and enterprises running while mitigating risk. Today, more than 80 percent of the total value of the Fortune 500 is comprised of intangible assets. Cybersecurity means protecting those assets and detecting risks that could compromise those assets. And it’s not just about mitigating risk …it’s also about helping organizations respond, recover, and heal quickly. It’s about making them resilient.”