As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sagit Manor. Sagit is the CEO of cybersecurity company Nyotron. What sets her apart from her male and female counterparts is that she’s relatively new to the security industry. Before becoming Nyotron’s CFO and shortly after CEO in 2017, she held senior leadership positions at B2B tech companies including Verifone and Lipman Electronic Engineering. Less than a year after joining Nyotron, the company’s founder, Nir Gaist, and Board of Directors asked her to assume the CEO role. She quickly made waves by pivoting the company’s product from a “last line of defense” solution to the industry’s first Endpoint Prevention and Response (or EDR 2.0) software.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It’s funny, as opposed to many of the people of the younger generation I get to work with today — I didn’t have a “specific” career path of how many years in each role and where. For me, it was more about following my passion and following the great mentors that I had. I was always drawn to finance, to working with people — and I always wanted to work with companies that were truly making a difference. Life took interesting twists and turns — I never saw myself relocating to the US until I was presented with the opportunity and like so many moments in my life — I said — “sure lets do it” without actually thinking about the “how will this work?” I trust my gut and follow its lead.
I was serving as CFO at Nyotron, my current company, and 5 weeks after I joined, I was asked by the Chairman of the Board to step into the CEO role. Again, trusting my gut, I said, yes. I had never run a company before, not to mention a growth stage startup in the Cyber Security industry — but I knew in my gut and in my heart that I could do it.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
It was clear when I joined that the company was spending way too much and way too fast compared to its revenue growth. I had to reduce costs by 40% and had to make necessary but hard decisions. I closed offices, I had to let go low-performing employees and refocus. It’s never easy but it had to be done. In two years we were able to show 500% revenue growth and we are still spending 60% of what was spent before I joined
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
I believe that focus is the name of the game in every company you’re at, but especially in a startup. We started with the mission, translated it to our go-to-market strategy and approach, to our messaging, to the markets and its verticals that we were targeting. To which sales channels to use, focused on delivering what we promised and what our customers need.
During the time many other offers and ideas came along but we didn’t let “shiny objects” distract us from our focused targets. As I mentioned, we will finish this year with 200% customer growth, and 500% revenue growth.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO”? Please share a story or example for each.
I have four:
1) Find your Tribe — Nobody prepares you for how lonely and dark it can sometimes feel at the top. That’s the reason I have worked hard to build and grow my network of CEOs in the security industry, even among Nyotron’s competitors. I am fortunate to have some amazing mentors and Board Members who support me and I regularly speak with. I’m very close to Nir Gaist, our Founder and CTO. It’s rare to work so closely with someone who cares about the company as much as I do, and having him by my side makes it much easier to navigate.
2) You Must Get Your Hands Dirty — When you’re not hands on — things don’t move fast enough. You have to build a strong team that can execute, but you still must be involved in every aspect and keep on top of the progress. It’s a delicate balance between showing your team that you trust them and making sure they are on track with goals and objectives. It’s about prioritizing.
3) An Emotional Roller Coaster — Nobody told me that the highs are so high and the lows can be so low. One day you wake up feeling great, and the next day you’re battling an anxiety attack. Every decision you make has significant consequences for the company, and again, that’s why prioritizing your workload is so important.
4) You Will Become Entrenched in Your Company — Even though I didn’t come from a Cyber background and had never been a CEO before, I didn’t let that stop me. I learned on my feet and immersed myself in every aspect of the business. I recently met the Chairman of the Board of a large Software Enterprise company who had mentored me at the beginning. I hadn’t seen him since I assumed the role. We had a chat and he was blown away at how I had transformed and had become one with the DNA of our company. Even if you are offered a role in an industry you aren’t familiar with — trust that you have what it takes to master it!
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
As a CEO I work constantly. There isn’t really a weekend or holiday off. However make the time for the people you love and for your hobbies. Connect with yourself.
I LOVE running in nature. That’s my down time and where my best ideas come. I enjoy exploring new places and every month we take a long weekend off and travel. I climb mountains or go to the beach or explore cities. Enrich & challenge yourself with more — read books, watch movies, dance! Lastly, I LOVE spending time with my kids. We play games, ride bikes together or just talk!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’m fortunate to have so many great mentors and colleagues I have worked with over the years that I learned from things like how to treat your team, what makes a difference, how to stay focused, listen to your gut and more. One stands out — Eliezer “Lazy” Yanay. He taught me the importance of establishing trust and connections with the people in front of you — then it’s not a hard sell, it just flows. He gave me the belief in myself that I had everything I needed to be successful and take flight. This was 15 years ago — and I realize what a gift it was to have someone give me that kind of acknowledgment so early on.
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
I would start a math program where math is taught in a fun way, through games and life examples and not just boring practice. I’d take that program everywhere, especially to lower socio-economic neighborhoods, because I feel that learning math and science is a huge boost to a better career and a better life. As I tell my kids…find your passion and go with it. For my son it’s Math and soccer. For my daughter it’s math and gymnastics. Once kids feel successful, they are happy and confident and the sky’s the limit for them!
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