Always smile. It’s advice nobody likes to hear, but I think everybody needs to smile more often. It’s just a great way to indicate to new people you meet that you come in peace and you are ready to cooperate with them. Smiling also helps you keep your cool in stressful situations. It’s as vital as taking a deep breath sometimes.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emmy Linder. She is the chief operations officer at Cybereason. She has 10 years of senior management experience, including five years in operating product and project management roles in technology companies. Prior to joining Cybereason, she worked for The Boston Consulting Group, where she focused on operational excellence and organizational design programs. Emmy began her career in the military where she commanded a 24/7 intelligence team and she received an MBA from MIT.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My career path really started right out of high school when I joined the Israeli Defense Forces. I served in Unit 8200 as an officer overseeing two different teams responsible for communicating with global and internal intelligence agencies. When I left the IDF, I remained really interested in computers and received both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s Degrees in Computer Science from IDC Herzliya.
I wanted to pursue an MBA and decided to enroll at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, which brought me to Boston. After graduating from MIT, I joined Boston Consulting Group where I advised executives on strategy and operational challenges, refining operational efficiencies, and implementing new business processes. My work at BCG spanned a variety of industries, including pharmaceutical, health care, retail and industrial services, eventually focusing on financial services. One of my largest projects was a digital transformation at a leading Israeli bank, where I supervised a global team focused on implementing a digital transformation for the bank. The final result was an operational overhaul that increased efficiency and effectiveness across the bank’s business lines, touching on a wide range of functions including culture, organizational design, operations, and digital. I really enjoyed that project, and it’s what propelled me to gravitate towards the COO role.
I joined Cybereason in 2016 as global head of operations, working across departments. I was promoted to COO in September 2018, supporting the company through a 200 million dollars in funding round and growth to 500 employees in four offices across the world.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
It’s interesting to see how the company keeps its core but adapts and changes as the years go by. It’s not a linear function. It’s a bit more jagged. When there’s a growth spurt for any company, there’s a lot of excitement around bringing in a lot of new employees. At Cybereason, we hire around the world from the United States, Europe, Israel, and Japan. You try to make sure that you hire the right people that fit your company culture and you want alongside you as you scale. I’d say the most interesting thing that I see happening day to day is watching how new people bring their own expertise, experiences, and culture to ours and watching the company grow.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
During my first month at Cybereason, I was quite new to the world of start-ups. I was coming off working at a Fortune 500 company, so being at such a young new company was quite a change of pace for me. At the time, there was a new client that had come on board just a few months before I started my job. Within my first couple of weeks, we had some technical issues doing an upgrade for this particular client and I was handling customer support for them. At previous companies, I was used to snapping my fingers and having a technical problem solved almost immediately. I laugh now to think of my naivete at the time. Very young startups don’t work like that. I’d say my mistake was that I didn’t hold in my frustration. I complained to my colleagues, forgot where I stood and what was in my purview to fix.
(Ultimately, we did fix the glitches and the client was happy).
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?
I love being in a position where I have an overarching view of the company. I’m a natural-born problem solver, so making sure that all of the different pieces, and the different departments, are tied to each other and that there’s some sort of coherent strategy that we’re executing — that’s a puzzle I really enjoy solving every day. It’s very gratifying.
Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
As a COO, my job function is much more about the company than it is about my department. When I’m having a meeting with a particular department and they’re asking me for advice, I often joke, “do you want me to put my XYZ department hat on? Or do you want me to put my COO hat on?” Because when I put my COO hat on, I’m not optimizing for just their department, I’m optimizing for the whole company. So I want to make sure that, as a whole, the company is running smoothly, and that we are delivering excellent services to our customers. As the COO, you’re always looking broadly and you’re not playing for yourself to win, but for the whole company to win.
What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?
I love when I look at the big picture of how the company is operating and everything clicks, especially if I can point to precise decisions I made that worked out well.
What are the downsides of being an executive?
The downside, of course, is living with bad decisions. It’s an especially painful situation when you have no one to blame but yourself for something that went wrong.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Some people think that CEOs have secret eyes and ears throughout the company. People assume that you always know what is going on or that you always remember everything. The reality is that a lot of times, you’re just a fallible human being. People also have their own assumptions about how approachable C-suite executives are. At Cybereason, a lot of our C-suite executives have a very “roll up your sleeves and help” attitude, so it’s surprising to us when people seem shy about approaching us. C-suite executives are more approachable than people think.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
So much of the decision-making at any company depends on the dynamics in the room — the chemistry between people at a meeting or in an office, etc. Gender always plays a part in that. How comfortable a woman feels speaking up and how comfortable others feel about listening to her always depends on the number of women in the room. You want to have, not just a good male-female ratio, but all kinds of diversity to make sure you’re getting a variety of different perspectives and making informed decisions.
But on the whole, I don’t have specific stereotypes that I feel like I’m fighting on a day to day basis.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
When I started at Cybereason, it wasn’t clear at all what I was going to do. All I envisioned was that I would be part of a growing company and have a big role in building it. And what I know about my role now, and as it’s evolved over the years, is that I’ve done a lot of building here with big blocks. And I’ve also done small things like patching up a crack in the wall. It’s a wide range of macro and micro activities that I do on a daily basis. I can spend one minute worrying about something rather trivial, like what to have catered for company lunch and in the next moment head a meeting about our strategic priorities for 2020. A typical hour in my day might look like that.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?
Two things pop into my mind 1) you need to be a people person. People need to like to work with you and work for you; 2) an executive ought to have a broad range of interests and curiosities and be knowledgeable about many different aspects of a business. You can’t just have one area of expertise and say “I’m not going to worry about anything else.”
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
The most important thing is to allow people to have enough space to do the things that they joined the team to do. Don’t micro-manage. An employee who has the qualifications, the skills, and the experience — trust him or her to do their job. Help them if they get off the path. Make sure that you clear out any of the obstacles. But the point is, if you get the right people on the path, then you don’t need to micro-manage. (This is gender-neutral advice)
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful to who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
At the risk of sounding cheesy, I’d say it’s my husband. He’s an entrepreneur and start-up guy. We’ve both been working hard at developing our individual careers since we met and he has always pushed me to take the next step. Whenever there’s a fork in the road for me, he’s the first person whose advice I seek. And he’s the first person to tell me to go for the bigger option and push me forward to seek bigger and better things. When I decided to go to business school in Boston, he essentially organized his own study plans around mine and came to Boston with me.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I am very involved in meeting with fellow entrepreneurs — very often female entrepreneurs — and offering advice. I wouldn’t call myself a mentor, but the entrepreneur community in Boston knows I’m always available to answer questions and offer guidance. It’s not unusual for me to wind up on hours-long phone calls or in meetings with young professionals who want advice on everything from making career changes to how to manage work/life balance. I’ve met one-on-one with dozens of young entrepreneurs and it’s very rewarding and humbling to help people on their path.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- The importance of prioritizing. I should have learned a lot sooner than I did that some tasks are more important and more essential than others.
- Always smile. It’s advice nobody likes to hear, but I think everybody needs to smile more often. It’s just a great way to indicate to new people you meet that you come in peace and you are ready to cooperate with them. Smiling also helps you keep your cool in stressful situations. It’s as vital as taking a deep breath sometimes.
- Don’t overshoot for perfection when you’re on a tight deadline. When project deliverables are time-sensitive, sometimes you have to let the perfectionist in you take a break. Having a very good result on time is better than having a perfect one a week late.
- Remember to step back and look at the big picture. When you’re figuring out the minutiae of day-to-day tasks, it’s important to never lose sight of overall goals. Remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing.
- Aim for both short term gains and long term successes. It definitely helps to have a dual-track brain and to keep both of these goals in mind. Think your short term gains as the building blocks to a long term achievement.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’d like to see more representation of women in cybersecurity. I’d like more women in our space to understand that it’s not about work/life balance, but more about work/life integration. You don’t have to give up one to get the other. You’re just going to have to understand neither is going to be perfect. As a woman with three kids in a senior management position, I still feel pretty comfortable with how I live my life. If you learn how to integrate work and home life, a satisfying hybrid can be found.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“There are no shortcuts to any place worth going” — Beverly Sills
I have always worked hard to get to where I was going — whether it was for my career, my academics, even in my personal life. The reward is so much better, and more importantly — I enjoy the journey to get there because the journey itself is challenging and fulfilling.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
Jennifer Lee (director of Frozen) — As a mom of three young kids, we’ve watched Frozen 1 and 2 a million times. I love movies and think they portray strong women. I’d love to hear how Jennifer thought about the screenplay and how she thought about the growth of the characters, especially between the two.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.