Rear Admiral Robert “Bob” E. Day Jr of BlackBerry Corporation: “Let’s elevate the standing of educators, especially those in K-12, to bring them on par with some of the more important contributors to our society”

I would elevate the standing of educators, especially those in K-12, to bring them on par with some of the more important contributors to our society, and reward them as such. We are failing to make the investment in our children while many other countries our making this a top priority. As part of my […]

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I would elevate the standing of educators, especially those in K-12, to bring them on par with some of the more important contributors to our society, and reward them as such. We are failing to make the investment in our children while many other countries our making this a top priority.

As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rear Admiral Robert “Bob” E. Day Jr., United States Coast Guard (retired). Rear Admiral Day is the vice president of cyber security operations services for BlackBerry Corporation where he leads the effort to develop, deploy, and maintain Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) compliant versions of BlackBerry products. Additionally, he has developed a U.S. based Cyber Security Operations Center (CSOC) to monitor all BlackBerry product FedRAMP instances. Prior to his current position, he was the principal at Bob Day and Associates LLC, an Information Technology and Cyber Security consulting practice, where he has assisted a broad range of clients and served as the Executive Director of the Commonwealth of Virginia Cyber Commission. A 34 year veteran of the United States Coast Guard, Rear Admiral Day was the assistant commandant for command, control, communications, computers & information technology, Chief Information Officer, and Commander of Coast Guard Cyber Command from July 2009 until July 2014. Rear Admiral Day holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering from the United States Coast Guard Academy and a Master of Science Degree in Telecommunications Systems Management from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.

Thank you so much for joining us Rear Admiral Day! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was an Advisory Board Member and retained consultant of an exceptionally innovative small California company named Athoc that created an emergency notification and alerting system used by a large percentage of the Federal Government. BlackBerry acquired the company and I was fairly certain that this engagement had run its course. I had been a BlackBerry customer during my Coast Guard CIO time but had not looked at the company in years — I decided to check out this reborn entity, that from media reports was in the midst of a complete pivot from their legacy handset days. One thing that I recognized was BlackBerry was falling behind in the Federal Government movement to FedRAMP cloud solutions, which was what I was assisting Athoc complete. I drafted a two-page white paper detailing why BlackBerry should consider getting their products into the FedRAMP process and create a U.S. based and U.S. citizen staffed CSOC to monitor the system. Three weeks later I was pitching the concept to CEO John Chen and his senior leadership team. Three weeks after that I was a BlackBerry employee charged with implementing exactly what I had written in the white paper.

Can you share your story of Grit and Success? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

Achieving any FedRAMP certification is generally a major challenge for any organization that undertakes the initiative. At first glance, the entire process is daunting because of the myriad of technical solutions that must be implemented, as well as the extensive documentation of compliant processes and procedures that must be demonstrated. BlackBerry knew thatthat federal agencies were really starting to focus on commercially available cloud services and we had to step up our game since we have so many federal customers using an on-premise solution that likely would soon be asking for a FedRAMP cloud solution. It certainly looked like a monumental challenge to embark on this journey but given the security pedigree of BlackBerry products and the amazing engineering teams that really understand cybersecurity and privacy requirements, we were ready to fully meet FedRAMP requirements with a few changes to our core products.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

As I learned more about the UEM product, and especially the unbelievably talented people that create and operate BlackBerry solutions, I was energized to push beyond some of the original hurdles to ensure that a full team effort was generated to get the project moving. I was behind schedule because of some of the intricacies of building a FedRAMP compliant system but had the constant support of senior leadership to achieve this challenging goal.

So, how are things going today? How did Grit lead to your eventual success?

We are firing on all cylinders having just achieved our FedRAMP Ready designation from the FedRAMP Program Management Office (PMO) and now heading into the full FedRAMP authorization process. We have great partners in our Coalfire FedRAMP consultant and Kratos, the Third Party Assessor (3PAO) who provides the independent assessment of our new FedRAMP Ready capability called BlackBerry Government Mobility Suite (BGMS). The key to the current success of this initiative has been several BlackBerry employees who have not only drank the FedRAMP Kool Aid but are now dispensing it to others. I am in debt to these converts who believed in the vision.

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?

Being new to the company, and not having a deep understanding of the technical details of each of the products, I underestimated the embedded security that already existed within the core products that with minor changes would fully meet FedRAMP requirements. It is always a little embarrassing when you’re in a meeting and discussing requirements that must be met and someone pipes up and advises you that we have been meeting that requirement for years.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

People — highly talented and engaged people. During my time at BlackBerry, I have encountered some of the smartest engineers and technical experts I have met in a 39-year technology career. I can’t believe that some of them are coated in bubble wrap to ensure that nothing harms them because they are so essential to the amazing things that are developed each and every day. They have been through a lot as the company has morphed over the last 6 years but they retain a dogged future facing perspective that they will be a key part of the Internet of Things as they secure transactions and ensure privacy. The Senior Leadership Team has been a joy to work for and I am so glad to be a part of this team.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

You already know it and have been told a hundred times……a work life balance is essential to your creativity and contribution to your company, and more importantly your family and friends. Also, please do not underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep — I did not realize the importance of this until later in life.

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 am extremely grateful to several of my bosses in my early years as a Coast Guard officer. They really taught me how to write effectively in a business style to achieve the objectives that we sought. I cannot over emphasize how important clear and effective writing skills are to almost every aspect of business. I am also disappointed at how few effective communicators that I find in today’s business world.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I was fortunate to have a 34-year career in the world’s greatest Coast Guard where each day we saved lives, property, and the environment. This wonderful career positioned me to contribute to BlackBerry where we will secure the data and privacy of people and organizations throughout the world as they interact with the Internet of Things.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  • How hard it was going to be to recruit and retain competent cyber security professionals. It’s like hunting for unicorns and everyone is looking for them.
  • The pace of change in cyber security from both a threat and technology perspective was going to grow exponentially and continue this way for the foreseeable future, which means we have to constantly change with it.
  • How differently I needed to think moving into a publicly traded company from my life long Federal experience; especially a company like BlackBerry that was in the midst of a major pivot.
  • That my leadership experience building new entities like the Coast Guard Cyber Command would be directly applicable to creating our new FedRAMP practice; building a cohesive and responsive team is hard, especially with the cyber talent challenges, but it is the critical factor to success.
  • How satisfying and fun that my second career would be which is a direct result of the exceptional leadership and talent at BlackBerry.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would elevate the standing of educators, especially those in K-12, to bring them on par with some of the more important contributors to our society, and reward them as such. We are failing to make the investment in our children while many other countries our making this a top priority.

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