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Rita Gurevich of SPHERE: “Be a mentor!”

When it comes to building a business, women have a different perspective than men, and we need to use our strengths rather than hide them. By nature, women are more nurturing than men, and we can build solutions that not only solve the problem but also allow us to partner with customers to be more […]

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When it comes to building a business, women have a different perspective than men, and we need to use our strengths rather than hide them. By nature, women are more nurturing than men, and we can build solutions that not only solve the problem but also allow us to partner with customers to be more successful. Women naturally take a more long-term view of success and build businesses to last. I also think our natural maternal instincts bode well in the business world. For example, customer empathy is a theme for how we interact and build solutions for our clients. We are problem solvers, and I think the maternal side of many women’s character helps bridge the gap between customer requirements and the proper solution to deliver.


As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rita Gurevich.

As the CEO and founder of SPHERE, Rita Gurevich is charged with leading the strategic growth of the organization in providing business-critical governance, security and compliance solutions to customers spanning multiple geographic locations and industry verticals.

Gurevich is the recipient of multiple honors and awards, including recognition for her entrepreneurial skills from Ernst & Young LLP and SmartCEO, along with her inclusion on the NJBIZ 40 Under 40 list in 2017. In addition, Gurevich sits on the Board of Directors for the New Jersey Technology Council.

Rita is an alumna of the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ program, which identifies ambitious women entrepreneurs and provides them with the guidance, resources and access they need to unlock their full potential.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I began my career at Lehman Brothers, which is a name some younger folks may not recognize. But most of us will remember when it declared bankruptcy during the financial crisis of 2008 and sold off its assets. Many don’t realize that while the business assets had to be divided among the various buying entities, so did the technology assets. I was there for the bankruptcy and the aftermath and was part of a SWAT team that had to figure out how to desegregate and disperse all the IT assets, including data, systems, applications, servers and platforms. It was a massive undertaking to analyze what and how to segment and distribute to its new owners.

The reality was that no one understood who had access to what data, who owned what, or what business area it belonged in, and this represented a huge security governance and security risk as well, as their sensitive data could easily be compromised given the lack of oversight in addition to challenges around finding its home in the proper buying entity.

After 2008, we saw new regulations implemented in the wake of the crisis to better regulate the financial industry to prevent this type of situation from happening again, along with all the regulatory requirements to protect sensitive data and implement proper access controls so key data and assets don’t end up in the wrong hands. We also saw an increase in cyber-attacks and data breaches that continue to this day. Organizations began recognizing the need for more effective access management, and I created SPHERE to help them manage this issue.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

When I began SPHERE, we were simply a professional services organization analyzing and remediating access control issues for our clients. We used their existing deployed software to help accomplish this task, but in my heart, I knew there was a better way. It became obvious to me that there were technologies out there that provided bits and pieces of the necessary functionality, but these software companies clearly had never actually done the types of projects we were tasked with and at the scale and scope that needed to be done. There are so many nuances and edge cases, and the existing products couldn’t handle all of this. We found ourselves in an interesting predicament and decided to solve this problem ourselves.

So, after seven years of being a service provider, we created SPHEREboard, a purpose-built software solution designed by people that had been doing these projects since SPHERE’s inception, to plug the holes that other products could not and simplify the process. The automation allowed us to analyze and fix access control issues much faster and with a lot more accuracy. I was able to design the software based upon our years of experience helping our clients. The evolution of SPHERE into a software and service company that offers our clients a complete solution has been challenging and fascinating, and it has been critical to our success today.

Few companies can provide the value of automation along with expertise and thought leadership to make sure these programs are completed successfully and, more importantly, provide a solution to maintain an evergreen state.

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?

After we landed a handful of new customers, we decided to hold a customer appreciation luncheon where we set up a virtual meeting at noon on a Friday. We thought it would be fun to have a casual get-together and let customers network with each other. It was our first attempt at bringing folks together across different organizations and companies. We forgot one important element: the food! So, the day before, we were scrambling to get addresses and learn about specific meal preferences and any dietary restrictions. Needless to say, it was a mess.

A gentleman who was following the Atkins diet somehow received a hefty portion of pasta. One woman who was vegan mistakenly received a prime rib platter. The customer who follows a strict kosher diet was delivered a sandwich with bacon. It was a huge challenge, but fortunately, the customers were patient and understanding. The lesson I learned was that details matter, no matter how minor they may seem. Also, we developed a simple checklist for account managers to follow when setting up events for their customers that we still use to this day!

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 about that?

That is one of the most truthful statements, especially for me. I started my company as the sole contributor and decided organic growth was my journey. I am a technologist by trade and did not have a business background. I studied computer science and mathematics, but I did not get an MBA! As we started to grow, I knew there was a missing piece to my puzzle.

Through networking, I met Adnane Charchour, a successful entrepreneur who started and sold his FinTech company and was sitting on boards for companies in my ecosystem. I had never thought about bringing on an advisor for myself before meeting Adnane. We immediately connected, and I learned that he had sat in my shoes before, had interesting solutions for problems I had never encountered before and, most importantly, has a good heart and great instincts. What surprised me most is how hands-on he was, giving me the opportunity to brainstorm and providing great advice on almost a daily basis.

When we decided to partner with ForgePoint Capital in 2020, Adnane also made that experience go so smoothly because he had done this before and understood what information needed to be compiled and how it should be presented to help explain our story effectively. Adnane continues to be a close partner for myself and for SPHERE as a whole, and he sits on the Board of Directors, continuing to provide immeasurable value for the company.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I am a big fan of Barbara Corcoran and have read all of her books. I find her style to be light and airy, but her words are purposeful and come from personal experiences. She has a way of looking at a problem and finding creative solutions. Her commonsense approach just makes sense to me. Even though I am not in the real estate business, I still find that many challenges and obstacles are universal across all industries. She just “gets it,” and I love that she wasn’t born into her position as an entrepreneur and businesswoman. Instead, she built her own empire, and her story is fascinating and inspiring.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“Who you are tomorrow begins with what you do today”

Throughout my entire journey starting and growing my baby, SPHERE, there have been lots of emotional moments, many ups and some downs as well, and many opportunities to self-reflect. I have learned that self-reflection is very important because nobody makes the right decision 100% of the time. I know I surely have made mistakes, and that’s OK. Sometimes you learn more fixing a mistake than simply making a different call at the onset. With that, you must stay calm and steady and think objectively.

Most importantly, many problems don’t get fixed in a day, and it’s quite stressful trying to perfectly map out the details exactly as you expect things to occur. So, the quote signals to me that it’s OK to sometimes just think about today and what’s immediately in front of you. Also, the quote to me resonates when I am presented with making a tough decision and doing something I don’t want to do but that I know betters the company as a whole. To summarize, I don’t have one specific story that sticks out, but instead it’s the entire story and more of a life motto that I try to follow religiously.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I am a big believer in giving back, and I have made charitable events a big part of our networking and brand building efforts. Our events all support the Liberty Humane Society and give us the opportunity to network with our clients and give back to our community. I am also a big believer in making where you work a destination and not a burden. We call ourselves SPHERENation, and we do a lot of team building and celebratory events to promote our success. With the growth we have seen over the past few years, it is important that we keep that entrepreneurial and family feel that has been a big part of our success.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I think it is about mentorship. I know I would not be where I am today without the guidance of so many people, and it is important that we all pass on our knowledge and our experience to those who are willing to take a risk and venture out on their own.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

I feel I am practicing what I preach in my latest blog for International Women’s Day. I talked about my resolution to mentor other women. I also have made a commitment to the women who work for me to help them develop and design their own career path and to use my network to help them whenever I can.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

When it comes to building a business, women have a different perspective than men, and we need to use our strengths rather than hide them. By nature, women are more nurturing than men, and we can build solutions that not only solve the problem but also allow us to partner with customers to be more successful. Women naturally take a more long-term view of success and build businesses to last. I also think our natural maternal instincts bode well in the business world. For example, customer empathy is a theme for how we interact and build solutions for our clients. We are problem solvers, and I think the maternal side of many women’s character helps bridge the gap between customer requirements and the proper solution to deliver.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

Be a mentor! I talked about this before, but we have to provide guidance to those who are taking the risk to start their own venture.

Be active! Be committed to groups and organizations in support of young women entrepreneurs.

Be a nurturer! It is just as important to help guide and work with women who work for you to help them establish their own career path and create their own future.

Be an example! Some of the best lessons I learned were from understanding the path of those who have taken that step and blazed the trail for others.

Keep moving forward! The more success we achieve, the more women we can attract to this industry.

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 am personally passionate about animal rescue, protection and, of course, safe adoption. I also believe that animals bring incredible value to many who struggle with mental health challenges. My movement would be to help bring even more awareness to animal cruelty, focusing on proper enforcement of the law and providing more incentives to adopt instead of buy. I also am passionate about educating the public on some of the misconceptions around certain breeds of dogs that are thought of as dangerous, in order to help more of these pups find forever homes.

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.

Barbara Corcoran! I actually sat in the front row of a panel discussion she participated in at the 2006 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® gala in Palm Springs. She spoke so openly and from the heart that I feel like I have met her already. But, the opportunity to speak with her directly would be the experience of a lifetime.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

https://www.linkedin.com/company/sphere-technology-solutions/
https://www.linkedin.com/in/ritagurevich/

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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