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Career transitions highlight evolving role of cybersecurity leaders, ET CIO | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware


CISOs are now being treated with newfound respect, not only for their role in ensuring organizational resilience and security but also for their willingness to take on larger, challenging positions within the industry.

Recently, two prominent Indian CISOs have made significant career shifts. Vishal Salvi, former CISO of Infosys (and previously of HDFC Bank), has joined Quick Heal, one of India’s cybersecurity companies, as CEO. Similarly, Agnidipta Sarkar, former group CISO of Biocon (and previously of CMS IT Services), has taken up the position of Vice President CISO Advisory with ColorTokens Inc.Sarkar reflects on his career change, stating that he was fortunate to have strong support from his leadership at Biocon.

“I was lucky to have complete fire cover from my leadership at Biocon. But things can always change. I view each and every challenge as a new one,” he says.

Have there been other such instances?

These instances are not entirely new phenomena. Such transitions have occurred in the past, though they now appear to be more frequent.

Aditya Vardhan, CISO at Jindal Steel, shares his own experience.

“In fact, I made the switch from being a cybersecurity head to a business head and then back to a CISO role almost a decade ago. I took a career break to pursue business management, which facilitated my transition to a business role. While both roles require certain complementary skills, there are specific nuances that leaders should be aware of,” says Vardhan.

Yusuf Hashmi, Group CISO, Jubilant Ingrevia, followed a similar path.

“The same applies to me as well. I served as a CISO from 2014 to 2021. After that, I took on a business/pre-sales role for nearly two years before returning to a CISO position at the group level in 2022,” says Hashmi.

“I was managing the CISO role as well as building the business. In fact, I had set up the security business in the USA in SLK Global Solutions, which is now Coforge,” he says Sanil Nadkarni, cybersecurity leader at Cummins Inc. and former CISO at BYJU’s.

Sanil Nadkarni, a cybersecurity leader at Cummins Inc. and former CISO at BYJU’s, offers a valuable perspective, drawing from his own experience: He has undergone a similar transition in the past, successfully balancing the demands of the CISO role while simultaneously driving business growth.

“I was managing the CISO role as well as building the business. In fact, I had set up the security business in the USA in SLK Global Solutions which is now Coforge,” he says.

What does this trend signify?

It suggests a noticeable shift as CISOs strive to enable digital business by driving critical initiatives that secure and protect enterprises. CISOs are now being treated with newfound respect, not only for their role in ensuring organizational resilience and security but also for their willingness to take on larger, challenging positions within the industry.

Swati Sharma, Leader of the CISO Office at Amazon Pay, shares her perspective: “CISOs bring salesmanship, an outside view, an understanding of the market, and knowledge of competition in many instances. These aspects go beyond mere security. CISOs are generally skilled in people management and have experience leading large teams.”

Specific skills CISOs bring to the table

Undoubtedly, cybersecurity as a business is experiencing rapid growth. Therefore, individuals with deep expertise in cybersecurity are well-positioned to assume leadership roles in this field.

Ganesh Viswanathan, SVP-PMO & CIO at Aithent Technologies Pvt Ltd, adds, “Such roles require well-honed leadership traits such as being a visionary, possessing the ability to build teams, being customer-focused, having excellent communication skills and possessing the ability to manage growth and profitability of the business. All this requires a strong team to achieve the desired business results.”

What next for CISOs?

Upon examining the career trajectory of CISOs, one can observe that they often reach the pinnacle of their profession. However, there is no predefined growth plan beyond that point.

“Personally, I think it is an important milestone. The competencies required at higher levels are not necessarily defined for CISOs and hence this is a significant progress. Most, if not all of us, run our functions as a business with risk management, cost optimization, budgeting and people development becoming our main KPIs. So I see this as a natural progression,” says Hilal Lone, CISO, Razorpay.

Is the phenomenon only restricted to India?

Not at all. It is also occurring in North America and Europe. CISOs and cybersecurity consultants are venturing into security firms or assuming CEO positions. This trend could signify a positive development for the evolution of the CISO role in India. With an increasing number of startups emerging in the cybersecurity domain, industry experts believe that having a seasoned CISO as CEO would be highly beneficial for these startups.

The transition of a CISO to the role of CEO is a possible career trajectory that, while still relatively uncommon, is gaining prominence, particularly with the growing importance of cybersecurity and data protection in the corporate world. This shift underscores the increasing recognition of the critical role that cybersecurity plays in an organization’s overall success and resilience.

  • Published On Jul 11, 2023 at 12:50 PM IST

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