Securing Business and Building Relationships
Mitchelle Schanbaum serves as Chairman of the Board, and CEO of Specialized Security Services (S3), the world’s largest independent women-owned cyber security firm, which she co-founded with her husband, Scott in 1999. S3 develops and maintains custom-tailored cyber security programs, to elevate security to where it belongs—top of mind and top down. S3 works with the Executive Boards of most industries. Their goal is to prevent criminals from stealing data and compromising their clients’ networks.
Mitchelle asserts, “Criminal syndicates are developing more complex hierarchies, partnerships, and collaborations that mimic large private sector organizations or are part of the crime-for-service for government-backed initiatives. We work to assist our clients by ensuring their cybersecurity program is robust and appropriate for their organization, while also being efficient and cost-effective. We believe the benefits of investing in prevention far outweigh the cost of data loss.” For over two decades, Mitchelle and her dedicated team have successfully assisted organizations with the implementation and oversight of their cyber security, information security, privacy, and regulatory compliance programs. She and her team provide trusted advice and project management in all areas of cyber security, information security and compliance such as PCI, NIST, GDPR, and HITRUST. S3 is global cyber security firm with headquarters in both Dallas, TX and Europe.
Mitchelle traces her curiosity and interest in cyber security back to her time in college. She was recruited by a large Fortune 100 Company to assist in creating technology that was at the forefront of instant credit. This marked the beginning of her career that involved both technology and the management of private data. However, in those days the industry was new and experiencing dramatic growth and change. Mitchelle shares, “Scott and I worked for other technology firms who were going public, going under, being bought and sold. One year we had six different W2’s, but had never actually changed jobs—that’s how many times our department changed hands. In fact, it was after the company we worked for went under while going public that we made the decision to open S3. We had succeeded in establishing strong relationships with our clients who encouraged us to open our own business. They trusted us as their cyber security advisors and wanted to work with us, regardless of which company employed us.”
Their families were naturally worried as they were stepping out and leaving highpaid positions with benefits and job security. However, coming from entrepreneurial families, both Mitchelle and her husband understood the risks and potential rewards of owning a company. Ultimately, they decided to take a leap of faith and moved forward with the idea. She adds, “This was the best mistake I ever made- opening a company with my husband. It was a risk, and one that many, many people around me said could be the worst decision for our relationship; however, it has helped me to grow as a wife, partner, and mother. I’m better with Scott by my side in both business and life.” All along the way, Mitchelle says that she has found strength by looking inward. But when she gets stuck, she relies on her husband and management team to help her see the light at the end of the tunnel, the authenticity behind their mission and what they are seeking to achieve. She shares, “Sometimes the challenges we face force us to find new and better paths to our goal we never considered. We may take the scenic route or change directions entirely, but there is always something to be learned along the way.”
As a woman in the late ’90s and leading a company in a predominantly male-dominated industry, Mitchelle worked hard to gain the trust, respect and reputation for her new firm. She shares, “Some of the larger corporations had reservations with hiring us initially, but our relationships with our clients were strong. We stayed true to ourselves, used every opportunity when they underestimated us to prove otherwise and stayed the course. Ultimately, I’m proud to say, we’ve formed lasting partnerships with C-level executives at some of the largest firms in the world, who take us with them as their trusted security advisors as they move from one organization to another– all by doing what we do best and prioritizing that personal relationship.”
Another significant challenge Mitchelle mentions is balancing the many roles women play: “boss, co-worker, mentor, advisor, but also daughter, wife, mother and now a grandmother.” She juggles business and family by waking up at 4:30 am daily. This allows her time to get her home in order, walk the dogs and prepare herself before the day begins. After that, she has a 7 am call with her executive assistant to ensure she is prepared for her schedule and meetings. Moving forward, she starts her workday with a daily meeting of the Executive Management Team at the office to make sure all issues are known and prioritized accordingly. Mitchelle says, “Like most CEOs, my day is full of both internal and external meetings, so I designate the last hour of my workday to catching up on email or any items that need my attention. When the workday is over, I strive to leave the CEO role at work and focus on my role as wife, mom, and grandmother. I like to cook and spend time with my family and dogs.
Mitchelle also enjoys reading to open her mind and gain new ideas whenever she has time. Here, she talks about her favorite book and why she recommends it to all her colleagues, “Death by Meeting A Leadership Fable…about Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business by Patrick Lencioni—This book helped our organization understand how to schedule our essential meetings so that we have time to perform our jobs. It gives great guidance on how to structure productive meetings for teams. The companion book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, also by Patrick Lencioni is another favorite. It helps to develop good communication skills and assists with goal setting and ownership for executives.”
As a mother, grandmother, wife, and CEO; Mitchelle has successfully learned how to prioritize and perform all these roles, and by doing so, how to encourage other women to get into this incredible industry. She says, “There is so much importance and value in creating a company comprised of diverse staff from all ethnicities, walks of life, industries, etc. There are valuable skills learned in other areas that can be leveraged in my company once trained.” Reflecting on her journey and success, Mitchelle shares advice for how to thrive as a women leader:
“Women in the workplace need to avoid looking at other women as competition. We need to communicate respectfully, mentor each other and treat everyone with respect and integrity.”
“Work on your communication skills— speak clearly, have an agenda and be organized. Avoid being emotional whenever possible and try not to take things personally.”
“If you want to move into upper management, recognize that actions speak louder than words.”
“Learn how to balance professional life with your personal life and do not use either as an excuse. Always be prepared to do the job regardless of where you are.”
“We need to be better about not giving too much information. Your child may be sick, but rather than calling in and saying you will not make your deadline because your child is sick (problem + excuse), give a solution instead. E.g., Tell your supervisor that you will be out with a sick child, but that you will work from home and deliver your reports tomorrow afternoon (problem + solution). Management is looking for way makers and problem solvers. Women are expert multitaskers and need to take advantage of that.”
Principles for Sustainable Success
Finally, Mitchelle believes that the most important secret to success is to own your path and never stop learning. She concludes by sharing her career success tips with aspiring entrepreneurs:
“Make self-education a priority. If you are unfamiliar with new technology, it’s your responsibility to go out and learn about it.”
“Developing intrapersonal skills is crucial. Work on being a great communicator—keep your language productive and non-judgmental as much as possible.”
“Great leaders must also be able to recognize when they are the problem and get out of their own way. If you create a bottleneck where everything must have your approval and your deadlines are shot, take a step back and ask yourself if you need to be the final say on everything. Who else can you trust with that task?”
“If you don’t have those people around you, go out and find them. Create a strong team you can rely on.”
“We all make mistakes. Being able to own them, humble yourself and apologize is a vital skill, regardless of who the apology is for—clients, employees, colleagues and even family.”
“Be willing to listen to the concerns of others, especially your trusted advisors.” “Learn not to take everything personally. Not every idea, initiative or employee is going to work out. That’s okay and a part of doing business. Be nimble enough to pivot direction,” says Mitchelle, “dust your shoulders off and keep going.”