7 Questions with Billy Spears
Name: Billy Spears
Current title: CISO
Current organisation: Alteryx
Mr. Spears is an award-winning industry respected CISO, author, speaker, and podcast host. He currently serves as the chief information security officer of Alteryx. He earned his reputation over two decades of building and transforming Cybersecurity and Privacy programs within the federal government, private, and public sector global organizations. Mr. Spears is an effective executive leader that earns trusted business partnerships and is passionate about architecting strategic solutions, enabling resilience, and incorporating core principles that drive transformation. Mr. Spears believes in raising awareness, influencing positive change, and using forward thinking methods to lead innovation.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
I have always been fascinated at the speed and complexity of managing risks across large businesses while enabling business growth. As a security leader, it is always challenging to balance the ever-increasing number of vulnerabilities with an appropriate security risk mitigation strategy that supports the businesses digital transformation initiatives. It is imperative that security leaders cultivate trust, ensure resilience, and enable the business with quality data.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Throughout my career I have been fortunate to have some amazing mentors, solid managers and supportive colleagues that helped cultivate my approach on leading my area of the business. My journey has been filled with challenging opportunities, overcoming obstacles, finding opportunities, and continuously providing value to each business I have been a part of.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Each day I wake up around 5:30am to make time for purposeful thinking, reviewing the latest security headlines and key departmental metrics, managing a full schedule of meetings, and having dinner with my family. I love spending time learning about their daily adventures and providing a bit of advice, from time to time. These are priceless moments that re-energize my preparation for the next day.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
To be authentic and keep trying. It is appropriate to be passionate about my viewpoints and vital to share the vision. It is okay to not succeed all the time, but important to reflect and learn from those situations to enable future success.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I once asked a mentor what characteristics a person needed to have to be considered a leader. That mentor suggested that I read John Maxwell’s book, “The 5 Levels of Leadership.” After reading that book, I went back to that mentor and explained that I understood the meaning of leadership. He challenged me, over the course of about a year, to apply the principles in the book and meet with him to communicate my results. Over that year my approach to life changed completely. I began to reverse the conventional leadership approach by placing people ahead of positional authority. This book has shown me a path to becoming a servant leader. A servant leader prioritizes the team’s growth and well-being over their own aspirations. This approach has enabled my ability to enhance team engagement while setting people up for success. I am fortunate to be surrounded by smart people solving incredible challenges while working in a company that takes a people-first approach to our business.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
I think this starts with commitment to support leadership growth for each associate within the company that desires to advance. It is vital to spend time guiding, mentoring and improving individual confidence. It is also important to ensure that you set up or seek out formal leadership development programs to nurture their proficiency expansion. I think it is important to inspire associates and earn the permission to become a leadership Sherpa guiding them through their journey.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
Throughout my career, I have encountered numerous occasions where I presented a vision with a roadmap containing challenging objectives and the team reacted by stating that something I said is impossible to achieve. From my perspective that only means they cannot see what is around the corner and it is my privilege to become their Sherpa and guide them through the mountainous terrain. Often the end of that project leads to the same associate stating that we were able to successfully make the impossible possible. These are the moments that I appreciate the most.