7 Questions with Aaron Birnbaum
Name: Aaron Birnbaum
Current title: Chief Security Officer
Current organisation: Seron Security
Aaron Birnbaum is an experienced technology professional with over 30 years of experience leading high-performing technical and non-technical teams developing strategy, understanding technology and cyber security across multiple industries. He has worked with companies in size from Fortune 500 to several small startups across a number of industries. He is an entertaining public speaker that engages the audience and helps explain a clear plan of action.
A published author, experienced public speaker, IT-security evangelist, trusted advisor and personal mentor. Mr. Birnbaum has a Bachelors degree from Oswego and a Master’s degree from the University of Denver. He is currently the Founder and Chief Security Officer for Seron Security.
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader of a small or medium enterprise?
The most challenging part of many businesses (including mine) is customer acquisition - sales. It is an ongoing challenge to stay motivated to continue to bring in new clients, deal with rejection, and walk away from people that I know I would have helped. I know how hard it is to run a small business. I also know how quickly a business could suffer - or go out of business. I really do want to help small and medium sized businesses out, but some people won't let me.
2. How did you become a leader of an SME? Can you please briefly tell the story?
For 15 years, I had been running a small software company I started in 2003. In January of last year, I found myself in a position to do something new. I just wasn't sure what to do. I have extensive experience in a number of roles in several industries-mostly technology related. I have worked in Fortune 100 companies and started a few of my own endeavors.
Having been the victim of a cyber attack several years ago, I spent a lot of time learning about cybersecurity and 'hacking' to try to understand what had happened, how it had happened and how to prevent it in the future. I enjoyed reading about some of the breaches and the amazing things that people were doing - both maliciously and to help protect people and businesses.
While trying to decide what my next move was going to be, I was literally walking down the main street of the State Capital with my wife. I kept looking in windows at stores and seeing a number of small businesses with storefronts, or signs indicating that they had an office in the building. There had been a few stories in the news recently discussing breaches and criminal hackers and I wondered out loud, "Who helps these people out with their cybersecurity?".
Fast forward 13 months later, and Seron Security is a Managed Security Provider and consultant to small businesses throughout New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
7:30 Wake up, go feed dog, walk dog.
8:30 Breakfast/family time
9:10 Daily morning team call
9:30 Review emails, respond as necessary
12:30 Food break
1:00 Research and test technologies
3:00 Sales/marketing call
4:00 Daily evening team call
4:30 Family time
8:00 Review emails, respond as necessary
11:00 Study for exams
12:00 Read recreationally
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
That one person can not do everything themselves. Going from a 'small, cheap start up' mentality, I have literally done everything. I got good people in the positions that they excelled at and I learned that in trying to do everything, I was just hurting the business instead of helping it.
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?
The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy is my favorite book. Not only is the story great, but the writing literally brought me to tears and to laughter the first few times I read it.
The book addresses a number of issues, but the way that the 'team' works together is inspirational. In spite of the fact that the main characters come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, they all support each other and do what is important for the 'team' to succeed.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in an SME?
Hire great people and trust them to do their jobs. Find out what motivates them and what their goals are. Delegate those things that you don't excel at. Communication is key. Praise them when they excel, but encourage when they don't meet expectations. Lead by example when necessary.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader of an SME so far?
When I was first getting started, I was talking with a vendor who mentioned laughing at an article on LinkedIn by a well known person in my industry. I went and read the article and other postings that this person had written and enjoyed them for their forthrightness.
On a lark, I sent a message over LinkedIn and just mentioned that I enjoyed the articles, I had started a new practice focused on small businesses and if any person had any advice or suggestions, they were welcome to reply.
I never expected a reply-other than possible a 'thanks'.
This person replied in 30 minutes with a few paragraphs of support and encouragement. I was amazed and found out later that this new industry is very supportive of its members - new and established. For me it was greatly appreciated and I have tried to 'pay it forward'.