Rupal Hollenbeck: « Inclusivity isn’t just good for humanity, inclusivity is good for business »
March 2023 by Yelena Jangwa-Nedelec, Global Security Mag
At CPX 360 in Munich, we had the joy of interviewing Check Point’s new President, Rupal Hollenbeck and with that, the opportunity of getting a glimpse of her 360° view of the company.
Since the age of 10, Rupal has been interested in technology and now, from Check Point’s Board of Directors, to being President of the company, she aims to use her global vision to accelerate business in an inclusive and responsible manner.
Keep reading to learn more about her remarkable approach…
Global Security Mag: What brought you into Cyber Security?
Check Point brought me into Cyber Security. And what brought me to Check Point? Well, after 25 years in technology, (I started when I was ten), I decided to pursue public board service. And a very interesting set of circumstances landed me on the Board of Directors of Check Point. They were looking for someone with experience outside of Cyber Security, but in tech and someone who focused more of their career on go-to-market, on sales, marketing and customer life cycle things. And so I joined the Board of Directors.
Prior to that, I had spent 23 years at Intel, where we had a very large design center in Israel, which I worked very closely with, so there is a strong connection there as well. And so I joined the Board of Directors at the end of 2020 and after about 15 months, decided to join the company. There was an opportunity to take sales, marketing and customer success, and bring them together in one organization, so that you can follow the customer journey from end to end, and that is why I joined.
I didn’t plan to dive into Cyber Security, but I have to tell you it’s probably one of the two most exciting things that’s going on in technology right now. One is Cyber Security and the other one is AI.
GSM: What impresses you the most at Check Point?
By far the technical depth. Because we’re the original cyber security company, you have to realize that it’s not just history, it’s data. Think about what you can do and how you can prevent attacks when you’ve got 30 years of data with you, which is probably the largest treasure trove of data around breaches and bad actors, much more than anybody else.
And because of that, we can turn the tables better than anyone. That is why I get so excited when I’m working with folks like Maya Horowitz, who runs Check Point Research and Threatcloud . Anyone can have AI engines, but the engines need to sit on data, and we’ve got 30 years of it, so that is what impresses me first and foremost, what we can do with that sheer amount of data.
The second thing that struck me, and I saw this while I was on the board, was the key acquisitions. I think we’ve done a really nice job of coupling organic innovation and very smart acquisitions to fill the hole in the portfolio and to create a really comprehensive picture of Cyber Security.
You’ve heard about the three Cs (comprehensive, collaborative, consolidated) this morning, but I was really struck by how comprehensive the technologies really are and how we invested in certain things organically through Dr. Dorit Dor and the R&D Organization. And then we went about plugging the holes, filling the gaps with really good acquisitions, like Avanan, Harmony and Spectral.
GSM: What did your experience on the Board of Directors bring to your new position?
It’s a really good question, sometimes I ask myself that. I think that the more lenses you have on a business, the better you’re able to make decisions. And, even though I didn’t know it, I had been a long time customer of Check Point. I then was on the Board of Directors, and now I’m on the inside.
It’s like having a 360 degree view of the business. I can think about Check Point as a consumer, I can think about Check Point as an employee and I can think about it as a board member. I think the distinct advantage is that I still behave as if I still were at all of these positions, because it helps me to balance the short term needs of the company and the long term ramifications of what I’m doing. I think I came in with a built-in PnL sensitivity, 3 or 5 year long range Plan sensitivity and I think that’s just really helpful.
GSM: What is your main personal goal as president of Check Point?
To get us on an acceleration path for business, so that we’re able to deliver the best customer success possible. And I think about it in two ways, as a business owner and as a shareholder. As a business owner I think about sustaining long term success, which means accelerating our business responsibly, with strong fiscal responsibility. But on the other side, I’m very, very passionate about this area of customer success. And the fact that, at the end of the day, every company has a hero. If you’re in the business of selling toys, the 8 year old child is the hero of your story, because if that child is happy and that child’s parents are happy, you’ve ensured customer success. So I think about it the same way for cyber. I think about the Chief Information Security Officer as the hero of my story. If I have amazing business success in the next 5 years, but if I haven’t made the CISO the hero, it’s a short lived success.
The other way that I measure my success is in my ability to enable all of the 6000+ employees that we have, to become obsessed with customer success. And that means that the CISO’s customer success dashboard is also my dashboard. What does it mean to retain a happy customer? What does it mean to grow the footprint inside that client’s cyber resilience plan and how do I make them successful in front of their board? The CISO is not just reporting to the CIO, they are not just making IT safe, they are making the enterprise safe. So that’s not just the business of the CIO or the CEO, it’s also the business of the Board of Directors and the importance of a cyber resilience plan is a conversation every quarter on the Board and it’s a conversation for the risk committee. That is why making the CISO’s dashboards green should be our obsession.
GSM: I have another question. Representation is very important to me and I’ve seen that you have a fund for South Asian Women. Can you talk a bit about that?
I’m hugely passionate about this area and I’m hugely passionate about the notion of equity and inclusion. It’s important to me as a human being. And I take it with me in everything that I do, therefore inside of Check point as well. First I’ll talk about everything else that I do.
I am a founding LP in a venture fund, called the Neythri Futures Fund, that aims to bring more diversity and inclusion to both sides of the Cap Table in investment. So how do we connect diverse founding teams and diverse funding teams and how do we put them together? I’m very proud of that and our fund is oversubscribed. It is a wonderful opportunity for me also to try my hand at investing and advising companies. And so I’m involved in a nonprofit organization called neythri.org, that focuses on the professional success of women who identify as South Asian, that’s my descent.
And the third thing that I do is teach a class at California State University, called Women in Leadership and it’s about promoting diversity at both undergrad and graduate level. So that’s everything that I do, just because I think it’s good. And it’s kind of my opportunity to give back.
But inside of Check Point, it is so stunning that half of our executive team is women. And these aren’t roles that are considered stereotypically « female roles ». Our Chief HR Officer is a man. Our CIO, Sharon, is a man, our Chief Strategy Officer is a man and our CFO is a man. Everything else is women. Our Head of Corporate Operations, our Chief Product Officer, our Chief Technology Officer and myself. These are really meaningful roles, and if I take my organization, that I’m directly responsible for and I take the Chief Product Officer, that’s over 80% of the company. That’s a huge testament to the company that Gil Shwed has built.
I also think we do a pretty great job of recruiting in a really inclusive manner, both in the US and abroad. We still have work to do. Our Executive ranks, Vice President and above, women like Maya, they represent about 20% of our VPs. I don’t love that. It’s better than the industry average (16%), but we need to be higher. The way they we get higher, is by making sure we don’t have what I refer to as the dumbbell, like when you lift weights, where the weights are at the two ends and the middle is quite skinny. That is how some organizations look. But most organizations look more like a pyramid, with the women down low and as you get higher, it gets smaller and smaller. Well, we’re a little bit of a dumbbell. At the very top end, half of us are women, which is amazing and at the other hand, we recruit women. But something funny happens in the middle and that’s about progression. I really think our opportunity at Check Point is:
Number 1, you can’t be what you can’t see. We can be seen, but we need to take a more active role in progression. We do a really good job with our mentoring programs, but we need to keep pouring more and more into that.
We’ve got some fresh energy, I joined a year ago and my colleague Nataly Kramer just joined a couple of weeks ago and we are really committed to this. I think you’re gonna see a lot of energy in helping women progress.
GSM: I don’t know if you’ve heard about the study « Yes I can! ». It’s a Belgo-German study which shows what happens when children get Gender Fair Job Descriptions vs « normal »/Gender Biased Job Descriptions. To summarize the study, the children were separated in 2 groups, and one of the groups was given traditional job descriptions, with firefighter being masculine and midwife being feminine for example. And the children tended to think the « masculine » jobs were harder and better paid.
But the thing that flabbergasted me the most, was that only a few of them answered positively when asked if they would feel up to the task, when given a masculine job title. I think that is why representation is so important and to rebound on what you said earlier, it’s way more difficult to think of becoming what you don’t see.
I think that’s very telling. And it really starts very, very young, which is why I think the key to creating a more inclusive workforce starts with children, and it starts with education. It really does. When I started my career in tech, I can remember just small things, like saying hey guys, instead of hey team. Or when you refer to events, people often said who’s going to man the booth?
We are not going to man the booth, we’re going to staff the booth. But we become so used to those things and so I think that language shift is needed. I was recently asked by an executive, how many salesmen do you have? And he kept saying salesmen, and I just said well I don’t know, I haven’t counted the men versus the women in this group. These are things, even if they’re not intentional, they can have really detrimental effects. So I would really love to know what that study is, because I think it’s fascinating. And this class that I teach, Women in Leadership is with a tenured professor at the university who does a lot of research, not only on women in leadership roles, but also on people with disabilities. It’s one of her passion area and she does a lot of research on the unconscious bias and that’s fascinating. Even just what is in our vernacular and what we allow to be acceptable.
Do you have a message for our readers?
Well I have lots of messages for your readers! How much time do you have?
No, I would say first of all, cyber resilience is everyone’s business. The need for a strong cyber resilience plan is increasing. It’s about protecting ourselves, protecting our employees, our partners and customers and it’s really a 360 degree proposition. It’s not a set of technology challenges that we have, it’s a set of business challenges that we have, and it’s really everybody’s business. Teaching organizations and people cyber resilience actually starts really young. Those who learn cyber safety at a really young age are more cognizant and aware as they enter the workforce and that highly educated and cyber aware workforce is what’s going to keep us strong. Because at the end of the day, cyber resilience is about people, processes and then tools, and then technology.
The other thing I would say is inclusivity isn’t just good to do for humanity, but inclusivity is good for business. We’re trying to keep organizations of all shapes and sizes secure and organizations are made up of people of all shapes and sizes and colors. And so being really inclusive as a workforce isn’t just good, it’s really good for business too.