Russell Schrader is the former senior vice president and chief privacy officer at Visa. He left the role to take a very different position as general counsel for Commerce Signals, a startup. While there, he's navigated the arduous process of helping lift a company off the ground found a way to streamline his operations and position himself to say yes to new opportunities. That's paid off. In 2018, he was able to take the position as executive director of the National Cyber Security Alliance. Now, Schrader's working on balancing the demands of a startup and his new gig at the NCSA.
Commerce Signals is a startup devoted to connecting advertisers and publishers directly with near-real-time insights from financial institutions. Acknowledging the first two years as general counsel was a heavy lift, Schrader explained how his position at the startup reached a point that allowed him to expand.
He said, “Any startup is a lot of work. It’s about creating something new, figuring out how it works, meeting with all the key stakeholders. Basically, you’re trying to create something from scratch.”
While it’s easy to be inundated with the daily tasks of a demanding job, Schrader said it’s important to stay forward thinking with a career.
“It’s very hard to move from a one-man shop to transition into a leadership role, but I think that happens everywhere. Every chief privacy officer you talk to has probably spent a great amount of time doing the grunt work. It’s important to position yourself strategically in your career, so that you take advantage of the breadth of your vision, rather than just doing the day-to-day work.”
What allowed Schrader to reduce his workload was to template the products and train others to handle various aspects of the work. He said by bringing in people to help with the workload, he is now able to focus on the issues that are most related to his privacy background. The added time allowed him to say yes to a new opportunity.
When Schrader was approached to join as NCSA’s executive director he was quick to answer. He said, “It’s a fantastic organization and a great complement to the privacy and risk work I had done. I knew it would be a really good experience for me.”
The NCSA is a nonprofit focused on public-private partnerships promoting cybersecurity and privacy education and awareness. By working with various stakeholders in government, industry and civil society, the NCSA brings together interested parties in cybersecurity.
Schrader said, “We are now in an era where there are generations that have grown up completely digitally. They have different skills than people who didn’t. With those skills are risks and numerous ways to assess those risks, so we try to meet people in various stages of their lives with appropriate messaging.”
Working with small businesses, individuals, large corporations and government, the NCSA delivers education to empower smart cyber health. The launch of National Cybersecurity Awareness Month, held annually in October, is an example of the type of outreach the NCSA conducts. In partnership with the Department of Homeland Security, the NCSAM delivers a month-long drive to increase awareness of cybersecurity and privacy concerns.
Schrader said this year’s theme is around the idea that protecting the internet is our shared responsibility.
“Everyone has an important role to play in cybersecurity, whether you’re a consumer, business or part of government.” Each week represents a particular approach to the theme, presenting various aspects of cybersecurity. “The line between our online and offline lives is nearly indistinguishable. The choices we make about cybersecurity offline affect what we do online and vice versa. It is all part of a shared responsibility.”
For now, Schrader is able to serve as both general counsel to one and executive director to another, proving that balance can be found if the setup is deliberate.
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