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Armed for success: From the US military to a career in technology

Armed for success: From the US military to a career in technology

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On the lighter side of things we ask Brigadier General (Ret) Gregory Touhill, President of Appgate Federal, about what makes him tick.

Brigadier General (Ret) Gregory Touhill, President of Appgate Federal

What would you describe as your most memorable achievement?

On a personal level, it definitely has to be being married for over 33 years to my best friend and our two wonderful and successful children. From a career perspective, the day I was nominated by President Bush for promotion to Brigadier General was really special.

What first made you think of a career in technology?

As a child of the 1960s, I was inspired by NASA and the space program. While my eyesight wasn’t good enough to become an astronaut, I knew that I wanted to be a technologist.

What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?

Throughout my career, I’ve found it best to lead-by-example. I like to surround myself with a diverse team of really talented people and give them direction and the resources to do some amazingly great things. I haven’t deviated from that approach as I pivoted from my military career to civilian federal service and (now) to the private sector.

What do you think is the current hot technology talking point?

Zero Trust is no longer a buzz phrase, it is a business imperative. I’m constantly asked to comment on how to apply Zero Trust to a wide range of operating environments such as Information Technology, operational technology, industrial control systems and Internet of Things.

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?

Despite a 2018 car accident that forced my retirement from my morning jogging, I invest time in exercise every morning. During my workouts I am catching up on all those television shows that I missed while deployed overseas in the military. Game of Thrones was terrific. Star Wars Clone Wars is surprisingly good!

If you could go back and change one career decision what would it be?

I’m very satisfied with how my career has progressed yet wish that I had added a Master of Business Administration to my repertoire of tools.

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in your industry?

In 2021, I forecast the following four areas of investment in the Information Technology and cybersecurity sector:
• Secure Remote Access: As ‘Work From Anywhere’ is institutionalized across society, we’re already seeing investments in more modern, effective and secure capabilities such as Software-Defined Perimeters while retiring increasingly vulnerable and expensive Virtual Private Network technology.
• Pivot to the cloud: Organizations will accelerate their retirement of expensive and failing on-premises technology as they migrate to IaaS, PaaS and SaaS. As they make that pivot, the demand for a Zero Trust security implementation in the cloud will continue to swell.
• Workforce Development: With ISC2’s 2020 Annual Cyber Workforce Study indicating a worldwide cyber workforce gap of 3.1 million, organizations are investing in a variety of initiatives to attract, recruit, retain and develop the skilled workforce they need to execute their missions.
• Simplicity: I’m finding that both public and private sector organizations are rethinking how they execute their Information Technology and cybersecurity missions. Complexity of architectures, systems and devices is crushing them, driving up frustration, cost and risk. As such, I’m seeing the ground swell of what I believe will be a large wave of investments as organizations retire aging, expensive and brittle infrastructure in favor of technologies that are less complex for both the users and operators, less expensive and more secure against modern threats.

What are the region-specific challenges when implementing new technologies in North America?

Recognizing that North America is comprised of Canada, Mexico and the USA, the challenges generally are focused on the infrastructure sector and country. For example, the United States and Canada have linked their electrical distribution grids so, in that sector, the industry must take into account the regulatory regimes of both countries. In the transportation sector, where ground systems are used to ship goods and products across the national borders, companies are sensitive to spectrum management between the countries to maintain continuity of operations. Now, with GDPR and other privacy legislation having a global impact, North American businesses are sensitive to the challenges associated with managing data.

What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?

While I haven’t had an actual change in my job role in the last year, how I’ve executed that role has changed significantly due to the COVID19 pandemic. Like many others, I’ve had to make the pivot to a work from home environment while still being expected to engage in the necessary business functions to keep our organization healthy. My team and I have had to be creative with things like business development activities, customer engagement and support, thought leadership, product development, sales and sales engineering, marketing, etc. We’re fortunate to be 222.6% over last year at the end of the third quarter yet recognize we can’t become complacent. We must continually strive for ways to better serve our customers when we are separated by computer screens.

What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain a C-level position in your industry?

A couple of thoughts:
o Be flexible: The job you’ll have in 10 years from now hasn’t be invented yet. You’ll invent it. Invest in developing your understanding of business, finance, law, communications and psychology in addition to your technical skills. Stay current in your tech skills yet don’t forget that breadth and depth of experience makes the best C-level officer.
o Be resilient: Nobody wants to hire a C-level officer who hasn’t learned how to maintain their composure in times of crisis or adversity. I highly value the executive who has failed, got back up, applied lessons learned and excelled.
o Be curious: Expand your bubble to better understand the world around you. As a C-level leader you are not expected to be an expert on everything except being able to put together great teams that execute together well. You can’t develop that ability by staying inside your own bubble. Ask a lot of questions. Seek out the experts and learn from them.
o Be genuine: Most of the people in the technology industry have a strong sense of smell; they know BS when they come across it. Ensure you treat people with dignity and respect at all times. People respect leaders who are forthright and honest. They admire and follow those who are modest and subordinate themselves for the team and the mission. Those who select C-level leaders (and as a member of a Board of Directors Nominating Committee, I do this) frequently ‘ask around’ to see if the candidates indeed are ‘genuine’ leaders.

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