The first email and the first virus came into existence almost within a year of each other. Since then, the evolution of cyber applications, cyber security, and cyber threats have been simultaneous and constant. In the 2000s, cyber-attacks gained volume and velocity, making cybersecurity an immediate and serious concern.
Nowadays, cybersecurity has become integral to businesses as cyber risks have become business risks. The demand for cyber professionals has risen significantly, but people with enough depth, understanding, and skills in the arena are critically few.
One such person is Dr. Fene Osakwe, a multiple award-winning Global Tech professional, international conference speaker and Forbes published author with over a decade of experience working with multibillion-dollar companies. He consults for several Financial Institutions, Telecoms and FinTech companies, State Governments, and other Professionals, and sits on the advisory board of several companies across the globe, holding over ten professional IT Certifications.
Fene started his cyber security career as a penetration tester and rapidly progressed into senior management in nine years. He is now a much-acclaimed conference speaker in Africa and other parts of the world. He has spoken at over 43 international conferences and has won several awards locally and internationally. In 2021, Dr. Fene was awarded an honorary Doctor of Business Administration (Leadership and innovation) from the Swiss School of Business Geneva for his exceptional leadership skills and continuous innovation.
Fene is a member of the Forbes Technology Council and is an advisory board member on several boards within and outside Africa. He mentors hundreds of career professionals with a mission to help career professionals rise from fresh graduates to executive management.
He is also the author of the book “Climbing the corporate ladder with speed,” an Amazon best seller for career professionals, where he breaks down principle and practical steps to set career goals, accelerate career progress and get to senior and executive management in less than ten years.
Let’s delve into his journey!
The Journey of Hope and the Success of Relatability
Fene likes to call his journey as a journey of hope – to come from nothing to becoming Africa’s most sought-after cybersecurity advisor – the journey wasn’t an easy one. He had to face several challenges, like a lack of belief and being taken advantage of due to his young age when he started out, lack of finances for basic needs of life, and encountering people who had hero syndrome. Still, Fene retains a positive and resilient outlook to it all, saying, “Ultimately, I think these challenges only make us stronger.”
Fene began his professional career as a cybersecurity specialist with Deloitte Nigeria consulting for various multinationals in Financial services, Tech and Oil and gas. He moved on to MTN (Africa’s largest Mobile Telecommunication operator) as a Business Risk Manager in 2017. He then over to IHS towers in 2018 and rose to Director level, setting up two Functions from scratch – the IT Security Function and the IT GRC Function and maturing same to the level of listing on the New York stock exchange. In June 2022, he was invited into the exclusive Forbes Technology council – an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs, and technology executives. Making him one of the few people to make the Tech Council in their 30s. Fene was vetted and selected by a review committee based on his depth, diversity, and wealth of experience in Information Technology and Cyber Security.
Fene’s fast acceleration up the corporate ladder perhaps comes from his ease of translating cybersecurity technical “jargons” into immensely relatable examples anybody could easily comprehend. It certainly got him invited to speak at a lot of different conferences.
Fene shares, “As I grew up in the industry and started interfacing with other cybersecurity professionals, I noticed there’s a lot of excitement when cyber people come together and talk about cyber. But when they talk to management and other people, that excitement does not translate. It was clear that there was a missing link somewhere. So, what I do when I speak is that I make cybersecurity relatable. I use examples and scenarios to create real-life scenarios and connect it to an executive or to a non-technical person.”
Demonstrating that relatability, Fene told us about an interaction he had at one of the places he goes to advise executive management on cybersecurity with a Chief Financial Officer who wasn’t going for an awareness session.
Fene said to the CFO, “Oh, why are you not going for the awareness session? It’s a cyber awareness session.” The CFO replied, “Everything they’re talking about there, I know. There’s no big problem. They’re just going to tell us not to click on links.” “What kind of sports do you like?” asked Fene. “Boxing” came as the answer.
At that time, Tyson Fury had a fight with Deontay Wilder. So Fene said, “Deontay Wilder was actually a fantastic boxer, but he lost the match just because he met a better boxer on the day. What we are doing with the awareness is… we know you are aware. We know you know it. We’re just trying to make you better. Because if we are not careful, the hackers out there are going to knock us out simply because we thought we were too good, but on the day – they were better.”
And the CFO left his seat and went for the awareness session simply because Fene was able to make him relate to it. This is what Fene thinks needs to be done to make cybersecurity relatable to people in their everyday lives.
Foundation and Mentoring
Fene has been just awarded the Cybersecurity Mentor of the Year in the UAE for 2022. He says that for him mentoring comes from a place of care because when he started his journey a decade ago, there was nobody to look up to in the industry for him.
But rather than shout and despair about the darkness, Fene chooses to light a candle and mentor young people. Soon, he found himself not only mentoring young professionals in cybersecurity but also people in business and from different career fields.
Fene is also launching a foundation to educate the African children. He says, “My foundation really is to empower the African child to education because not every school in Africa is free like in the Western world where you have a lot of free education when you are a child. It is not that way in Africa. So, we are trying in the little ways we can to be able to pay the school fees for children under 15 to go to school.”
The interest in guiding, advising, and mentoring has led Fene to write the book ‘Climbing the Corporate Ladder with Speed’ which is about career acceleration and achieving career success quickly. Fene speaks about what motivated the book.
“Where I come from in Africa, we have a lot of successful people who tell you that they are successful and what they have and whom they used to be and who they are now, but we don’t have examples of how. How did you go from having one dollar to having a million dollars? How did you go from being a university graduate or a college graduate to being an executive in a multinational? How did you go from a tenant to owning an estate? How did you go from starting your career knowing nothing to becoming an industry leader, and being invited to speak at conferences all around the world? The how was missing.”
“So, I decided to document my “how” with regards to my career, which has been very accelerated. I moved from entry-level to executive management in ten years, across multibillion dollar companies. What did I do? What mistakes did I make? What kind of interviews did I fail at? What interview did I succeed at? How do I engage with executive management? What are the things to do as an entry-level? Mid management and senior management. How do you set career goals? How do you change your career path. So what I did in this book was document how, and I’m thankful that it’s getting a good reception on Amazon from all over the world. The goal really is just to make a lot more people successful in their careers.”
Changing the CISO Role
If he could, Fene would change two things fundamentally in the cybersecurity field. “First, I would make sure that the CISO role, the Chief Information Security Officer, does not report to anybody less than the CEO in every organization simply because the cyber risk is business risk. Cyber risk is not technology risk. So, the CISO should not be reporting to the CIO. The CISO should report to the chief executive officer of the business.”
“The second thing is I would take the responsibility of the data protection officer from the CISO. I see a lot of CISOs being made the DPO of the organization. Data protection, for me, is primarily a legal issue. Are there security requirements? Yes, but fundamentally, data protection is a legal issue. For example, the ISO 27,0001 certification is a cybersecurity certification, but there are a lot of HR and procurement requirements in there. Still, it does not make it a procurement certification and is owned by cyber security. Similarly, data protection should be owned by legal, and then the security requirements from a security perspective should be given to legal or DPOs should be lawyers.”
Fene also thinks the term cybersecurity will begin to fade out, and the term cyber resilience will proliferate instead. Businesses will begin to understand that security will simply fail because risks and threats evolve every day, making it hard to cope. So the emphasis would be on ensuring the continuation of business operations even in the case of cybersecurity breaches.
Fene is in the process of starting his own consulting company, as he already does a lot of freelance for boards and executive management. He is venturing into board advisory on a lot of start-up boards. He also wants to open a career accelerator and training school for cyber professionals. He says, “I plan to mentor the next generation of cybersecurity professionals.”
Advice from the Advisor
“My advice would be that you can be whatever it is you have imagined you want to be. There are a few ingredients to that. The first is you. First, you need to decide what it is you want to be. If you want to venture into the cyber security field, fantastic. The next thing is that you need to be disciplined and stay focused because there are a lot of things in our world today that distract us. The third thing is that you should get mentorship, and you should get people who have the proof that they have succeeded on this journey that you are embarking on, to guide you. And the fourth thing is to make sure that you apply to jobs, roles, and companies with a track record of helping careers, not destroying them,” concludes Fene.
“When I speak about cyber, I make cybersecurity relatable. I use real-life and business scenarios and examples such that an executive, business owner or a non-technical person can understand its business implication”