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Esther Schagen-van Luit

Esther Schagen-van Luit

Esther Schagen-van Luit, CISO at Deloitte Netherlands & Belgium

  • Location: Haarlem, Netherlands 

  • Title: Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) 

  • Company: Deloitte 

  • Sector: Professional Services, IT 

  • Degree: BA in Liberal Arts & Sciences (Major in Economics, minors in Linguistics, Art History, French and Statistics) at University College Roosevelt, MA in International Management at Nyenrode Business Universiteit, Executive MA at Cyber Security Academy (Leiden University).

How does your usual day look like?

I wake up in between 7am and 8am and go for a run and walk my dog. I work from home most days and center going into the office around team events. Sometimes, I have lunch or coffee appointments in Haarlem or Amsterdam to stay in touch with my network. Around every 2 weeks I go to Brussels for 2 days to be with my Belgium team.

I have quite a few calls in the day, ranging from one-on-one calls with my direct reports to complex decision-making, risk evaluations and security program steering committees. I tackle the most important emails and always try to create something or push forward a project I care about. I stop working between 6pm and 7pm and after walking my dog again I start cooking - one of the most important parts of my day.

In the evenings, I sometimes have executive networking events, a meeting with my board members at the Dutch Women Society, dog training, volunteering work or a moment for personal care. I close my evening with a good book, an online course, or a good podcast while I prepare myself for the next day. Worst case we are working on a critical vulnerability or security incident that requires my involvement outside of business hours.

What are the things you like the most about your job?

The ability, mandate, and resources to make the things happen that I want to make happen. Sometimes as a consultant (my former role) you make something great for a client, and then it doesn’t land because of different time, money, and priorities etc. Here we make the plan and execute - really making that impact that matters.

What are some of the skills you utilise the most in your day-to-day at work?

I have become the queen of prioritization, planning, delegation, stakeholder management, negotiation, deliberate communication, and well-being management.

What was one of your happiest days in your career and why?

Security incidents and critical vulnerabilities fall in the category of ‘Type 2 fun’. With Type 1 fun being fun in the moment, and Type 2 fun not so fun in the moment but rather fun when it’s over and you look back on it.

With incidents, there is a lot of danger, confusion, urgency, and adrenaline in the moment. But everybody in the organization drops their work to come together to address the situation, even so when it’s in the evening or weekend. We make the most of the situation with jokes and memes and look out for each other’s well-being as we work towards a happy ending. They are truly moments of camaraderie and some of the most special events in my career.

What was the toughest career decision you ever made?

To fire somebody. I came from a consulting role with very motivated people, who once provided with the right training and coaching, were often able to bounce back into better performance. But in an internal role you find people who are simply there to do a job and go home or have been doing it for so long they are not open to feedback or self-improvement, the situation might not be workable. But especially for women, who often still must balance the paradigm of wanting to be liked whilst being in a leadership position, I found myself finding this process emotionally draining.

What is something you had to learn to become better at your work?

Delegation and prioritization. With adding the Belgium remit to my role, previously a full-time role held by another CISO, my workload became such that I simply could not engage with all the requests myself. I have really come to rely on my team more, even when I know some requests are challenging for them - but at least that offers them the opportunity to grow.

How did you get to become a CISO?

I initially applied for this role after coming back from secondment in 2018, as I wanted to protect my own people at Deloitte instead of just helping to protect my client. I was still quite mid-level at that time, and honestly wasn’t ready to switch yet.

When the role opened again two years later, I got a call from the CIO to see if I was still interested - and I was. This time it felt like I had progressed enough as a manager and leader and fulfilled what I wanted to see fulfilled in my previous role, to want to make the switch.

What's the one piece of career advice you have for anyone interested in becoming a CISO?

Find a career sponsor, somebody who believes in you even if you don’t have the right skills or experience at that moment in time. None of this would have been possible for me, as a woman in IT, at my young age, without the support from my NL CIO.

What's your number one productivity hack / when or how are you most effective?

I am a night owl! Now, that doesn’t really match the expectations from my day job and I want to role model not working at night and in the weekend for my team, but there’s no denying I am at peak performance then. I use that time for studying when I feel up for it. As an introvert, I struggle with having so many calls and talking to people all day, so I find walking while having some of these calls at least keeps me fit and energetic.

What makes you gracefullyBOLD?

I never shy away from adventure or an exciting new opportunity. I prepare, I plan - and then I jump!

How do you spend your weekend or downtimes?

Walking with the dog, singing, reading, playing piano, playing video games, cooking, running, watching anime, listening to music or podcasts, reading my newspaper, working out, seeing family and continuous learning.

How do you deal with stress and build resilience?

Sleep enough, eat healthy, go for a lot of walks, and work out. I ensure I have a full and complete life and identity next to my work, so that when I have a bad day at work, I don’t have a bad day at life. I try and not work in the evening and weekends so that when I need to stretch (e.g. a security incident outside of business hours), I can actually stretch.

What would have been your alternative career path or alternative University degree?

I would love to go into cooking/food someday, and help people eat more healthily, delicious and sustainable. I believe I have a strong point of view and really something to add to the world - it’s on the bucket list for a little bit later in my life.

What's one of the last things you learnt?

We recently got a dog, and I was really surprised to find that very quickly I developed a motherly instinct and re-prioritized elements in my life around the dog. I have come a little bit closer to understanding not only the practical but also emotional impact of becoming a parent.

If you could time-travel and meet any leader, who/where would that be?

Not sure about whether that qualifies as a ‘leader’, but I’d love to meet Louis Theroux. His “Grounded” podcast and documentaries have given me such joy during the pandemic. I greatly admire his ability to approach topics that we consider taboo, a black box or difficult to talk about with incredible openness and without judgement. I have become a better person by listening/viewing his content.

Where do you want to end up in your career/life in the ideal scenario?

I keep going back and forth between seeing how far exactly I can push myself - whether I can join executive boards, become a CEO, have the power to make a positive change in our world, also for climate change, and just chilling out, take care of myself, build a fun career out of food and spend a lot of time with my dog, perhaps even emigrating to the UK or Japan. I am still young, so I can probably do it all, but a part of me also feels the clock is ticking on climate change and the world as I know it might significantly change during my lifetime so I shouldn’t wait too long.

One word answers & quick fire round. Let's go!

  • Your superpower: Planning events.

  • Favourite restaurant: Scherp, Middelburg (NL).

  • Favourite fashion brand: Ted Baker.

  • Favourite beauty product: Hyaluron 3D cream from Clarena.

  • Favourite perfume: Clinique Aromatics Elixir.

  • Book recommendation: Waarom vrouwen minder verdienen (why women earn less) - Sophie van Gool.

  • Next holiday destination: Japan, to relive our honeymoon.

  • Your hobby: Cooking, running, reading, studying, singing.

  • Who inspires you: Pippi Longstocking.

Thank you Esther for sharing your journey & wisdom with us!

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