Emma Smith

Director of Cyber Security, Technology Assurance & Strategy, Vodafone
Emma is Vodafone’s Cyber Security, Technology Assurance and Strategy Director. The cybersecurity team sets risk appetite and policy, manages security risk, defines security architecture, secures products and services, engineers and operates security tools, and runs global 24/7 cyber defense capabilities. She leads the Technology Risk Assurance activities and develops, maintains, and tracks the Technology Strategy for the company. Emma is passionate about security and an active sponsor for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Emma holds numerous independent advisory roles in retail, technology and financial services. Previously, Emma was Chief Security Officer at NatWest/RBS, leading an integrated team responsible for physical and information security, fraud prevention and business resilience.

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

Each day is quite diverse. I spend most of my time interacting with people. I meet with people from my Vodafone team, on the EXCO or Board, colleagues outside Vodafone and partners or suppliers. I enjoy planning ahead to free up some capacity for surprises that come with the job! The topics I work on range from time-critical operations to future strategies. I always make time for personal development and sponsoring diversity and inclusion activities. I travel quite a bit for work and can be in different locations.

What aspects of your career journey have taken you by surprise?

My career advisor at school was not optimistic about my prospects, so I learned quickly not to let others knock me back. I studied Economics and found my passion for cybersecurity soon at work. I have been grateful to some of the sponsors who helped shape my career by believing in me. I am still surprised when people I admire open up about their confidence issues.

Tell us about the cyber project you're most proud of working on in your career.

It’s hard to pick one because, in my two CISO roles (both over seven years), I have focused on sustainable change and rapid response when needed. I’d say uplifting the security baseline across the company is the most transformational, with stakeholder understanding and support. Focusing on security basics is challenging but worth it.

How has public perception of cybersecurity changed over the course of your career, and how do you predict in the future?

When I started working, it was only IT Security or Information Security. It was not a well-known area at all. Today, most large companies know it’s a systemic risk that requires ongoing attention. It was also seen as a technology topic, and people are realizing cybersecurity is about people and technology. It is still common for me to attend many meetings outside of my company where I am the only female member. We have a lot of work to do to get diverse candidates into cybersecurity.

Tell us about your first job (can be anything!) and one lesson you might have learned from it.

At school, I worked in a kitchen design studio on Saturdays, mostly making drinks for customers. I learned to listen to people and try to pick up on cues about how they felt.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self about getting started in cyber?

Be yourself. Ask questions when you are curious.

Tell us about a role model or mentor who has helped shape your career.

I’ve had three managers that stand out. All three of them made me feel comfortable being myself. They asked for my opinion, supported, and pushed me in my career, believed in me when I doubted myself and trusted me.

A meeting gets canceled and you have a surprise 30 minute window of free time — how do you spend it?

I would love to say something super inspirational. However, I would most likely get a cup of tea, then answer emails or work on something I have on my to-do list.

What are the ways you stay grounded and take care of yourself?

My husband, family and friends help me stay grounded and switch off. I love walking in the countryside or on beaches. I read a book by Matthew Walker a few years ago called Why We Sleep. Since then, I have been even more obsessed with getting a good night’s sleep.

When you think about your personal legacy as a leader, what do you hope people will remember?

I hope people will remember me as someone passionate about leaving behind a more secure society, that I care about people, operate with integrity, and remembers things (mostly!).