Caroline Favrot Lee is the Operations Director for Riscure North America. Caroline originally joined Riscure in 2012 as an accountant and office manager for the Riscure North American office, and since then has played an integral role in developing Riscure’s base in the United States. In this interview, Caroline describes the journey of growth for Riscure North America, what it is like to work in a technical company like Riscure, and how to keep the team engaged and aligned in a remote setting.
How did you join Riscure?
Before finding Riscure, I was working as a consultant for many small businesses. I quickly realized that I didn’t want to just give advice, I also wanted to play a role in implementing this advice, improving companies, and helping them grow. I was looking for a place where I could have an impact. Riscure’s position in San Francisco was exactly what I was looking for. It was still a rather small company, starting to grow a new branch here in California with smart and passionate people, where intelligence and creativity are encouraged. This appealed to me right away.
Since I didn’t come from a technical background, it was hard at first to understand what Riscure does. But I picked up quickly on the basics of Side Channel Analysis and Fault Injection. My colleagues taught me quick and easy comparisons, like, “SCA is like listening to a heartbeat, and FI is like doing heart surgery.” As I learned the basics of Riscure work, I had to accept that I would never reach the level of technical knowledge of my colleagues, but I also didn’t have to. There was a great need for someone with business and operations experience, knowledge, and skills, so I was happy to fit that role in our team.
What roles have you taken on over the years?
Back in 2012, I did it all: HR, finance, operations, office management, etc. Wearing different hats was exciting because I could use everything I learned in all areas it applied. I was able to bolster our benefits package for our employees so that we stayed completive in the tough Silicon Valley market, foundational work that has kept us in a good position to this day. As the North American business kept growing and needed more support on the office side I had to start making some choices of what I wanted to focus on. I chose finance and operations, so my responsibilities were split, and I became the Finance Manager of Riscure North America. As more time passed, I wanted to get more involved in the business. I have owned my own business in the past, so I wanted more challenges around having ownership and being involved in key business results. My role changed to Controller, where I was a partner to management, addressing and doing analysis for business risks and opportunities. I loved being able to inform and tell the story behind the numbers. Overall, I was helping people make informed decisions for our business from service forecasting to pipeline management and improvement for sales.
I then moved more officially into the delivery, resource, and operations side with the title of Operations Manager. With this role, I made another decision to focus solely on operations and leave the finance side to others. Operations is a natural fit for my love of puzzles, people, and challenges. The most recent change was becoming the Operations Director for North America. In this role, I build and execute Riscure North America’s strategy. Being successful requires a lot of teamwork and close collaboration between the Delft MT teams, our local MT team, and the team I’ve built over the past couple of years in the KaS side of the business. I look at my role as both an enabling and a leading role. I need to make sure things run as smoothly as possible with a smaller team, so that people can do their best work here while also ensuring people understand what, why, and where we are going. The team feedback informs much of the what, where, and why and it’s my job to take that input and make it align within the global context.
How would you define the Device Security industry?
At the embedded level, Device Security is securing chips and ensuring that they work as they are supposed to. We live in a very volatile world, and Riscure ensures that we take away some of that volatility from people when using their devices. We provide some sort of security for people, so they can better trust that the devices they use and their children use, at home and everywhere, are at least working properly from the ground level where the hardware meets the software. It’s important to me that this base level of security is there, and I take pride in knowing that I work in a company that helps achieve this.
What is the story of Riscure North America?
Riscure North America was founded to serve the needs of semiconductor businesses, many of them located in Silicon Valley. This proximity helps Riscure be at the center of the cutting edge of development and innovation happening in our region. It was rocky when we started, being quite far in distance and time from the Netherlands headquarters. Riscure North America had to be much more self-reliant at the beginning, but as the whole of Riscure grew, the alignment with headquarters in Delft and the team became much more important. This now runs smoother than ever and helps the whole worldwide organization grow and learn from each other.
Riscure North America is positioned as a boutique firm in North America within the larger worldwide Riscure. We are closest to the innovation makers within the device security industry given our main office is in San Francisco but because we now have team members scattered across the country, we can more easily serve other booming innovation areas throughout North America as well. This in turn enables Riscure to be on the ground level with our clients and hear the pain points and needs of the industry firsthand. At the same time, Riscure North America relies on tight collaboration within the whole of Riscure, especially the Innovation Hub, Products teams, and the community of experts throughout the organization.
How do you manage the 100% remote team?
I don’t manage them, they manage themselves. Considering that our North American office works mostly remotely and is scattered around the US, it is very important for us to find people who can work independently. Our team is a group of smart people and as long as we as management are doing a good job at communicating priorities, then the teams are highly capable of making the right decisions and being self-managing. There is of course a practical part to the work that needs regular check-ins and effort to maintain the well-being of the team. It is often assumed that being remote makes teamwork worse or very hard. For us, it is not the case. We have daily stand-ups for the services group to stay aligned, share knowledge, and offer to coach. We have regular voluntary drop-in lunch meetings for the whole North American team. It does take some getting used to, but the team is now comfortable calling or using our communication tools to reach out to each other, instead of walking to someone’s desk, we push a button and put on our headphones. At the same time, it is easier to shut down everything and get into a nice flow of focused and uninterrupted work. We also started a no-meeting Wednesday for the Security Analyst group to help guard their time and we hope to add to this next year.
In order to build community and increase team cohesion we host two all-hands events every year, where everyone is invited to join three days of team building, North America initiative working sessions, training workshops, and some fun activities. At our last all-hands event, for example, we had an improv workshop where people experienced different ways of thinking and really got the experience of building on ideas with each other. I love improv because the main tenet is to say “yes and…” which helps build the creative environment needed for innovation breakthroughs and a good team atmosphere.
Tell us your most memorable story from Riscure
I think one of my most memorable experiences was getting our first government contract. We originally started in 2016, and the process took a few years to finally finalize in 2018. On the technical side, the contracts described what we were going to do and how. The other half of the proposal was the financial piece, my responsibility. There were so many iterations of the proposal and a stream of endless hoops to jump through. We had a great group and I really enjoyed learning and working along as a team. Since we had never done this kind of contracting before, we all learned a lot of new things. There was a last-minute negotiation complication that did not favor Riscure. I had 24 hours to solve it, and I did and was able to negotiate back the sizable 10%. It was a great feeling to know that I succeeded and contributed to the success of Riscure. As a result, the contract was one of the biggest service contracts in the history of Riscure.
How has Riscure culture changed over the years?
As a business matures and grows, the culture needs to mature with it. The way we talk and treat each other is very important. I’ve worked in many settings before Riscure and the enjoyable and respectful work atmosphere we experience is not a given. As we grow, culture needs proper attention. We are all human, so we have to make sure to support each other when we make mistakes and also be comfortable enough with each other to allow for conflict and tension around ideas and decision-making. This is not an easy balance. A general positive approach is needed which doesn’t necessarily mean agreement but allows for respecting each other’s different opinions and ideas while challenging each other in a constructive way so the best ideas rise to the top. Riscure North America has a very creative team that thinks well on their feet, has a lot of passion for technology, and is comfortable taking risks. Maintaining this kind of culture translates into many different activities for my role day to day. I feel lucky to work in a team filled with different backgrounds and viewpoints. This combination of differences and shared Riscure culture allow a strong backbone that integrates, reinforces, and unites us toward helping technology advance responsibly.