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by | Sep 28, 2023

Ep. 8 | Warren Small, New Ventures and Innovation at NTT

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In this episode of Cyber Glass Ceiling, my guest is Warren Small. We sat down for a chat about his incredible journey from South Africa, through Australia, and all the way to the USA. He is a global leader, visionary and innovator for NTT, a global IT services consultancy. Tune in to find out how Warren made it happen, the ups and downs along the way, and his influential position in the world of cyber security.

Show Notes

Our Guest:

Warren Small | LinkedIn

Our Sponsors:

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Salt Group

Audio Transcription

Charles James: Welcome to my podcast, Cyber Glass Ceiling. I’m going to have a lighthearted fireside chat with some people who are leaders in the industry of cybersecurity, prominent for the fact that they are women, people of color, LGTBQ, or just different. The term glass ceiling refers to sometimes invisible barriers to success that many come up against in their careers.

A management consultant called Marilyn Lowden coined the phrase almost 40 years ago regarding women rising to senior positions and says it’s still as relevant as ever today. So I’ve taken it a little step further, not just women, but people of color and bias that may exist in the workplace. and how they overcame this to become leaders in the industry.

I promise not too much swearing, no politics or religion, just a cuppa and whatever takes your fancy. Hello and welcome to my next episode of Cyber Glass Ceiling. Today I am stateside. I’m talking to a chap called Warren Small, who’s all the way over in California. And let me just tell you a little bit about Warren before we get started.

Vice President of Managed Security Services for Dimension Data Group. Vice president transformation group, security business unit, senior vice president, global head of sales and innovation, and new ventures and innovations. Warren, welcome to Cyber Glass Ceiling.

Warren Small: Charles, what an incredible pleasure.

Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to tell my story. Thank you for the opportunity to connect and connect with your audience.

Charles James: Why thank you. It’s great meeting you. I know we’ve had a little conversation a little while back and it’s, it’s. Great to have you here. My first stateside interview.

So before we get started I’ve reeled off some of your titles that you’ve had with certain company called NTT stroke dimension data or dimension data. Can you tell me a little bit about who you are, what you do?

Warren Small: Thank you so much, Charles. Hopefully you can still hear that I’m South African.

Not American. Hopefully you thought, yeah, I’m a guy that is still got both feet on the ground. I am not only the son of, of a woman who didn’t finish high school just couldn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t afford to finish high school, but I’m I’m an incredibly lucky husband to an amazing woman who came into my life at a point where I think I needed, I need clarity why I think I needed a clear part.

I, in an early age, I was really keen on studying law and really keen. To help my community and I think that’s all true to my DNA and the reason I’m in the role that I’m in now, but helping a different community because I think I’m a, I’m a serial connector but want to connect people with the right people and make sure that we all live a full life.

I was brought up in a city called Durban. And for many people who know South Africa would know that 99 percent might get the percentage wrong. It might be 99. 5% or 99. 9%. People never leave Durban. And if they do leave Durban, if they do leave Durban, we’ll come back because it’s just such a beautiful place to live and the human beings are incredible.

You know, I’ve traveled to many places around the world and I still don’t feel the heart and energy like Durbanite. And if if you ever have an opportunity, I encourage you to spend it with your, with someone that you do, you love. And it gave me sort of grounding to who I am today because Durban was a place that many people would always come back to and show us, you know, where they were and what they had achieved.

And very fast, you know, very fast forward from, you know, wanting to become a lawyer is I had a dream of living in the United States. Because many, many family members in a community would come back from the United States, you know, with a baseball hat, football hat, and they always looked a little bit trendy and cool, you know, people that I identified with, and that was something I was going to do, I was going to go to the USA, I was going to be this lawyer after helping my community, and I find myself in a role where I’m now surrounded with some of the smartest individuals that I would, you know, I would ever, would ever know.

And some of the, some of the most incredibly, you know, talented individuals in the industry that are not only creating some of the solutions and some of the things that we use today in our everyday life, but some of the people that are investing in some of these future technologies.

Charles James: Fantastic. Amazing.

Now, I know your journey just didn’t take you to America. It took you to Australia as well. And we’ll touch on that a bit later. Again, because I find it very fascinating that, you know guy from South Africa, Durban ends up in one Australia, and then you in the U. S. of A., in California, and it’s a brilliant journey to discuss and the ups and downs and the peaks and the flows that goes with it, as we all know.

So, thank you for that introduction to who you are. Let’s get into it. I have a few questions. You know how the, anyone that listens regularly to the podcast, I have a few questions that absolutely nothing to do with cybersecurity. Until we get to a couple of questions that we touch on it and understand your expertise, but it’s about you.

The podcast and my questions are about you as a human being. What makes you, what’s, Drive, what drives you the success and to celebrate where you are now.

On that, first ever job?

Warren Small: Yes. What, you know stress in the job was multiple, right? You know, as a, as a young Durbanites, you’re always looking to make an alternative source of income, and I passionately remember working in the early hours of the morning at one of the. Largest then food food retailers packing shelves and you know, in, in the true spirit of the narrative of this call some of the roles you were given were, you know, when, when not the, not the ideal one. So I was given Charles, the role to not only unpack frozen chickens from trucks, but I had to then rearrange them on shelves within the store to make sure.

That’s the most current date of expiry is at the front and the latest date of expiry of chickens at the back. And you know, for anyone who’s worked in retail, for anyone who’s packed shelves you know, they would tell you packing shelves is not easy, but because it takes a lot of, a lot of patience, but packing frozen chickens.

It’s kind of got to be the worst, that was my first job that you know, that I earned money, but first, you know, professional role was in a large global services company in South Africa which is, which is now known as Vodafone, but they were in South Africa called Vodacom. And that was my first role in I had to go and meet with ship captains to talk to them about the contract that they were signing.

So there was legal connection and educate them on the core tariffs and how expensive it would be if they exceeded the minutes that we had allocated to them. So that was my first profession. Role, which was incredibly exciting because I’d get to meet all these people, some people who barely spoke a word in English, but would have to understand an English contract.

So that was my first professional role.

Charles James: And would that be in the, on the legal sense or?

Warren Small: Was it, was a combination of both? I mean, we didn’t, we didn’t call it legal then, but you know, we, cause we were signing contracts with these individuals. So it was more commercial role and we were, we were, we were signing, you know, we were in essence making money off these ships.

Charles James: So you were compensated for the contracts.

Warren Small: We were compensated for the over usage of minutes.

Charles James: Understood back then. Wow, I can remember it well. So what attracted you to the world of IT and cybersecurity? Did you have to get re skilled? Did you recertified? How did that work?

Warren Small: You know, kind of quite an emotional story for me because, you know, deep down, I think I’m, I think I’m still passionate about law.

I think I’m still passionate about The fact that people don’t realize they’ve done something wrong until they are incarcerated or until, you know, there’s, they end up in court because, you know, I tell a story that people end up in, in a world of crime because they got away with something and nobody told him it was wrong and then they do something a little, a little, a little more serious and not only someone told him it’s wrong, but they now are wrong.

You know, they have to reap the consequences, you know, behind of their actions, you know, for all we find behind four walls you know, in, in, in that step that becomes their life. I am so emotional in that because I still feel very very passionate about, you know, educating people about doing the right thing, but passionate because.

A very near and dear friend of mine knew that I was, you know, I was, I was interested in earning a better income. And he said to me, why don’t, why don’t you come and help me pull Ethernet cable. I didn’t even know it was called Ethernet cable at the time. Why don’t you come and help me pull Ethernet cable at the, the largest newspaper in Durban on a Saturday morning.

And I had no idea what he was doing or why we were doing it, but all I knew was, you know, I was getting paid by, eating a great what they call Euro at the time was was not subway like they have yet in the U S it was a Euro. And I thought it was great because it was two good friends, you know, it was a family friend and we were pulling cable and then you know, my, my reward was, you know, a little bit of rants at the end of the day, but you know, I get to, I got to spend time with the guy that I respected and we’d eat a year old together, we’d share a year old.

So that’s what got me into the world of it because I, I got to understand from him sort of the significance around that ethernet cable. There were two things at the, at either end of that cable that needed connectivity and fast forward, we, we then started doing some work with a local travel agency, which was a large travel agency.

And I got to learn about this system called Galileo and the system called Galileo was a system that everybody in the world would use. To buy tickets on planes or buy tickets on any kind of transportation. So I thought it was pretty cool, the whole world. And then I ended up in an office of a service provider or an internet service provider, and I was lucky because I happened to be at that office on the day where there was a wonderful woman who clearly took a liking to me or took a liking to the fact that I was so.

Engaging in conversation because I was, I was looking to learn and I’m always looking to learn. And she asked me if I, you know, if I consider getting into a role at the service provider. And I said, absolutely, because you never say no to an opportunity, especially in Durban, people will tell you, you know, opportunities don’t come by that often.

And, you know, years later, you know, I would, I would move to Johannesburg and years later I would move to North America and years later I’d be helping my company now, not only identify some of the. Emerging technologies, but invest in the right technologies that will protect society.

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Charles James: Now, you have to excuse me because I’m guessing I am slightly older than yourself. I know I am. And I have a, a picture of South Africa. Which is slightly different understanding growing up in a, in a, in a time where where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated and apartheid was coming to an end and I suppose listening to you speak there opportunity was, was good.

Opportunity to rise was good. There wasn’t so much as a well, you don’t represent me, you’re not like me, so I’m not employing you type scenario.

Warren Small: I think quite, I think quite the opposite Charles, you know, I, my wife and I had this conversation last night, you know, all my friends, every one of my friends or people that I consider you know, sort of helped me form who I am today are all still in Durban.

Not just South Africa. So, you know, sort of that 99.5, 99.9, you know, never leave. And, and they don’t leave because there is no opportunity. And you can’t just make the move to Johannesburg because even though it’s six hours away by car, you know, 50 minutes by plane it’s a, it’s a different economic system.

You know, and if you, she grew up in Durban, you know, you, you earn a third of what people in Johannesburg. So, you know, you’re always on the back foot and you could never, and you know, if you just do the, if you look at the demographics of South Africa, you understand that, you know, the amount of the economic demographics, the amount of business in South Africa, the amount of business in Durban is, you know, there’s a stark contrast of what’s available in Durban versus what’s available in Johannesburg.

And, and I’ll tell you, you know, people know that if you want a corporate career, you have to move to Johannesburg and if you want a corporate career in Johannesburg, you know, there’s no, you know, housing is, is, is not, it’s not cheap. So you always have to find someone who’s got a spare room. And I remember very passionately, my wife and I, my wife and I now, I was then, you know, then my fiance we stayed with my sister for the first six months.

And, And, and it was a difficult task because, you know, you’re living in the home of someone else. And you having to get up a little earlier, so you’re not inconveniencing them and you have to get up a little earlier than inconveniencing them and to get on the road to get to where you were in terms of the corporate career.

And and I, and I remember I passionately sung by Nelly Furtado And that was my wife and I, our song. And so whenever it comes on now, you know, we both smile at each other because that was the hour and a half drive from the east end of Johannesburg to the center of the city, you know, the central part of it, where, you know, I know where the economic hub was.

So, so it wasn’t that easy, you know, even though, you know, there was change it was still a quota system. So for every, I would say for every. One role there was, there were probably, I’d say, 10 people of color trying for the role and there was, you know, maybe one other person that was, was not of color that was applying for the role because, you know, they didn’t need to apply, you know, they were, they, they were in a situation where, you know, their parents had businesses or they were going to work in, you know Parents, friends business.

So it was never that right. And I remember, I remember some of my friends when we were at university. I, I studied law, so I showed to some of the law firms and I’d look at it, right, and look around room and it was the only person. But Charles is no different to today. You know, I still say that I walk into a room today and, you know, I’m the only person of color

And I, and I often, I often joke, you know, I often joke with people, I say, you gotta change the website. You know, you gotta change the website. You go to any corporate website today, you look at, look at the color, and you’re like, what is going on? And we’re supposed to be in a world that’s more progressive, where, you know, USA has had.

You know, the first black president and it’s all, nothing has really changed.

Charles James: No. Well, that brings me on to my next question. And I’m going to mix it around a bit cause don’t need to ask a load of them. But now as a leader in your workplace have you seen that shifting culture of promoting people of color like yourself?

And of course, now you’re at the top table. Are you influential in setting that diversity goals? I asked the question. And what do you think about it twice? Because you spent how many years in Australia?

Warren Small: I spent eight years in Australia.

Charles James: Eight years in Australia. Did you see a change in diversity where you were in Australia?

And have you seen change now that you’re in the US?

Warren Small: So I think, you know, the one thing I, I love bias telling the truth, right? And I think there’s still a lot of room for people to be more inclusive. But I think there’s still such a deep rooted unconscious bias and strong narratives that are, that kind of pull at that desire to be more inclusive because we make the assumption, right?

You know, make the assumption that. You know, a woman is married to a man, right? I remember a conversation and we were talking about a niece of ours and the person said to us, Oh, what does a husband do? And we’re like, we have to pause. I’m like, no, she’s actually married to a woman. Right. But, but beautiful young woman.

You need for a young woman, certainly not, you know, her life’s choices you know, have absolutely no relevance of who she is as a human being. Exactly. But the world still stereotypes what she should be doing, right. Or who she should be love, loving, or who she should be married to. So I’d say there’s absolutely a desire.

If I look at, if I look at Australia as a country, you know, they absolutely. Having a deep intent to be inclusive through a number of programs both in the workplace outside of the workplace you know, I think every, everybody’s kind of, everybody has a voice. You know, every city is, is looked like an inclusive city, you know, you don’t have areas of segregation so it looks inclusive, but I think there’s still, you know, elements.

If you go into rural Australia, I think you’ll still see, you know. A lot of stereotypes that are, you know, imposed upon people.

Charles James: Now, absolutely. Because again, we had the conversation. I only spent 10 days in Australia and I was in Perth, Western Australia. And I had an amazing time. You know, everybody was very friendly.

Saying g’day, hello, whatever it is. Whether I be in the, by the beach or in town. I remember it was Australia Day in January. And you know. I said to you, no one batted an eyelid, no one even gave me a side eye about who’s this black Englishman, you know, walking in my pub or whatever it may be, and you’re a little bit surprised at that because I know you had a slightly different reaction, but again, you were in a different city in Australia, and You know, I, I, I, I’m talking now and I’m still smiling about my journey.

And you said something funny because you said, well, they knew that you were leaving. So you were only there for a short time. I went, maybe so, maybe so. But you know, I, I still find Australia fascinating and I don’t want to get political, so I won’t do, but you know, if things don’t change around in the UK soon.

It’s a great place to go. I think Australia. Yeah, but we, we digress. And I understand. And now you’re in the U S now that again, you’ve got this incredible career. You’ve had more titles and beats Ambrose or whoever I’m just trying to think of an American tennis player now, but you know what I mean?

Yeah. And that all Rafa Nadal or, or, or those guys and. Is there a push for, for promoting diversity and, you know, even people with neurodiversity is there a push for that or is it still?

Warren Small: Absolutely. No, absolutely. There, there’s definitely a push, but I’ll, I’ll tell you a story because, you know, I, I very recently had the privilege, had the pleasure of.

Of being at a, at a event a security event, which was an event to identify founders, you know, when we, I mean, just listen to the words I’m using, an event to identify founders, we call it Silicon Valley, call it the investment community show up and they would be, they’re looking to speak to people network with people that had great ideas.

I just think to myself, there was no bias there. I could, there was no, there was no, you know, you had to be of a certain color because it was a, it was an event and it was in a location that was, you know, for me I smiled because it was, it was not even typical in a stereotype event, you know, at the water where everyone’s kind of nicely dressed.

It was, you know, in the, in the heart of Southern California and there was no bias. I think there’s absolutely an intent. I think if you look at Silicon Valley today and if we look at the largest companies and if we look at the profiles of the leaders of those, of some of those technology companies, there’s, you know, there’s definitely a change.

There’s definitely a, you know, a strong illustration that you don’t have to be of a certain profile to be a leader.

You know, if you just look, if you just look at some of the bigger companies, whether it’s Microsoft or Palo Alto or, or VMware, you know, you, again, you don’t, you don’t have to be of a certain profile. Right. I mean, we still got a while to go in terms of, you know, inclusion for women. I think that’s a big area of focus, especially in my business today.

And, you know, I, I tell you. I work with some of the most incredible women and I, and I’m married to one of the most incredible women, you know, they can do so much more. You know, they, it’s just, it’s in their DNA, it’s in their makeup, right? They literally can spin plates on, you know, on their four appendages.

We ask us to do it on two and we kind of get kind of set aside. They just have, they have, they have a natural tendency. So I think we need to, I think we need to be a little bit more accommodating with women. But I would say to you, you know, you answer your question. Yes. Yes, you know, there’s no bias because accuracy means it was an illustration, but I think there’s still room to be done, work

to be done.

Charles James: Understood. And there’s an old saying that I think,

you know, we all know is I need to speak to the boss or before I do that, I need to speak to the boss and the boss is the wife. Just so

Warren Small: I asked my wife if I can be the boss.

Charles James: So, moving on as we’re both in, well, you’re in cybersecurity and you’ve had this amazing career. As I said, I want to touch on some of the challenges that, you know, sometimes keep you awake at night and what you’ve heard over the years. You know, as the world recovers from COVID, I know in the U S it was a bit crazy.

I was in California 2019. In January, 29, 2020, I think January, 2020 and it was all kicking off especially in California. And I remember flying back and, you know, the, the, the whole COVID thing was, you know, rife in, in the U S for one reason or another, again, not getting political. But if you want to drink bleach or inject yourself with it, that’s a, that’s a, that’s a good blooming start.

But the challenges. I’m just trying to see how different it is from what’s happened in the UK and speaking to some of your counterparts here, where, you know, people decided I’m working from home and working from home is the new norm. We’re more productive. We don’t collaborate as much. And so now.

Especially in 2023, people are starting to creep back into the office a few days a week. Not on a Friday by the looks of it, because I was on the train this morning and there was no one, no one around. It was kind of empty, but is that the same over there?

Warren Small: You know, I’d say, I’d say yes. You know, I will tell you Charles, I left South Africa in 2007 and, and the big, a big life lesson for me was remote working 2007. I, I worked for a Panera Bread most days because I needed to be close to people. Because when you go and grow up in corporate South Africa, you know, you walk, you go into a big office or an office park, where you’re always in meetings, in offices with lots of people around. So I had to go to a Panera Bread which was close to my home because I just needed to be around people.

You know, I thrive, I thrive on other people’s energy. That’s just, it’s just who I am. But I’d say from 2007.

To 2023, you know, if you ask me, is there a big difference, I’d say absolutely. I think conferencing is, is now sort of more prevalent, you know, these, you know, that’s what, it’s one of the mediums. I think we are always on in terms of communication channels. So whether it’s a Slack channel or whether it’s a Teams channel or whether it’s a LinkedIn communication platform, people don’t.

You know, I talk about that, but I think we do more communication on LinkedIn than what we do on any other platform, you know, be it kind of social media posting about, you know, something interesting in our career or communicating with someone about a meeting. Now you can even schedule live meetings, you attend training.

So I think it’s an incredible platform, but I’ll, but I will tell you, I will say that the biggest challenge that we have is in the industry called cyber is everyone wants to be their own boss. If I, if I kind of go midway to my career where I was in Australia, you know, a lot of companies. But just because, again, of the economic environment and the demographics of skilled labor in Australia, it was always a narrative of importing talent.

It was always a narrative of out tasking key fellowships, you know, kind of that language, you know, you learn, I will teach you the language about out tasking, right? Out tasking, not outsourcing, but the specific function you want to give it to these people because they can be more efficient with it. But I knew in Australia.

There was a big demographic of people who wanted to be contract labor, because if you were contract labor, you could earn twice your daily. Right. So you could double your salary. And if we kind of doing the math, generally we’d say if we doubling our, our daily rate and doubling our monthly income, we shouldn’t be working half the time, right?

Lodging. Some, some people would, would then take three or six months off, right? And it’s very much a culture of, I’m going to go and travel and see Australia. But if we, if we look at the demographics in North America, I think that’s been a, you know, we had a big push of outsourcing of flooring and now there’s a big pull back into the, into the USA because one, you know, it’s all, it’s, it’s about conversation to, you know, dialect three, it’s about having local resources, but I would say still.

It’s critical in cyber security and, and you, we want more of that field to be in person. We want more of that skill to be local. We want more of that skill to be, you know, close to us so we can engage.

Charles James: Understood. Now, I know time’s upon us and I know you’ve got another meeting at the top of the hour.

So I’ve got a couple more questions for you and then I’m going to let you go. So Warren Small, 20 years old what advice would you give to a young Warren Small? That wants to get into the business of cybersecurity have a career and have the success you’ve had.

Warren Small: Well, there was no YouTube in, right?

So so it’d be, it’d be a little bit hard, but I would say read, read and read and be, and be more, be more open to, to what’s, what’s, what conversations are being held around you. Right. Don’t be so, don’t be so laser focused. Don’t be so rigid. In your, in your pursuit of greatness or your pursuit of, you know, growth, but be, be, be more open, you know, be more, be more mindful of what’s being said around you because everything, you know, you know, was, everything around cyber was critical then, and everything around cyber is critical now, but there were just less people then versus the amount of people there are now, we still don’t have that many, right, we talk about 3.

5 million roles, you know, I just saw at Google, Google now have a cybersecurity certificate you can go do for free, right? Mm-hmm. , ’cause they talk about some minerals. But then there’s also this big push for AI skills, right? So it’s a, you know, am I gonna be a defender? Or am I going, am I going to be an attacker?

Right? So I would say to, you know, I would, I would say be, be more open. Be, be more mindful and listen and collaborate more.

Charles James: Thank you. And that that’s enough of the serious stuff. Two more questions. Now, I don’t know if I texted this question or emailed you this question, but I want you to think about your unique selling point, but before you do, how does Warren relax?

How does he chill out? You’ve, like I said, you’ve got an amazing career. You’ve got an amazing job. You talk about your wife and every time you speak about your wife, you’re smiling. And so I’m just trying to understand what you guys, what do you do for fun? How do you relax?

Warren Small: Yeah, so, so I run. I’m a, I’m a big runner. My wife’s a runner as well. I’m training for everybody. I’m listening. I’m training for the comrades marathon, which is a rite of passage. So my, my, my hobby is running and I try now and run 10 kilometers a day, which is not easy. It’s not easy Charles, because you get, you get a little bit exhausted. But, but I also, I’m big into family.

So I try and do as much as possible with the family, whether it’s watching a movie or whether it’s playing a game of tennis or whether it’s going to. A nice restaurant that we, you know, we’ll all enjoy. It’s about family. That’s where I get a lot of my energy is from my wife and my two boys.

Charles James: Fantastic. Good answer. And final question. Warren, what’s, do you think your unique selling point is? What is it about you, your USP?

Warren Small: You know, I, I have to say that I don’t have a preconceived idea. Of anything or anyone, and I’m always open to learning about anything and anyone and that’s why I have friends, you know.

You know, I’m off to India on Sunday, and I must’ve connected with at least a dozen people to say that I’m going to be in India and would love to connect, right? And I think, and then I had to pause and say, shucks, haven’t seen some of these people in years, right? And it’s like, it’s like we still communicate like we were talking yesterday.

So, so I think that’s my unique differentiator. And I think if you ask anyone. Who knows me, I think they’d say the same person, right? Respectful supportive, caring and passionate human being.

Charles James: Fantastic. Warren Small, global leader, entrepreneur, innovator, board advisor, board adviser observer, investor, and a cybersecurity visionary.

Thank you for the time on coming on to Cyber Glass Ceiling. It’s been fun.

Warren Small: Thank you, Charles. What an incredible honor and I wish you everything of the best. This is the start of great things for us. I’m optimistic and I look forward to our next conversation where we celebrate some of our successes.

Salt Group: This episode was brought to you by Salt Cyber Security, part of Salt Group. We specialize in providing trust across digital channels. By helping major financial institutions verify the identity of their users and authenticating high value transactions in the UK and globally.

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