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Selling Security Building Relationships

By Michelle Choate
Rinaldi Pisani '87 details his experience working in the cybersecurity industry for over three decades.
Cyberattacks. Hacking. Data breaches. Computer viruses. Identity theft. These are terms that have become frighteningly common in the digital age. As we conduct more and more of our social and business lives online, our exposure to an abundance of cybercrimes grows greater and greater.

For the United States government and major corporations, the risks of cyberattacks—and the subsequent costs of such attacks—are astronomical. As a result, they have grown hypervigilant in their quest to protect themselves from such threats. Part of this protection comes through the engagement of cybersecurity firms that provide IT security and information assurance for businesses, government and critical infrastructure.

When Rinaldi Pisani ’87 joined the cybersecurity realm 20 years ago, the industry did not yet have such a high profile in the daily news, nor was it filled with the international intrigue and infamy that it is associated with today. Then known as information security or information assurance, the industry was focused primarily on compliance and risk management. But in a world that has become increasingly dependent on computers and online systems—and with the lightning speed at which technology changes and grows—infor- mation security firms had to be quick to adapt. Shortly after Pisani joined his current company, Telos, the firm took steps to embrace the transformation that would soon be known as cybersecurity.

“I have spent a lot of time in cybersecurity, and things have certainly changed. The government, the military and now private firms are highly focused on cybersecurity, and the issues around it are a lot more prevalent—and more widely reported. We hear more about data breaches and spillages, and our solutions have evolved to contain those problems,” says Pisani. “One of the biggest transitions we’ve witnessed over the years is from providing on-premise net- working perimeter defense to security for cloud-based networking environments.”

Pisani’s company has been in the cybersecurity space for more than three decades. Telos promotes cybersecurity, cloud security and enterprise security, and solutions in all of those areas. Telos has always supported all aspects of the United States government, including the CIA and other sectors of the intelligence and special operations communities, the Department of Defense, federal civilian agencies and state governments. In recent years, however, the company has emerged in the commercial space as the private sector has embraced the security standards of the government and military. The company, which works in both classified and unclassified spaces, now counts among its clients Fortune 50 companies, independent software vendors and manufacturers.

As the company has grown, new challenges have emerged—and not just from increasingly sophis- ticated cyberthreats. “The cybersecurity space has become crowded. Anyone with a software tool will make a claim that it provides cybersecurity,” explains Pisani. “We have to spend time defining how Telos is unique and what value we bring. For example, the phrase ‘continuous monitoring’ has many connotations for different people, but what we do and how we do it is different than some of the other companies. There is a place for everyone depending on what the customer is looking for, as it relates to cybersecurity and risk management.”

But while the industry itself is overpopulated with firms, those firms are suffering from a dearth of skilled professionals. As a result, winning a new client is only half the battle; finding enough talent to staff their projects is becoming increasingly difficult. And if you do find skilled people, the hot market means they can command top dollar. In order to grow the workforce, firms like Telos are working with colleges and universities to promote cybersecurity educational tracks and engaging in various internship programs. “We will grow the workforce,” says Pisani. “It’s just going to take time and patience.”

Pisani’s role at Telos has evolved along with the business, which is one of the many reasons he’ll be celebrating his 20th year with the company in February 2020. “I’ve stayed here because I’ve been afforded the opportunity to do different things, and there has always been potential for upward mobility and to work in different areas of the company, such as operations and P&L management,” explains Pisani. “Over the years, I’ve managed from 5 people to 150 people. It has been refreshing to be able to do these different things, and it’s nice to have new challenges.”

When he first joined the company, Pisani worked in Army sales, then ran the Department of Defense sales team. Eventually, he was running cybersecurity sales and then moved into cybersecurity operations. Later, when the company had a need for business develop- ment and sales, Pisani went back to that where he has been since 2014.

After almost 25 years in information and cyberse- curity, Pisani is still excited by the industry and the products he works with. “Telos has some dynamic new solutions, like Telos Ghost, a misattribution, an anonymization and an obfuscation tool that allows users anonymous access to the web, which is bene- ficial for people doing threat intel research—or any research—by being able to go into the ‘dirty web,’” says Pisani. Who might use such a tool? “People who are planning a trip may want to do research on a local area without that local area knowing they are coming from the U.S.,” explains Pisani. “So we allow them to make it look like they are coming from Ireland.”

One might think that his day job would make Pisani hypervigilant when it comes to his personal computing, but that is not the case. For himself, and for the average person, he believes in being conscientious but not paranoid, when engaging in online banking and other cyberactivities. Says Pisani, “If you follow common sense and best practices, you should be OK.”

The Telos opportunity came to Pisani in the same way that other life-changing opportunities have come to him: as a result of his wide group of friends, his strong personal network and his openness to new experiences. “I had a friend working at Telos who had been promoted from an Army sales capacity to running the Department of Defense sales. He was looking to bring somebody on. The timing was right, and it sounded like an interesting company and a chance for more solution selling, so I made the jump,” says Pisani.

The job Pisani jumped from was with Westwood Computer (which eventually became Emtec), where he rose from baseline sales to national government sales manager. And, true to the pattern, he got the job through his personal network. “After graduating from Georgetown, I stayed in the area looking for a job. I was playing for a local men’s rugby club and asked if any of the guys on the team knew of any openings, not knowing what path it would take,” says Pisani. “Many of my teammates were involved in IT solutions, products and services.” And soon, Pisani had his first job. The Telos job is only his second.

Making connections and forging long-term bonds has always come naturally to Pisani. He entered La Jolla Country Day School as an upper schooler, but he instantly felt at home and made fast friends with other students who had known one another for years— friends he remains close with to this day. “I am on a daily text chat with five or six core buddies of mine from Country Day,” he says. “I have fond memories of my time there and have made it to the 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th reunions. I definitely keep in touch.”

Pisani’s choice of Georgetown for college was influenced in part by LJCDS’s headmaster at the time, Dr. Tim Burns, who was a Georgetown alumnus and often spoke to him about the university. At Georgetown, Pisani made more lifelong friends— none more important than his wife of 22 years, Christina. The couple have two daughters: Julia, who is at the University of South Carolina, and Mia, who is a sophomore in high school.

These days, staying at the same company for two decades is a rarity. But given how highly Pisani values people and relationships, his extended tenure at a company with a culture that promotes connection and mutual support makes perfect sense. “Telos is a very relationship-driven type of organization—with our partners and customers but also internally. There is tremendous longevity here. The CEO and COO have both been here for almost 30 years, and many of my colleagues have been with me my whole time here. It gives a sense of camaraderie, support and confidence,” says Pisani. “We had a manager who said, ‘This company feels like a ball team.’ I think he meant that we were a very well-knit team, with people going out of their way to help and support one another.”

Says Pisani, “I’ve always valued personal inter- actions, and I’ve been very fortunate, starting with high school, to develop a core group of friends that have stayed with me throughout my life. Fortunately, my desire to build relationships has rolled into my professional life. I have the ability to build relation- ships with colleagues, partners and clients, and some of those professional relationships have transformed into friendships. I count myself lucky for that.”

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