Jen Easterly was determined to serve her country from a very early age. So certain was she that West Point was the place to start, she applied early despite never having visited the campus. She was accepted—and thus began a noteworthy career that has spanned from the Army to the National Security Agency to the White House to her current job as the Global Head of Morgan Stanley’s Cybersecurity Fusion Center.
After graduating, Easterly went on to earn a Master’s degree at Oxford University; she then joined the Army as an intelligence officer and rose through the ranks, serving in command and staff positions around the world, including standing up the Army’s first cyber operations unit. She was also instrumental in the design and development of U.S. Cyber Command. Upon retiring from the Army in 2011, Easterly took on the role of Deputy for Counterterrorism at the National Security Agency, and later returned to the White House where she served on President Obama’s National Security Council Staff as Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Counterterrorism, responsible for leading the development and coordination of global counterterrorism and hostage policy.
You might not then expect her next job to be working for a bank. But, as Easterly sees it, her task—defending the firm and its clients from cyber threats—was a familiar one, effectively “an extension of the national security mission that I had done for 27 years,” she says. “It’s about protecting a firm that's part of the fabric of our economic security as a nation.” Easterly shares her insights on Cybersecurity in the Connected Age in this Morgan Stanley Minute.
Put simply, we protect and defend the firm and its clients from a range of cyber-threat actors, from nation-states to cybercriminals to hacktivists to insiders. We’re a global enterprise with centers around the world to enable us to respond to threats twenty-four-seven and to ensure resiliency in the face of an increasingly complex and dynamic cyber threat environment. Our mission is to understand, prepare, respond, recover and learn from operational disruptions to the firm’s business services, across the full range of threats from cyber attacks and fraud to technology incidents, weather events, geopolitical unrest, and pandemics.
Morgan Stanley is a great institution with a rich history and a strong organizational culture–now that I’ve been here for a few years, I can understand why people spend decades here. But for me, coming here was first and foremost a chance to lead another purpose-driven mission, and I was excited about the opportunity to build and lead a global team to accomplish that mission. I knew that the firm placed a strategic priority on cyber from the senior leadership level on down and would ensure we had the resources and support needed to build out the Fusion organization effectively, .from its origins three years ago as the Fusion Center to its expanded scope as the Fusion Resilience Center.
It was an intense, and at times, very difficult experience, but it taught me a lot about myself and how to deal with adversity and failure: the importance of believing in yourself, of overcoming your fears, of setting high expectations and working hard to achieve them, and above all the importance of teamwork and servant leadership.
Besides technical expertise and intellect, I am looking for someone who is an imaginative problem solver, a good communicator, and who is genetically wired to be helpful. We often talk about Fusion being first and foremost a team sport, as our success is in large part dependent on the partnerships we’ve built with key stakeholders across the firm as well as our external partners. To be effective, you have to thrive on collaboration and believe that the best idea should win, no matter where it comes from.
I love walking into our offices around the world and seeing our values etched into glass and granite. From putting others first, to leading with exceptional ideas, to doing the right thing, to giving back–these are values that our employees truly live by. In particular, I love the strong focus on volunteerism. I serve as a Trustee for the Morgan Stanley Foundation, as well as on several non-profit boards, and last year, with the firm’s full support, we were able to pilot a year-long cyber philanthropy program where folks across our cybersecurity team could use their unique technical skills to help a non-profit partner address their cybersecurity needs—a fantastic way to meaningfully give back to the community.
You were one of the few women intelligence officers during your time in the Army and are still one of the few women in cybersecurity. Are you involved in mentoring at all?
Yes, extensively, for both men and women. I’ve had some fantastic mentors in my life, and I believe it’s my responsibility to help shape the next generation of technology leaders, passing on the hard-won lessons that I’ve learned throughout my career and helping to ignite in others the passion I have for technology and cybersecurity. My current project involves working with a non-profit organization to bring together the world’s cyber experts and the world’s greatest storytellers to not only educate on issues of safety and security, but to build a diverse talent pipeline, starting at a very early age, to help narrow the widening cyber skills gap. While I will continue to be a mentor for individuals, this effort will hopefully allow me to mentor and influence at a greater scale.
It’s hard to pin down the best piece of advice I’ve ever received. If I had to distill a few of the key lessons I’ve learned throughout my career, it would be about the importance of inspirational leadership, the value of empathy and kindness, and that “relentless positivity is a force multiplier.” Being grateful for every day of your life and purposefully living it to the fullest. As Mae West who famously said, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”