Spitler on success in security: ‘There’s always that thing known as hard work’
IRVINE, Calif.—Mobile is a good word to describe Debra Spitler, VP mobile access solutions for HID Global. One of the most well known executives in the industry, Spitler has covered a lot of ground in her nearly 32 years in security.
One of the marquee projects Spitler has worked on in recent years is the NFC-enabled smartphone access control pilot project at Arizona State University. It was an important project for HID, and Spitler professionally, but ASU is also important to Spitler because it’s where she went to school and began her career in security.
Her first job out of college was as a field territory sales representative for Honeywell. By the time she left Honeywell 18 years later, she was a national accounts manager.
To secure that first job, she had to complete a series of interviews, assessments of her mechanical aptitude, and issue an ultimatum. Honeywell wanted to hire her—but not for a few months. That timeline wasn’t going to work for Spitler—she had a couple of other offers on the table—so she went to meet with a branch manager and said, “If you want to hire me, you need to do it now.”
The branch manager said he’d speak to his superiors. “They left me in the room for three hours,” she said. The manager eventually returned with a job offer. “He said if I could stick it out this long [waiting for him to return], I would never give up.”
“Looking back today, and knowing what I know now, I’m not sure I would have taken such a brash and forward approach,” Spitler said.
As a national accounts manager, she worked with larger customers “handling all their security needs from burg to fire to access to CCTV … and I handled those customers on a nationwide basis.”
She was also working long, long hours, so when she was approached about joining HID to start an end user program, she eventually agreed. “It was semi-related to what I’d been doing. … I thought this would be a good bridge into change without making a radical change,” Spitler said.
Next February, Spitler will mark 15 years at HID. When she started out at HID, it was a relatively small company. She thrived in the entrepreneurial atmosphere. “If you had an idea of something you wanted to do to grow [the business] it was easy to bring the idea to senior management,” she said. The company is a good place for ambitious entrepreneurial people, she said.
During her time at HID, she’s headed up the embedded solutions program and run the marketing department. She was told: “You’re always telling marketing what to do, [so] why don’t you take over the department?” She oversaw the department for almost three years, during a time when HID was buying companies, some international, and she helped “merge those companies into the HID culture and program.”
Next, then-CEO Joe Grillo asked her to take over as president of OMNIKEY Americas, HID’s desktop reader business.
After that she spearheaded HID’s efforts to deal with restrictive RFID legislation. Her next job was running the resurgent embedded solutions business. Spitler began her present job as head of mobile access solutions in 2011.
During her tenure in the industry, she’s noticed more women executives, but they tend to be in a sales or marketing roles. In her job now, she works a lot with companies outside of the security industry, and interestingly, the dearth of women is equally if not more noticeable, she said.
Mobile network companies, PC and handset manufacturers are still predominantly male. “It’s to the point where if I walk into a meeting room, I’m almost shocked when there’s another woman in the room.”
Having a balance of men and women and in general “the right mix and the right people who provide an opportunity to have some different viewpoints is very important,” she said.
With more than three decades in the industry, Spitler says she’ll still “get tested when she goes into a meeting.” Fortunately, once “you demonstrate that you do know what you’re talking about and you have the ability to follow through, anything [negative] associated with gender tends to go away,” she said.
For women considering a job in security, she said that women sometimes will not ask for help on the job, fearing that it will be seen a sign of weakness. Not asking for help is worse, she said.
To succeed in security “there’s always that thing known as hard work. Don't expect to have anything handed to you on a silver platter,” Spitler said.