Chris Pogue

From "Tech to Exec"

“You are capable of more.”

The Five Words that Sparked an Incredible 18-month Journey

It’s noon on Sunday in New York City where Chris Pogue calls in from his hotel room for our conversation. I thought he was still in Ireland, but as an executive leader at Nuix — a software company specializing in eDiscovery and Investigations with nine locations around the globe — travel is part of the job.

One could assume a top executive like Chris would have a big office in their Manhattan building, with a breathtaking view of the Empire State Building just six blocks away. But you’d be wrong.

A husband of 21 years and father of two, Chris works from home back in Tulsa, Oklahoma (when he’s not on the road). Raised in a blue-collar family, Chris dropped out from college in 1995, and in his words, was not a very good student. “I knew enough at that point in my early twenties to know that I was not being successful at what I was doing and that I needed to do something else. So I joined the Army.”  Nine years went by before he returned to school to complete his education, earning a BS in Applied Management in 2004, and an MS in Information Technology in 2007.

“I rose my right hand and swore to defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” It’s clear this moment has since rooted in Chris’ mind as a sort of prophecy of the career he was about to begin. In fact, 1995 was the same year Prodigy, America Online, and Compuserve began providing access to homes across America, which meant digital crimes would not be far behind. Chris enlisted in the Field Artillery and later became a Warrant Officer in  the Signal Corps — the division managing all modern telecommunications and information systems, including computer systems, internet and local area networks, and voice and data communications.

“That gave me a bit more focus on computers and computer science, and then I was detached to the criminal investigation division to work on investigations that had digital evidence. They needed computer geeks to do it, and well, it turns out I had an affinity for solving problems. So that’s when my career in forensics sort of spawned.”

After a total of 13 years of active federal service, Chris went to work for IBM doing computer forensics and quickly moved up to Team Leader. After those nine years with IBM and then six years as a director with Chicago-based, cybersecurity firm, Trustwave, Chris was clearly wielding his full skillset: “I ran investigations globally, as well as all SpiderLabs business in Latin America.” (Did I forget to mention he speaks Spanish?)

Chris was then recruited by his current company, Nuix, and joined their cybersecurity department. He became their first Chief Information Security Officer after two years.

By now, you may be wondering why someone with Chris’ military and corporate success would call Coachwell. Eighteen months ago, Chris was promoted to Head of Services, Security, and Partner Integrations;  and was suddenly responsible for seven departments — a decision he made with prayer and a vote of confidence from his wife. His boss encouraged him to accept the position with just five words: “You are capable of more.”

His fear of failure — failing his boss, his team and even his family — was enough to call Coachwell coach, BG Allen, “I just called him and said, ‘Dear God, please help me.’” Chris retells this moment now with laughter instead of the anxiety sharing the line during that first call.

“I have a healthy, and sometimes unhealthy, fear of failure. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to take the time and energy to do it right,” he pauses, “I want to be the best at it.”

It wasn’t just the professional guidance and objective perspective BG provided for Chris to confront his fears in the new role. It was a genuine motivation for Chris to grow as a person and as a leader: “My coach had my best interests in mind, and so they had my company’s best interest in mind. He has been invaluable on the journey.”

Chris was not only facing his fears of failure in his new role, but grieving that his days as a forensics expert were over.

“I’ve written two books on my expertise. I spoke at multiple conferences every year. I’ve been quoted more than a hundred and fifty times in magazine articles and newspapers, on Fox News and CNN on my area of expertise. I’ve written programs that multiple federal law enforcement agencies use to this day to conduct investigations. This was my sweet spot, right? I was a world leading authority on it…and I stepped completely away from it. I was so far out of my comfort zone.”

This very honest and human side of Chris is what made his coaching experience fruitful, and ultimately made him successful in his new role, “You are not going to grow by doing what you already know how to do. I understand wanting to feel, you know, like you’re in control. And I think when you become vulnerable, you relinquish some of that control…but I think without it, again, you’re impeding your own growth.”

At this point in our conversation, Chris really began to roll.

“I’ve learned more about business, negotiations, about employee relations, sales strategies, and go-to-market strategies — in the last two years — than I think people learn in a lifetime. In every company, especially as a leader, you deal with people — and yet most schools don’t teach you how to deal with people.”

Looking back now at Chris’ decision to drop out of college, I wonder what his life would look like now if he had been taught how to interact and engage with others. Would he have stayed in school? Still joined the military? Is the “people-part” of business the key to being a successful leader? Chris thinks so.

“You become a professional and then either study on your own or you work with a coach, or do something to build these [people] skills that are absolutely essential to your success as leader. That was the most important aspect of the coaching relationship — developing an understanding of the human interaction of leadership.”

We wrapped the interview with one final question: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you now in your leadership abilities?”

“Ten,” he quickly responds. “I’ve learned that the skills and abilities that you have are not specific to any one industry. People are people and strategic problems are the same pretty much everywhere.”

Chris can tell how much he’s grown as a leader by how he judges his own success — not by his own individual achievements, but by the achievements of others. “It’s not the leader at the top that makes the organization great. It’s the people that make the leader look good. I learned early on to be confident, but not arrogant. There’s lots you don’t know and it’s always infinitely more complex than you think it is. To think you’re always going to get it right, is just not realistic.”

What’s next: Chris is writing a book on his experience and helping to guide others moving from an individual contributor role to an executive role. It is due out later this year.

Official Bio: Chris Pogue has more than 15 years’ experience and 2,000 breach investigations under his belt. Over his career, Chris has led multiple professional security services organizations and corporate security initiatives to investigate thousands of security breaches worldwide.

His extensive experience is drawn from careers as a cybercrimes investigator, ethical hacker, military officer, and law enforcement and military instructor. In 2010, Chris was named a SANS Thought Leader, ran an award-winning security blog (The Digital Standard), and has contributed to multiple security publications. Chris holds a Master’s Degree in Information Security and is also an adjunct cybersecurity professor at Southern Utah University.

Connect with Chris on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.

Meet Ryan Stillwater

Ryan Stillwater brings ten years of nonprofit experience to his role of Development Director for a Bend-based organization. He plays in a band and enjoys telling stories for Coachwell.

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