Three Questions with Sandy Dunn, CISO at a Large Health Insurance Provider in Idaho

Picture this: it’s 4:30 a.m. on a cold winter day in Wyoming. Instead of sleeping in and staying cozy, you wake up to start your paper delivery route. Seven days a week. On a bike. Facing strong winds head-on. That’s Sandy Dunn’s experience at her first job when she was only ten years old. Since her days as a paper delivery kid, Sandy’s had numerous jobs—a dog groomer, baby sitter, lawn mower, barkeeper, hay stacker, and finally, as a CISO at a large health insurance provider in Idaho. She hasn’t exactly had a straight path to becoming a CISO- in between all the jobs mentioned above, she was also a saleswoman of software, insurance, and even horses before her current role- but what all of these ‘entry’ jobs taught her was how to be gritty. How to wear many hats, and how to wake up, get dressed, and get the job done. Inspired, we sat down to get to know Sandy more and how she became an important part of Women in Identity.

Where will we find you at 10 a.m. on a Saturday, and how does that routine/ritual help you be a better leader during the workweek?

I will probably be team roping, barrel racing, or headed to a rodeo with my husband and daughter. I’ve always lived by the rule, work hard, play harder. For me, I recognize I need the mental recovery of my horses and family to be a better leader. My big ideas happen when I just let thoughts, challenges, and general work bounce around in my subconscious and give my brain a break.

What woman inspires you, and how do they influence your leadership style?

This could be a very long list, but I will keep it reasonable. I’ve always admired women who ignored the rules and accomplished what they wanted to do using kindness, resilience, brains, and durability. From the technical world, of course, my friend Carrie Roberts who is just brilliant and smart. Also, Tarah Wheeler, Helen Balinsky, and Julia Evans inspire me endlessly. To round out the list, people like Lucille Ball, Hedy Lamarr, The Night Witches also galvanize and finally my Mother.

To diverge from the list (I tried to keep it short!), the most important business lesson I learned was from my best friend, Erin King. Many years ago, Erin and I had pulled into a barrel race late, and there was no place to park. We pulled in close to another horse trailer, and the girls in that trailer came marching back to tell us to move. I was ready to puff my chest out, stand up to my full 5′ 9′ ½” and fight back. Erin jumped out of the truck first. She gave them the biggest smile and said, “We completely understand how important it is to you your horses have plenty of room, there isn’t any other parking, but you tell us how to park, so you feel your horses are safe.” They immediately stopped being on the fight and pointed to an area about 6 inches further from where we had originally tried to park. They then gave us both big smiles and told us, “good luck” and “make a run!” I can’t explain how awestruck I was at how she had completely won over these girls who were ready for a big scuffle.

This event completely changed how I approached every business disagreement and discussion. After the “Erin lesson,” I made it a point to stop, think about the situation from the other people or teams perspective, lead with a smile, and put every possible effort into understanding where the other side was coming from. Then I make sure their concerns are addressed and give them ownership in the solution. This change has had a bigger impact on my career, then everything else I’ve done combined. 

How do you keep yourself grounded in times of great stress or change?

I’ve learned that I have to keep doing a little something technical. I look for ways to challenge myself, stretch my brain, and learn something new to make sure I keep my attitude positive and looking forward to each workday. It keeps me close to why I pursued a career in cybersecurity and reminded me of what I love about my job. Also, I believe life would be pretty boring if we didn’t have a few challenges. I’ve led this crazy fun life, and it’s included the following:  trying to figure out how to make two dollars last a few meals (a dozen eggs, the generic bread, and cheap butter); had my card fail at Christmas when the cart was full (a kind stranger paid for the cart and I’ve paid it forward several times since then); lived out of a truck when I was kicked out of a rental house because of a dog (it was a really good dog). I’ve been through really downtimes, and I’ve always somehow figured out how to dig myself out. I think everyone goes through times when they are overwhelmed and stressed. Still, I remind myself I love solving interesting problems, and as long as my family is happy and healthy, whatever happens, is part of the adventure.

Sandy Dunn, CISO

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