Career Notes 7.23.23
Ep 159 | 7.23.23

Don Welch: Being a good leader. [CIO]


Don Welch: Hello, my name is Don Welch. I'm the Chief Information Officer at New York University.

Don Welch: When I was young, I, uh, knew that I wanted to go into the military in some way, ended up being recruited to play football by the service academies and so I ended up going to the Military Academy and, uh, entering into the Army and that was Mechanical Engineering. Then I was commissioned into the infantry and, uh, did normal infantry stuff and really didn't know much about computers or, uh, really how they affected things, uh, for, you know, quite a while until later in my career when I, uh, got into it.

Don Welch: In the army, you have your primary specialty and then you get a secondary specialty. I knew that I wanted to go back to West Point to teach and I had the option of either teaching geography or computer science. I knew that, uh, geography really didn't present a lot of options in the outside world. Computer science sounded, uh, exciting, more aligned with my, uh, undergraduate, uh, degree in mechanical engineering. Uh, so, uh, off I went to get a master's in computer science, uh, with no background, undergraduate background in computer science. So got the baptism by fire, but really loved it. And, uh, you know, through the army, then uh, decided I loved it enough to, uh, get out of the normal, uh, career track as an infantry officer and focus on, uh, computer science and information technology.

Don Welch: The Army sent me for a, uh, a master's degree and I, I taught, uh, and then had the opportunity to, uh, do some exciting things in the Army to include, uh, working, uh, information technology for Delta Force. Uh, and then I had the opportunity to go back to West Point to teach. For a second time they sent me, I got a PhD in computer science, uh, went back to teach information technology and software engineering, uh, and then, uh, became the CIO, uh, at West Point. And really, that's where my interest in, uh, cybersecurity started. We realized that, uh, cybersecurity was going to be really important to national defense going forward and, uh, West Point cadets needed to really get smart about this and, uh, get trained up in it. So we set up a proposal, uh, to start a program in, uh, cybersecurity, uh, and, uh, got that off the ground and, and got that going and, uh, then I retired from the army in 2004, but that's, uh, that's where I got my start in cyber security.

Don Welch: I went into the civilian world for a while. I was the CTO for a company down in Texas called HEB, which is a grocery retailer. Great, great, great company. Security was in my portfolio there. But I really wanted to get back into higher education. The idea of serving society was just something that was important to me and so then had the opportunity to go back and be the, uh. Chief executive officer of a network and IT services company, uh, of which we started providing cybersecurity services on top of our, uh, our network and, uh, did some things like we developed the Michigan cyber range, uh, in a program there, worked with the state of Michigan to develop the the Michigan cybersecurity Corps. A lot of great things, uh, came out of that that opportunity.

Don Welch: After being the CEO for, uh, for quite a while, um, I knew, uh, that I probably was too in love with my ideas that had been successful, uh, to come up with the next great idea for the company. So, uh, I, I wanted to get back into cybersecurity. So I became the chief information security officer at the university of Michigan, uh, uh, after being there for awhile, I got recruited to go to Penn State and be the chief information security officer there. Uh, while I was there, uh, I had the opportunity to, uh, move over and become the chief information officer at Penn State. Uh, and then, uh, I got recruited away from Penn State to, uh, to come to NYU, and, uh, so here I am.

Don Welch: I will say that if you are a great leader, ultimately, you sit in your office and do nothing because you have developed your team and empowered them, and they're making all the decisions, everything runs like clockwork and you have nothing to do. I haven't achieved that yet, uh, working on it, but, uh, but I, uh, my leadership style is, uh, empowering, you know, at my level, I've got, uh, seasoned professionals that report to me. Uh, they wouldn't be there, uh, unless they knew how they, how to run their teams. Uh, and so my role is much more, uh, strategic, making sure they understand how, what they do fits into the entire organization, developing them so that they can become, uh, CIOs later in their career if they, uh, uh, if they wish, uh, and a lot of talking and listening people to make sure that we are aligned with what the university does. They all need to be accessible to the right people and protected from the wrong people.

Don Welch: I would say, uh, the most important thing that you can do, uh, is, is to keep learning. What I was able to do is, uh, to learn and, uh, you know, learn these new things that were coming along, be they technologies and so forth. Um, but also the leadership aspect, learn to be a better leader. Uh, one of the things that I, I think is really important that we understand as leaders is, uh, we have uh, I feel a moral imperative to be the best leader that you can, uh, first for your team, uh, for those of us that have ever worked for a bad leader, we know how that can absolutely, uh, ruin your day. And, uh, you know, it filters out to your family and a good leader, of course, um, uh, the opposite, uh, you know, it can really, uh, brighten your outlook, uh, make you, make you happier, uh, and, uh, make you more productive, I think that, uh, would be my advice and the most important thing is just continue to, to grow and in your, uh, uh, in your leadership and in your field.

Don Welch: I'd like to be remembered, uh, in that, I've left the organizations better off than, uh, than when I came that, uh, the organizations work better, there's better teamwork. All the things that we try and do, uh, in IT, uh, I'd, I'd like just people to, to, um, uh, to feel that I've, uh, I've done it better. Uh, and I'd also like the people that I've worked with, uh, over the years to go on and be great leaders and I think that the things that they accomplish and the things that they do, I'd like to think that that was also part of my legacy.