Dr. Adrian Mayers has always loved learning. “As a child, I was curious. Instead of playing with my toys, I would take them apart to see how they worked,” he recalls, adding, “Sometimes I would be able to put them back together, and sometimes not, to my parents’ chagrin.”
In the fourth grade, Mayers joined his school’s computer club, where he was introduced to computers and coding. “I was fascinated by this little Sinclair computer and by coding—how you could input this language and the computer would make things happen.”
With time, Mayers’ fascination with technology grew. “I found cybersecurity in college, and had the realization that I like protecting things that matter,” he says. “I’m not a big fan of bullies, so if I can stop someone from taking advantage of someone else, that’s what I want to do.”
Recently, Mayers was named one of the top CISOs in North America by CISO Connect. This award recognizes those who not only are exceptional leaders, but also give back to the community, industry, and the next generation of security professionals.
We sat down with Mayers to learn more about cybersecurity, protecting Premera’s members and employees, and how curiosity and a love of learning are important qualities in a leader. Here’s what he shared with us:
Q: Please tell us about your role at Premera.
A: I am the Vice President/Chief Information Security Officer here at Premera. This means I am the primary person responsible for protecting and defending the business from a cybersecurity perspective. Healthcare is a highly regulated industry, so there are a lot of things we have to do from a compliance standpoint. The other aspect of our work is about being aware of and responsive to clear and present danger from threat actors who may try to get member information, or lock up your entire system with ransomware.
Q: Before joining Premera, you held senior management positions at several technology companies—Vertafore, Microsoft, Nokia, and Securiguard. What is different about doing cybersecurity work in a healthcare setting?
A: Working in healthcare is a different level of fulfillment – it feeds my soul. Not that being in tech wasn’t fun, because it was. But when I was working in tech, there were times I wasn’t sure who I was serving. At Premera, it’s very clear who I’m serving. Every day I get up and go to work to serve our members. That clarity of thought, purpose, and mission is why I came to Premera and why I want to keep doing this work.
Q: You hold multiple professional certifications and degrees, and you continue to pursue academic research in various aspects of cybersecurity, intelligence, and foreign policy. You clearly love to learn. Is your dedication to learning part of what makes you good at your job?
A: It goes back to being a child and taking apart my toys. That childlike wonder still exists in me. For example, I read poetry, I’ve been dabbling with photography, and reading about global culture, and learning about different religions. All of these things reinforce my ability to stay curious, continuously ask questions, and have the gumption to go and seek the answers.
I love learning and my team loves learning. And Premera is becoming a learning organization. That requires a shift in culture where it’s ok, even encouraged, to ask questions. I love that we’re staying curious, trying to figure out better ways to serve the member. Throughout my career, love of learning and asking questions have always benefitted me.
Q: Beyond a love of learning and willingness to ask questions, what else do you think makes a great leader? What advice would you give future leaders?
A: Right off the bat, being a good leader is about relationships and acknowledging that any healthy relationship requires open and honest communication and effort. In college, I washed cars for a living and ran small teams at the car wash. That was my first foray into management. On busy days we’d have to wash 400 cars. The ability to do that effectively requires communications and respect amongst team members.
My relationship with my team at Premera is the same. I’ve never liked the moniker “boss.” I work with my team – they don’t work for me. We’re here representing our members. The idea of having open, honest, bidirectional communication is fundamental to strong, sustainable leadership—leadership that people want to emulate.
The other piece—the most important piece—is around character. Who are you at your core? What do you do when nobody is looking? If you are accountable, honest, and empathetic, every chance you get to demonstrate that behavior adds to your ability to lead effectively.
Q: Lastly, you volunteer with a charity called Stronger Families. Can you tell us a bit about that organization, and what importance it holds for you?
A: My doctorate dissertation was about cybereconomic espionage and how it impacts national security and U.S. competitiveness. While I was doing that research, I gained a strong understanding and respect for what the military and the intelligence community do in this country and abroad. The occupational stressors that come with military and first responder jobs can be profound. Stronger Families, a Seattle-based nonprofit, offers services and relationship skills to military, veteran, and first responder families so they can be strong and thrive. You can learn more at strongerfamilies.com.