When he gets some quiet time away from his job as head of cybersecurity for Asia Pacific at banking giant HSBC, David Gee does yoga.
“Yoga is a metaphor for life,” he says, “…and for cybersecurity. We all have to develop core strength which includes flexibility and mindfulness.”
Raised by a family that frequently threw “charity parties,” Gee was exposed early to the merits of leadership and philanthropy. He saw firsthand how his father — a respected community leader and president of the Red Cross, Rotary and Chinese (Chung Wah) Society – inspired others. Gee learned from an early age what serving and giving back to the community truly meant.
As a result, in his career he made it a point to give back by doing what he does best – advising startups, being a force for change, and guiding and leading teams.
His search for a vocation took him to various industries including insurance, biotech, media and building materials.
Just as he was open to change in his personal path, Gee thrived in occasioning transformation: Both to companies that were just beginning, and large, established ones that were re-engineering.
For instance, he had the opportunity to manage fintech and non-fintech start-up teams that grew into significant enterprises. He found this both stimulating and challenging. David loved his time as a venture capitalist, it was pure and simple he sought out firms with “incredible upside for growth.” He was also an advisor to a fintech accelerator and leading innovation centers in Australia.
“Mentoring startups meant preparing them to pitch at both public events and in the boardrooms of large financial institutions,” he says.
Gee had real fun working with start-ups. “There is charm in the innocence and simplicity that many new concepts bring. The trick is to be able to position the start-up with different audiences – to speak corporate talk for those pitches or to have a subtly different focus with investment shark tanks.”
On the other hand, his stay with pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly gave him the opportunity to design an IT strategy – and oversee its implementation to deliver the outcomes. He stayed for 15 years, serving as CIO for Australia, China, Asia Pacific, Japan and then the USA.
He has also helped companies “re-engineer” – something he describes as both exhausting and exhilarating. He defines success as being able to build a strong team that is willing to move outside its comfort zone. “And we all learn to adapt to the heat.”
Transformation is always about people. “Yes, we have to transition processes and change systems, but in the end we have to change cultures to make this fully sustainable.”
“All these require courage, integrity and persistence – with just a sprinkle of inspiration.”
Leading a global team
HSBC is present in 67 countries and territories worldwide.
“We work as a global team and my interactions are on a daily basis,” Gee says of his team. “To this end we speak most evenings my time with colleagues on global meetings and workshops.”
The interactions are robust; the team, awesome. “We have a great combination of various experiences and skill sets.” Everyone understands that the combined strength is a key success factor to meet business demands.
Coaching is a key focus area, where executive and colleague cyber training awareness is a high priority for every member of the team. “In my first few months I have personally been involved in 8-9 train-the-trainer sessions.”
Not a cliché
Gee just joined HSBC but has been a shareholder of this “great company” for many years.
The scale and complexity of the bank’s operations make information security a great challenge. “We have an important task to protect our customers and defend HSBC from external attackers.”
For obvious reasons, cybersecurity in financial institutions will continue to be a major focus area.
Can organizations ever reduce their cyber-risk to zero?
“Sure,” Gee says. “Going back to pen and paper will move the dial in this direction.”
In all seriousness, managing cyber risks is integral to running the business in the digital age. If companies do this well, they “will be trusted by their customers and this will enable their business to grow.” Cyber risks, after all, are not merely technology risks but business ones too.
Again, teamwork plays a crucial part: “To prepare for this we need the whole team to get behind this and understand their own role. We often talk about how humans are the ultimate firewall. This is not a cliché but true.”
Giving back, passing through
With his current job taking much of his time, Gee has no present opportunity for direct involvement with start-ups. He continues to give back, however, through corporate accelerators and judging stints for industry events.
He says he finds time for praying and practicing Buddhism – and stops there. “That’s a great place to stop talking about myself. It’s healthy to recognize our own impermanence.
Gee ends the interview with a reminder about Bhutan being the happiest country in the world because the population thinks about dying seven times a day.
“It’s a sobering thought. Don’t take yourself too seriously.”