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Becoming a cyber leader, bit by bit

Dr. Maya Bundt, Head of Cyber and Digital Solutions at Swiss Re

To all those who fear their careers have so many twists and turns that they will never get to the top, Dr. Maya Bundt, Head of Cyber and Digital Solutions at Swiss Re may help you reconsider. As she puts it “if I look back from where I started, it looks like I picked each and every job at Swiss Re in order to get to where I am now. But while I was on that journey, it didn’t seem that way.” Whether in cyber insurance or cyber in general, Maya’s advice to those who want to step into the field is “accept non-linearity in your career.” From the outside, what may seem like a straight dash to the finish line, feels more like navigating through a giant jungle gym from the inside. However, as non-linear as it may be, Maya has seen every role change and every risk as a critical step in the journey that is her career.

I’m a natural scientist at heart. My passion for the topic and our planet led me to pursue my education in environmental sciences. With my Master’s degree in hand, I decided to continue in this direction and obtained a PhD in soil physics. As many of my fellow doctors, I was then faced with the question of what to do next: stay in academia or move into industry? Having spent most of my life in school, I decided to make a change and got a job as a strategy consultant. Three years later, I joined Swiss Re as a senior project manager. After fourteen years with Swiss Re, I’m now the Head of Cyber and Digital Solutions.

Looking back, it’s clear that each move I made and job I took was exactly what I needed to get to my current role. But at the time of taking all of these decisions, there was no such thing as cyber insurance. So, at the start of my career, I wasn’t looking for this job because it simply didn’t exist; the entire field didn’t exist! However, with time, it became evident that what Swiss Re and other financial service providers could do in a new digitalised world would also create great vulnerabilities. I thought that was fascinating!

Now, I absolutely see myself staying here. Cyber insurance is the most exciting field you can imagine. There is so much to do and there are so many facets, which means that there’s room for people from all kinds of backgrounds.

Maya breaks her journey down into three phases – getting started, broadening her skillset and leading her own team – and highlights the lessons she has learned along the way.

The early years

Reflecting on her experience in more junior roles, Maya remembers learning how to convince and negotiate:

You often don’t have the formal authority to get things done”. She argues that a key skill for those starting their careers is to work with others to achieve one’s own goals and ensure those who help also benefit and get recognised. Maya highlights that, along with technical, theoretical and practical knowledge, one must never underestimate the importance of personal networks, soft skills and collaboration: “It doesn’t matter who you are or how good you are. Nobody can achieve great things by themselves.

Stepping up your game

Maya strongly believes that everyone has room for improvement. She quotes the popular saying:

If you’re the smartest person in the room… then you’re in the wrong room.

Although it may be more comfortable to be the big fish in a small pond, true personal development requires constantly seeking to gain new skills. She emphasises that even those that have mastered one particular area of expertise can and must learn from their colleagues and branch out. This is especially true in cross-functional disciplines such as cyber insurance, where each member of a team should bring a certain expertise, be it underwriting, technical cyber security or law, and make the effort to become proficient in other relevant areas. Not only does this contribute to great team dynamics; it inevitably results in better solutions.

Taking on the responsibility of leadership

In her current role, Maya is not responsible for protecting Swiss Re’s infrastructure, systems or data. Instead, she is in the business of building cyber insurance solutions and developing the market. For these tasks, she needs a team with many different skills and argues that she would be very hard pressed to find all of them in the same person. However having fostered a multi-disciplinary team means that Maya is regularly presented with questions or solutions that challenge her views. Regardless, she sees this as a gift and when asked what advice she would give other leaders in cyber security, she replies “listen to what you don’t want to hear.” She believes that leaders should not only be open-minded; they must also proactively encourage and reward those that constructively disagree with them.

In summarising how she became the Head of Cyber Solutions at Swiss Re, Maya reflects:

How I got here? Some luck, good choices and a lot of really hard work.

Maya has taken each phase of her career, each obstacle in the jungle gym, as a stepping-stone to her next role. As the challenges in cyber are in constant flux with ever-evolving threats, the field needs the agility of people who are driven by change.
 

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