Interview with Michael Sussman
What was that like?
“It was real. I lost friends. I was meeting families sheltering in homes riddled with bullet holes. These bullet holes weren’t artifacts. They were fresh. And multiplying. I remember a father who felt safer digging a tiny cave in his backyard for his family. It was the only security he could provide.”
How long did you do this work for?
“A year. It didn’t so much change me as it confirmed the answer to the question I think every 20-year-old has: ‘What do I want do do?’ as opposed to ‘What am I capable of?’ It was Mark Twain who said: “The most important days in your life are the day you’re born and the day you discover why.’ It may sound cliché, but I was born to do this.”
Would you say there was an “Israel” effect?
“I think the conditions in Israel at the time made me internalize many hard realities of the world around me. Today in a global business environment saturated in threats, that early experience still nourishes the values and moral framework that shape our firm’s work for the private sector. So yeah, I think that part of my story is important.”
What came next?
“I carried that realness with me when I returned to Canada and began working in the House of Commons. I couldn’t shake off the increasingly deep-rooted awareness I’d developed for threats. I have kept that to this day. My grandmother told me she remembers me coming home feeling startled that I obtained my Parliamentary access pass in under 24 hours. They must have done some sort of background check, but did they know anything about me? Did they do their…”
(interrupts)…KYC due diligence?
“Yes (smiles) exactly! So even though my job description did not yet say Security Expert I became someone the upper echelon policy makers turned to informally for a level of realness about the Israeli experience.”
“I became an immigrant of sorts. I returned to Israel to contribute to research on the Iranian nuclear threat and counter-terrorism solutions.”
Your first real threat assessment work was as part of a team assessing the Iranian nuclear threat? Does it get any more real than that?
“It was real alright. To this day, every Sussman threat assessment is informed by that experience. And the mentors I learned from.”
Not many who lead global security firms have had that experience or worked at that level of intensity.
“Perhaps not. Everyone has their own path. Mine was irregular. But in its own way every step on my journey rhymed with the last. Because the work I did was so hands-on and consequential, and often with existential impacts, I learned early on what approach I wanted to bring to private sector security. “
Does private sector security,as opposed to public,require a strong moral compass?
“For us there’s a huge moral dimension in providing real security, one that can’t be taught. If it isn’t in your nature to automatically consider the impact of action or inaction on the welfare of the human beings you’re protecting, then corporate security becomes a kind of cold business calculus.”
“Maybe for those security brands who are really, at their heart, accounting firms. Not Sussman. Part of Sussman’s mission, my mission, is to interrupt the idea that corporate security is only about protecting business continuity, meeting compliance and avoiding fines. In point of fact, it’s 100% about business continuity but also 100% about the positive, tangible human outcomes that business continuity provides.”
“Life continuity. Resilience. That’s what gets everyone at Sussman up in the morning. In Judaism there’s this wonderful obligation called ‘Tikkun Olam’ that basically says Jews are called upon to make the world more just, peaceful, tolerant, and equal, through acts of charity, kindness, and political action. I had no trouble reconciling how working in security could make the world more just. What young person doesn’t want to do that?”
What do your clients say about you?
“Look, instead of what they say about me let me tell you what one of our clients said about our experts. ‘These guys are beyond subject. These guys are like super-subject matter experts.’”
“More importantly, they’re true words. What our experts have in common, to borrow our client’s wording, is a superpower of unyielding competence, the ability to do what they’ve been called to do using the skills they learned in the trenches, which is the most valuable superpower of all.
Look, security is not a game. There’s no such thing as “okay” security. So why settle for anything less than super-subject matter experts?”
Is there a kudo you could share that you feel says something essential about Sussman?
“A client we worked with in the Middle East told me that, shortly after seeing us do our work, he was asked by a colleague in another sector, ‘Should I choose Sussman?’
“He replied, ‘Do you want a risk assessment to get a promotion or to secure your building?’
“Our team loved that.”
Lastly,in your view, what’s a common reason organizations still don’t spend enough on security?
Conversely, what’s an evidence-based reason why they should invest properly in security assessments?