Amy Vaillancourt: An Empathic Leader Who Champions Diverse Hiring Practices & Invests in People

The 10 Most Influential HR Executives to Watch in 2023

Amy Vaillancourt’s career trajectory ultimately brought her to Arco IT, a Swiss cybersecurity consulting firm established in 2013, where she became the COO. Under her leadership, the company has transformed beyond imagination. Amy is a leader who combines the qualities of humanism, resiliency, and community-building. In addition to her background in and continued commitment to pedagogy and education, she has diverse international experience.

The journey to leading Arco IT

Before joining Arco IT, Amy was an educator for 20 years, primarily teaching teenagers at high school or college level. She assisted thousands of students, from all socio-economic backgrounds, in realizing their potential while expanding their horizons. Her former students have moved on to the next stage of life. The value that she instilled in her students is to have more precise, and larger goals for themselves.

Leaders in the classrooms, schools, and community inspire those around them. As Amy transitioned to the business world, she was always flexible and willing to try new things and found herself leaning on her teaching and school leadership experience.

Drawing from her experience of over two decades in education, Amy was able to bring a new perspective and approach to the company. She works hard to impact every area of the organization (including project management, sales, marketing, accounting, and human resources) and fosters genuine connections with all the company’s stakeholders.

Demonstrating leadership qualities from an early age

Whether at the executive level, classroom or yoga studio, Amy’s overarching goal has always been to inspire and drive people to perform at their best.

She always felt the desire to take charge. Even as a child, Amy would encourage her extended family to sit in the living room and listen to her give a concert of her repertoire on the saxophone, every month.

From organizing a monthly saxophone recital for her family, to creating and leading a youth cheer team in Japan, to teaching in a Los Angeles south central high school, it was these qualities which would eventually lead to Amy’s trademark skills of community-building and resilience.

Today, she looks forward to discovering fresh avenues of communication and partnership every day. It doesn’t matter if she’s leading an all-staff meeting or a yoga class, her main goals are to foster collaboration and spread helpful information. She places the same values on Arco IT’s customers’ success, as she does on her own team and students.

Learning resilience and finding balance through spirituality

Amy believes that, when faced with adversity, a new path is emerging, and this obstacle triggers you to learn more about yourself and the people around you. As a result, she takes on any difficulty enthusiastically, considering it a chance to learn and grow.

Having built her knowledge, wisdom, and faith through a wide range of experiences, Amy defines herself in terms of an acronym SOAR, which she interprets as Solution-oriented, Optimistic, Adaptable, and Resilient.

“Certainly, I have had and will still have difficult times, but why stay down? What is down there for you? It is not easy to regroup and try again, or try something new, but why not try? Once you overcome your thoughts of failure, isn’t everything you experience a win?” Amy asks.

Through all life’s ups and downs, she remains steadfast and resilient in the belief that one can take on challenges and issues head-on. According to Amy, we only need one victory to truly appreciate ourselves. As one of her favorite Japanese sayings is: “Fall seven times, get up eight,” illuminating her staunch belief in her abilities no matter the adversity.

An overarching theme in Amy’s life was that she learned to think quickly on her feet and trust her intuition, as much as her mind, when making important choices.

“I found a new career in my 40s, and I am happy to continue in Cybersecurity. It is a daily challenge to stay current with the changing threat landscape and technologies,” she remarks. “I really love what I do because our work makes a difference. Even though I’m not teaching full-time anymore, I am still able to create value by connecting to people.”

However, the secret to Amy’s resilience and success is her Buddhist faith. She has been a member of Soka Gakkai International for the past quarter-century and begins each day with ten minutes of chanting.

Articulating significant and specific life goals and taking action on those are integral to her practice. Amy firmly believes that this morning routine helps her stay in the “rhythm of the universe,” so that she can come up with positive solutions to obstacles.

Taking on Arco

Since Amy joined Arco IT, year on year the number of employees and clients has nearly doubled, while services have been streamlined, and service management firmly established. Moreover, key partnerships have been created and developed with other IT companies, vendors, and educational institutions.

Clients of Arco IT can now use a comprehensive cyber defense approach, including Security Assessments, CISO as a Service, ISMS management, and select cyber security managed services. The NIST Cybersecurity Framework, the CIS Controls, ISO 27k, and BSI are just a few of the industry standards and best practice guidelines that Arco IT uses to help improve its clients’ security posture.

Amy’s strategies to expand the company, and boost its image in German-speaking Switzerland, have paid off in spades. They have created a sales pipeline that comes from potentials reaching out to Arco IT. Amy finds that potentials are looking to improve upon their organization’s IT security posture, and Arco is ready to contribute.

Rebranding the firm to an empowering, encouraging image

When she first joined Arco IT in August 2019, Amy initiated a process of rebranding, from name to logo to the go-to-market plan. Within six months, the angular, red-and-blue design, logo, and moniker, that might have led everyone to believe they dealt in financial planning, had been scrapped.

Amy’s team rebranded to the current design, which now features a round font in a blue-green gradient. Amy believes the new logo conveys friendliness, calmness, and competence.

“Of course, no one could predict that within three months of the rebrand, we would have to send employees home during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. However, the fruition of a calmer and friendly IT security company was greatly welcomed during these difficult times,” Amy remarks.

She notes that potential customers seemed weary and were scared off by the typical dark digital webs and lock-emblazoned cyber security designs. Arco IT was praised by their potentials for their helpfulness, encouragement, and collaborative style with clients’ IT security projects.

Another part of the rebrand was to change the working language from German to English. She also points out that the local language is not German; it is Swiss German, meaning that most native people only start to use German upon entering grade school. Moreover, for many people who are not native to Zurich, English is their second or third or even fourth language.

“I live in Zurich, so I’m also a part of this non-native community. We run our company in English because it’s a neutral language that helps to break boundaries and stimulate new patterns of thinking. The other rationale behind it was that, when you’re learning any new technologies, by and large you’re learning them in English.”

The ever-changing world of cybersecurity, technology & innovation

The world of Information Technology and its offshoots is one of the most dynamic domains, with constant new innovations and changes in the threat landscape. For leaders like Amy, and companies like Arco IT, staying abreast of this evolution is a must.

Arco IT’s knowledgeable employees offer risk management services to enhance and broaden their customers’ current levels of IT security, and as COO, Amy’s responsibility is to find ways to eliminate errors and maximize efficiency in the race against cybercriminals.

However, she maintains that you can only get so far with the help of tools and equipment, and that using solely technological countermeasures is not adequate. As technology is ever evolving and the actual value of IT security comes from how you implement them in business operations.

Amy stresses the importance of robust communication internally and externally with business partners in the event of a cyber-attack. “We have the appropriate staff to ensure an efficient return to business and that the company’s reputation is impacted as little as possible, and we want all our clients to be supported.”

Investing in people and creating thriving communities

Dealing with the critical responsibilities of being a C-level leader is a demanding role that involves a crucial combination of vision, decision-making ability, keeping the team motivated, and being agile 24×7 in order to uphold the company’s image and stature at its best. In this, Amy mainly relies on her instincts while carefully analyzing data and patterns to ace the role.

When leading business operations at Arco IT, there is never a dull moment in Amy’s daily life. Her average day consists of internal and external meetings, including 1:1s with staff, Marketing, Business Development, Sales, Finance, Service Design, Project Management, and meetings with vendors, partners, and prospects.

Amy enjoys stopping by her team members’ desks whenever she has some free time in the workplace, which gives them the opportunity to informally share their progress and thoughts with her. She notes that sometimes people are more forthcoming with ideas and information that they might not have discussed otherwise when they’re encompassed in the atmosphere of their own workspace.

“Working together, we can achieve more than we could have imagined. We are stronger together, and I truly appreciate everyone past, present, and future that has, and will make our cyber security team stronger.”

“Investing in people to bring out the best in them takes time and effort.” She observes that only by shedding one’s outer identity like the layers of an onion, can one reveal their true self and become a more authentic version of them. And, for any group to thrive, it must foster the authentic selves of its members. “The key to success is investing in people and creating thriving communities.”

An empathic leader who champions diverse hiring practices

Having worked and lived in three different countries on three different continents (the United States, Japan, and now Switzerland), Amy is well-versed in recognizing and valuing cultural diversity.

Women are a minority in tech and Amy is part of an even smaller subset of women in a leadership role. With real influence in a male-dominated monoculture that often lacks differentiated perspectives, Amy creates allies of her male counterparts while supporting younger women to enter the field. She passionately advocates for all areas of diversity and aims to make inclusivity the norm.

She also reminds us that Switzerland lags in terms of equality and equity for women. Women in Switzerland gained the right to vote in 1971. So only a generation later it’s both a blessing and a curse to be a working woman; there are very few women leaders, or systems to support gender equality.

“As a young working mother, it was advantageous that I raised my kids in Japan. I know this goes against the stereotypical western view, however the reality of the 2000s was that I had access to affordable daycare sponsored by the government. Also, in the academic jobs I held, we had equal pay for equal work,” she reflects.

Every day, she interacts with people from a variety of backgrounds: economic, cultural, neurodiverse, sexual orientation, religious, and so on. Amy approaches each encounter with the belief that all people deserve respect, and that she has much to learn from those she meets.

“I have the great fortune to be running a company that is at the forefront of the latest cyber security technologies, but in a classical business sense, being a humanistic, emotionally intelligent, and introverted person was not considered valuable. I see that during the pandemic this has changed a lot, and I feel that continuing as a humanistic leader is not only what is right for me, but also to keep an organization and its staff agile and thriving,” she notes.

With the belief that everyone has a place in the world, and that the more diverse we can make the room, the higher quality solutions we can produce.

Under her leadership, Arco IT has been announced as a Finalist in the SVA Zurich 2023 “This Priis” Award. Annually, the social security administration of the Kanton of Zurich recognizes companies for their diverse hiring and retention practices.

“It’s quite nice to be nominated because Zurich is home to thousands of companies, the majority of which are SMEs. Even if we don’t win, it’s an honor to be recognized for our commitment to diversity in our HR practices,” Amy remarks. “I am very glad to have championed Arco’s commitment.”

In her experience, the ability to be both empathetic and a critical thinker is the winning combination. Leadership is on the forefront of everything Amy has done, and this is certainly no different at Arco. Her practical and down-to-earth words of advice to aspiring leaders are to, “Listen to others. Be fair and take the clear actions that you promise.”

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