Establishing and maintaining a risk management program to safeguard the worldwide information assets of Xerox Corp (Stamford, CT) is the mission of Audrey T. Pantas. As the company's chief information risk officer, Pantas oversees the risk management office in Rochester, NY. She has about twenty-five direct reports, and heads up a global network of another fifty team members who work with her to ensure the continuity of the Xerox info ops.
"We focus on information privacy, security and disaster recovery," she explains. "We make sure we meet Sarbanes-Oxley in support of general computer controls, and any other legal and regulatory requirements."
An evolving career at Xerox
Pantas is a twenty-five-year Xerox veteran. She began as a contract programmer.
"I was working in what was then the IT group supporting engineering systems. It was a male-dominated environment, but once I demonstrated that I was capable, I became a respected member of the team. I felt comfortable there," she recalls.
She didn't have an official mentor when she started out, but "I had pretty good rapport with my peer group and my manager was very supportive of me." She became a full-time employee and stayed in that group for ten years.
Looking for new challenges, she "took a leap," moving through several groups and roles at Xerox. "Sometimes you just have to move out of your safe environment and stretch your skills. You really have to make those moves," she believes.
In 1990 she was nominated to work as executive assistant to the CIO. "It was a developmental assignment," she says. "It was a way to bring candidates with high potential together with the executives and give them some feel of what it's like to work at the top.
"I saw what goes on at the corporate level. I had the CIO as my mentor and I worked with each of her direct reports on a regular basis. That really opened the door for other opportunities for me."
What's best for the company
Pantas attributes a lot of her progress with Xerox to sometimes doing, and making a success of, work she didn't especially care for. "Some jobs you take for yourself and some jobs you take for the company," she believes.
"If you're going to stay at a company for your whole career you've got to think about what's best for the company. You may not see it going in, but you can learn from every experience you have, even if it's dealing with difficult people and difficult situations."
Pantas grew up in Rochester, NY, a city dominated by Kodak and Xerox. Her father was an engineer at Kodak for many years. In fact, Pantas is the only member of her family who has never worked at Kodak.
"There were four girls and a boy in my family, and we all inherited my father's engineering genes," Pantas says. "My dad thought the field of information technology was a good one for women. I took his advice, and he was right. It was just a perfect match for me."
Pantas majored in the emerging field of data processing. She got an associates degree in data processing at the State University of New York-Cobleskill in 1977. "There were not a lot of women in that field at the time," she remembers.
"The economy wasn't all that hot back then and it wasn't easy finding my first job," she says. She found a summer job at Cornell University (Ithaca, NY). She was making minimum wage but she was getting experience.
Next she worked for Computer Task Group (Buffalo, NY), a contracting company. "I got a ton of experience there," she remembers with a smile. "I believe your first jobs are to get your foot in the door and get a feel for what you like to do."
BS and MBA
And that was exactly how it worked out. A contract engagement at Xerox led to full-time work there in 1980.
Years later, Pantas returned to school to get her BS. She continued to work and raise her family. "The kids were little then, but I would come and go from work and school, and somehow I fit it all in," she remembers.
She finished her degree and, in 1996, began a professional MBA program at the University of Rochester. She was still working full time at Xerox; her only compromise was moving to a job involved with engineering systems, which offered more flexible hours.
"I got a lot out of the MBA program," she says. "I was with sixty people in a class that stayed together for two years. The other people were professionals very much like me but in many different disciplines from different company cultures. It was great to hear how another company might approach a problem we'd had at Xerox. The program helped me see problems and their solutions from a business perspective."
After she got her MBA she worked in a corporate engineering center, outside the IT group. The center set the company's engineering direction and was headed by the chief engineer.
"At that time I thought my next career move would be into product development," she says. "But after two years I had the opportunity to come back to the IT group and set up a disaster recovery program. And that led to my current position."
Managing came early
Because she became a team leader near the beginning of her career, Pantas acquired managing skills early. She took training classes, but learned most from her own managers.
"The great thing," she reflects, "is to have a really good manager and an open relationship where you can walk in and say, 'I have this situation and I don't really know what to do about it.'"
Pantas has found managing rewarding and challenging. "Even today, after twenty-five years, I still seek advice from people I can bounce ideas off," she says. "Each person is different and each situation is different, every single day."
Understand the business
"If you want to get ahead in the technical field you have to develop a good understanding of the business," Pantas advises. "You have to get really good business skills and really good interpersonal skills. It's those soft skills that help get you ahead.
"But deep down in my heart I'm still a technical person. Whether it's a hardware problem, a software problem or a people problem, it's the same set of problem-solving practices. And there's always a solution."
As a manager, Pantas has worked to create a strong, collaborative team. Such teams are very much a part of the Xerox culture.
"Everybody in the company gets trained on how to be a good team member. In meetings we're respectful of each other. For instance, if somebody says something unrelated to the topic at hand, somebody else will put it on a list so we don't forget it.
"I've learned over the years that different people can help me in different ways. I have to recognize each person's strengths so when I have a problem I can go to the right person. I learn a lot from people who work for me."