CEO Exclusive: The Mother-Daughter Tech CEOs
Cyber security is a mission critical issue for any business today, but it can be so shrouded in mystery that many CEOs push it to the back burner. It’s an area of business that unilaterally deserves a specialist, and Karen Lawton and Barbara Bouldin of SJ Technologies are just such experts. It’s always, for me, interesting to hear how CEOs found their beginnings, and their step up into the world of leadership. Karen and Barbara are unique not only in their success as female CEOs in the male-driven technology world, but in that they are a mother-daughter team. They are a representation of the transformation that has been experienced in the technology realm for women and the hand-up today’s generation has received from those that came before.
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If You Can’t Beat ‘Em…
At the age of 13 months, Karen was adopted from Korea by Barbara and her husband. At the time, both of Karen’s adoptive parents worked at Bell Labs. Barbara eventually moved over to a smaller tech company in Silicon Valley, and when she wasn’t able to reach the highest levels of the company in the male dominated industry, she decided to start her own company.
In being a CEO, it wasn’t always easy to devote the time she wanted to Karen and her brother – but this circumstance has turned into a blessing for Karen, who says, “We joke about it now, because my brother and I always said, ‘Well, if you can’t beat them join them.’” When she was old enough, Karen was hired by Barbara to work with her at her tech business. Karen was, says Barbara, a natural from the beginning.
Karen says that the environment that she lived in as a child contributed to her success as a tech CEO. “My brother and I had always been encouraged to think outside of the box, to leverage technology, or whatever it was at the time, and Barbara always was a role model in that aspect. So, as things evolved overtime I always knew that regardless of background or gender that anything was possible because I saw her as a role model in a predominantly male industry.”
The Generation That Led the Charge
Barbara faced a different landscape in her days as a female tech CEO. She was a part of a generation that paved the way for women in Karen’s era. She says, “I had examples where I would be at meetings, and men would ask me to pass the cookies and a pot of coffee, literally, which is something that I hope would never happen in her generation. You know tons of stories like that, but she lived it through me.”
Barbara was able to prevail in the male dominated industry by commitment, talent and intelligence. “One thing that drove me was, it became increasingly obvious that it was really going to be hard to move ahead in a corporate environment back in the day unless you were willing to just go for the gusto. And I was not one to accept no, or obstacles.”
Seeing her mother’s experience had a powerful effect on Karen. Says Barbara, “I can’t speak for other women of her age, but she saw me and she heard me.” As a result of Barbara’s mentorship, Karen is a powerful and distinctive, CEO in her own right. Barbara says, “I think that I am much more aggressive, because the time in which I was a CEO, I had to be a woman in a man’s world, and I think Karen is much more tactful and approachable yet still she has that same assertiveness, which you definitely need to be a CEO.”
Karen agrees, “I would say that social grace is something that I learned from watching Barbara, and certainly tried to adjust my communication style so that I was approaching people in a way that was not as aggressive.”
After a time, Barbara gave up working with the tech business she had nurtured, and Karen went on to her own pursuits. Barbara, at 60, earned her masters in education and became a teacher. Karen went her own way as well, and eventually started a company of her own. When Barbara was ready to retire from teaching, she joined Karen. Barbara explains, “I also felt that it was a way to pay back a little bit for any neglect she might have felt as a teenager. So, this was a good way to make amends for anything that she lacked by helping her with her business.”
The Duo is Now Conquering the Super-Secret Cyber World
The landscape of the cyber world is mysterious to most of us. Having a background in the tech world, as well as a close-knit, long-term mentor, serves Karen well in her endeavor to keep clients safe from the cyber criminals lurking in the digital shadows.
But, is the effort making a difference? Looking at the headlines, one has to wonder if we will actually win the cyber war. Says Karen, “I’m not sure if anyone is winning that war. I think it’s evolving very quickly…as one issue is resolved, another one pops up. So, I think it’s going to be a while before there’s a clear declaration of a winner.” Tactics are well hidden, and attacks are, by nature, of the surprise variety. Barbara says, “You’re not going to hear too much about it, because a lot of it is top secret, it’s very proprietary and it’s just one of those things that no news is good news in this case. You’re not going to hear about the successes, because we obviously do not want our global adversaries to understand at all what we’re doing.”
The recent hacks we’ve seen in the news have caused government and private sector organizations to make an investment in defenses. This is leading to more new technology, along with a stronger sense of urgency. Karen says, “I think we’ve had enough wake-up calls that people are paying attention, and so the good news is that I think we’re going to see even more move towards investing in defense against cyber.”
The ability to connect with, and learn from, mentors is not unique to mother-daughter relationships. It’s a way that many CEOs find their path to success – a path that Karen and Barbara have mastered. This mastery allows SJ Technologies to lead the charge in making a difference for the organizations they serve and society at large.
Recommendation: Know What to Do to Protect Yourself
CEOS in the midmarket are uniquely susceptible to cyber criminals – in great part because they often aren’t aware of the threats, or the precautions. I’ve recently heard of two devastating attacks in my own circle. Karen recommends, “I would suggest that anyone who owns a business or any CEO to find a subject matter expert that can advise them on the best approach for their business, or somebody who has experience in this arena. And this is not for the amateurs, right? You need to find those experts that have tremendous knowledge around this type of warfare, and can advise them on how to best protect their company. And there might be an investment in the beginning, but it’s not a matter of if but when.”
Karen Lawton / SJ Technologies
Karen Lawton, CEO and Founder of SJ Technologies, has worked in information technology for over 15 years. She started her career by co-founding an Oracle-centric software company in 1997, during the dot com era. Karen was quick to learn critical aspects of running a business and rose to every challenge she faced, like raising the $12 million needed to grow the business through three rounds of venture capital.
Early in her career, Karen was fortunate to be mentored by experienced industry executives whose guidance helped her successfully obtain strategic accounts with organizations like GE, Fidelity Investments and the LA County Sheriffs’ Department. Since then, her focus has been on business development and account management in the areas of software solutions, platform and system architecture, and business systems.
Prior to launching SJ Technologies in 2009, Karen held leadership roles at several technology companies spanning many different industry segments and corporate cultures. Those experiences provided her with the network, experience and industry knowledge required to deliver outstanding service and technological solutions to her customers.
As someone who experienced entrepreneurship at an early age, Karen is passionate about mentoring young adults in her community and helping them find their paths to success. She is actively involved with organizations like Women in Technology and WBENC, through which she promotes a balance of business and family life to the women she mentors. As a mother of three, Karen intimately understands the demands working mothers face and serves as a role model to young women striving for success both at work and at home.
Barbara Bouldin / SJ Technologies
Ms Bouldin, a veteran of the Information Technology industry, began her career as a software engineer and in this role developed software in diverse languages and on many platforms. As her career progressed she became involved in Business Development and spent several years in the Silicon Valley. This phase of her career culminated in the founding of her own company, InfoShark, Inc, in 1997. Infoshark’s business was focused on delivering data extracted from Oracle databases to the Internet in user-friendly form. Her daughter, Karen Lawton, the CEO and Founder of SJ Technologies, was a co-founder and the leading sales person at InfoShark, Inc. It is noteworthy and a tribute to mother and daughter that Ms. Bouldin is now employed at SJ Technologies, Inc. as a Business Analyst.
Ms Bouldin is an accomplished author and has published articles in technical journals as well as a book. The book, Agents of Change, describes her methodology for assisting organizations adopt new technologies.
She has also taught high school mathematics to students who have been suspended from their base high school. She found that many of these students struggled with special needs and learning disabilities in Mathematics and was therefore able to honor a commitment to help young people.