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Margarita Rivera has blazed trails as one of few Latinas in her field in the early aughts. Rivera has helped build programs from the ground up, leveraging technology and process in creative ways to protect corporate assets, reputation, and revenue streams.
Rivera, the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, was always at the top of her class. She graduated as valedictorian from her high school before going on to earn a business degree from Florida International University, a master’s degree from Harvard University, and several of the top information security and cybersecurity certifications.
Rivera’s passion for people, however, overshadows all those achievements.
“I’ve achieved a lot of amazing things in my life and career. The opportunity to attend and graduate from Harvard, the incredible work experiences throughout my twenty-plus-year career journey, and the incredible awards I’ve won as a leader in the industry have been humbling, especially as a minority Latina woman. But those things mean nothing if you don’t take care of the people around you and help others achieve their goals and dreams,” says Rivera, who currently serves as global senior director of information security at Lowe’s.
“That’s the single most important thing to me—not what I’ve been able to achieve but to see what others can and to help them do it,” she says.
That’s why she looks back so fondly on her previous role at Quarterra Group, a Lennar company. There, Rivera mentored and empowered a female colleague and teammate, who is also Hispanic, to be her successor as she transitioned to her next role. They had been working together for eight years, and Rivera saw the future leader in her and her overall interest in information security. That passion is what prompted Rivera to take her under her wing and to help her grow in her career.
“When I was getting ready to transition out of Quarterra, I strongly recommended that they give her the opportunity for the role. After seven years working together, I knew she was ready to stand on her own,” she says. “Now she’s given the chance to lead an entire program on her own and to shine her own light. Seeing her lead and thrive is the greatest satisfaction.”
Today, Rivera aims to make a similar impact on others at Lowe’s. Rivera was brought onboard to provide strategic leadership for the information security organization, especially as it relates to governance, risk, and compliance across all business lines. As she helps the company provide a secure and friction-less technology-driven retail experience, she is also focused on helping her team grow.
“Really helping the people I work with stretch the way they think is a huge part of my vision,” she says. “I have all kinds of professionals on the team, including those who’ve been in cyber for a while and those who just came in. It’s such an incredible opportunity to help map out the journey for each of them and to show them what they can become and what’s available to them.”
She continues: “When I first started in cyber, my mentors were such a huge part of casting that vision for me and it gave me a target to work towards. So, I believe that’s really important to not only help people early in their career, but those with experience developing in areas they need the most support in while also helping them learn from my mistakes, my triumphs, and offering as much support as possible. The reality is no one has everything figured out; we’re all living day by day and trying to figure out what the next step is. Having someone by your side cheering you on and giving you guidance is my role.”
Rivera’s vision for her team reflects the kind of leader she is. She prides herself on being a servant leader who never asks someone to do something she’s not ready to do herself.
“I’m not here for people to serve me. I’m here to serve my people,” Rivera says. “I’m a collaborative leader that believes in transparency, trust, and respect. You need those values to have difficult conversations because we won’t always agree. The ability to say, ‘I don’t agree with you but I’m open to hearing you out,’ is what defines me. With relationship and influence we can achieve so much more.”
Rivera’s been in information security for over two decades and has seen it evolve immensely. Like many leaders, she’s thinking about the potential uses and risk of artificial intelligence (AI).
“Managing artificial intelligence cyber risks is a multifaceted challenge that requires a comprehensive and proactive approach. As AI technologies continue to advance, so do the potential vulnerabilities and threats associated with them. Organizations must prioritize the development and implementation of robust cybersecurity measures to safeguard AI systems from malicious activities,” Rivera says.
“This involves continuously monitoring and updating security protocols, conducting regular risk assessments, and staying informed about the latest cybersecurity threats. Additionally, fostering a cybersecurity culture within the organization is crucial, ensuring that employees are educated on AI-related risks and follow best practices for secure usage. Collaboration with cybersecurity experts, regular audits, and the integration of AI-specific security tools can further enhance an organization’s ability to detect and mitigate cyber risks associated with artificial intelligence,” she says.
That ties into advice she has for leaders wanting to prioritize security as they evaluate AI or any new technology.
“Don’t discard the potential risks and really take the time to determine what the inherent risks are and understand what that impact would be,” she says.
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