When Corporate Responsibility is Personal

by Adam Dennis

A Bit of Perspective

I can carry a conversation about corporate responsibility and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) like any other executive, and I can ensure you that our company follows policies that promote DEI in everything we do.

The interesting part is that I’ve never publicly connected those ideas with how I live my life publicly; until now. If you bear with me, I’ll discuss a chapter of my life that is important to me and those I care about.

I live on the tiny Caribbean island of Antigua. I moved here after I sold an automotive tech company back in 2005. I raised my kids here, know many of their friends, have family, and now have my own base of friends from Antigua and elsewhere. It is a great place to live, with many of the characteristics of small-town America.

In watching my girls grow up, it became clear to me that if you were young and your family didn’t have the resources to send you away to university, your options were limited. Roughly 60% of Antigua’s revenue comes from tourism, with few opportunities in technical fields such as programming, cybersecurity, and the like. If you are technologically inclined, your best is off-island unless other options become available. Throw in COVID and a collapsed economy, and you can see that the future is a bit bleak for young, ambitious, technically-minded Antiguans.

A New Idea… with Support!

This is where my story, and that of SurgeMetrix, comes alive. Back in July of 2021, a good friend who ran a local primary and secondary school asked me how things were going. I said that they were fine, but one day I would like to teach young people again as I had in the late 90s when I taught young adults who wanted out of the drug trade how to create websites, do minor programming and manage NT servers (Yep, I’m that old.).

I didn’t know that my quick answer would lead to huge changes in my life. Bernadette’s response? “When can you start?” I think my mouth fell open, but Bernadette went on to explain that she was looking for someone to run a technical training program for her students and other Antiguans, and she wanted me to run it. To make a long story short, I said, “Yes,” took a few months to research and decided to do cybersecurity training since there is a huge shortage of cybersecurity expertise in the world, especially in the US and the Caribbean.

The problem with this decision was that I helped run SurgeMetrix, and already worked 60-70 hrs/week. This decision required support from my team. So, back in late 2021, I sat down with my team and explained what I wanted to do: Train young Antiguans in cybersecurity with the goal of creating a self-funding training program that trains in and sells cybersecurity services.

I thought the team would resist, but they all loved it immediately and told me to go for it. This meant that I changed my schedule so that I would be training every Tuesday and Thursday from 3P ET onward. My Saturdays were also sacrificed with lab day, never mind all the “in-between” work that’s necessary to recruit and interview students and volunteers. Each week I commit a good 20 hours to the program called AntiguaRecon. It launched in January 2022.

Success Comes Through Hard Work

Our first year started with 15 students, and we ended the year with eight hard-working students, some of whom had achieved their first cybersecurity certification. The work was relentless, and success was found by committing at least 2 hours per day above and beyond regular work or university studies. Those who committed did well. Those that didn’t…

As part of their training, we made a few free pen-testing attacks for companies so the students could hone skills in both attacking and writing audits. While we were able to do the attacks, the inexperience was obvious. Our expert mentors had to heavily supervise the work. Although we were able to produce a report for the customers, they were not as detailed as one might expect.

In the second year, which started this past February, those eight students continued with their studies and are now pursuing another certification while serving as “senior” partners to 8 new students. Five months in, we tried another attack, this time for money for a company that we had attacked last year. The results? Night vs. Day. Within 2 hours, they had exposed most of the vulnerabilities that they would later confirm and are in the midst of writing the audit now, all with no hand-holding by the experts. They are almost ready for prime time, and I can’t be prouder.

Investing Personally is Worth It’s Weight in Gold

I look back today at how far we’ve come and am very pleased. My team is growing up and turning into real pen-testers and social engineers (think “people hackers”). I am now focused on getting more paid work for them so that we can continue to mature professionally.

Doing real DEI work that goes beyond a press release isn’t just good for the people you help but for you as well. I know and care about a group of young people who are coming alive with new knowledge and skills that were previously out of reach for them. I see their future shaping and know that my friend Bernadette, SurgeMetrix, cybersecurity volunteers from around the world, and local companies here in Antigua have all helped to move them forward in their lives.

So next time you find yourself talking about DEI programs for your company or dealership, don’t settle for platitudinal programs that do very little other than look good. Make it personal instead. Involve yourself. Make a commitment… And then get to work! The people you help will benefit, your company will play a deeper role in their success, and you just might find that it also brings a special spring to your step as you walk through life.

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Next, check out our last article providing 5 Tips for Managing your Dealership’s Google Business Profile.  As well, follow this link if you want to download our Hispanic Car Buying Preferences reports.  Finally, you can find more posts by Adam Dennis on Dealer Marketing Maganize’s Expert Panelist section.