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Mr. Schmidt Goes to Barney’s

Dec 01, 20044 mins
Data and Information SecurityIT Leadership

Howard Schmidt wants to make this clear: Image is not everything.

But, the eBay CISO and former White House cybersecurity czar concedes, it’s something. And in the world of executive security, it’s something more than it used to be.

“The message we have to send, as executives in security, is to get past that initial human barrier where people are thinking, Does this person fit into our group?” says Schmidt. “It’s something we security executives are more conscious of today than we were before. I think back, years ago, when security was the necessary evilwhen we were sending a message people didn’t want to hear. Take that movie Antitrust [loosely based on Microsoft, where Schmidt once was CSO]. The security director was portrayed as this guy with a crew cut and a tie that wasn’t always in the right place on his shirt.

“I think, now, that perspective is fading. We’re sending an executive message, and we need to convey that.”

Perhaps no one embodies this commutation of security’s place in the corporation better than Schmidt. He has, partly by choice and partly by sheer coincidence, made himself over. So stark is the difference that many security executives had a hard time even recognizing Schmidt when he showed up at the CSO Perspectives conference last April.

“Oh my God,” one attendee remarked as he spied Schmidt from across the room in which the welcoming reception was held. “Can that be Howard?”

“I never said, Let’s change my image,” says Schmidt. “This wasn’t that deliberate. At the same time, as one’s career moves along, the perspective on what you do and how you look and how you interact with others changes.”

Schmidt remains a reluctant symbol of security’s overall image makeover and wants to make sure others out there don’t replace substance with style but rather use style to enhance their ability to get the substance across.

“People are looking for substance, expertise, experience from security professionals,” he says. “They can say, Gee, you look better, younger, happier. Fine. But we’re still going to debate the issues. If they treat how you look as an indication to your commitment, well that says more about them than you.”

Here is an annotated view of Schmidt, with before and after photos to provide the contrast. *The LocksSchmidt says that previously, his salt-and-pepper curls would curl in one spot but stay straight in others. “So one day I made the conscious decision to go all straight and comb it back.” His new style minimizes his gray and doesn’t call attention to thinning.The SpecsIt was only this fall that Schmidt noticed that large frames, which he’d worn for a decade, were now unfashionable. He had sported large, sturdy-looking reading glasses because, as a pilot who wore aviator shades, he was used to them. But since noticing fashion trends, he has purchased reading specs with small frames that take him out of the cockpit and into the boardroom.The ‘StacheSchmidt can’t remember not having a moustache. Yet, perhaps inspired by his new ‘do, he impulsively shaved it off one morning. “Immediately I felt better. I realized it was there only because I was used to it.” Schmidt insists that shaving didn’t make him feel younger or more professional, but it certainly leaves that impression. The naked lip takes years off his face.The ClothesSchmidt loves when Beltway types and Silicon Valley types have a meeting. “All the Valley guys put suits on to impress the wonks, and all the wonks would put khakis and knit shirts on to fit in with the Valley.” Schmidt’s decisions about clothes haven’t changed at all. “I just try to dress consistent with whomever I’m meeting with,” he says. Of course, for a man who divides his time between D.C., Wall Street and Silicon Valley, that means he has at least three wardrobes to attend to, often on the same road trip. Recently, for example, Schmidt went from Seattle to D.C. to New York to Colorado and back to Seattle in the span of one week.The PoundsBriefing the president, testifying before Congressthese aren’t exactly aerobic activities. Schmidt struggled to keep in shape while working in the Beltway, though he notes he became more aware of it with the current administration because the president is very fit. Now, back in the private sector, he’s recommitted to an active lifestyle, and he’s dropped a few pounds. Combined with the other changes he made, the trimmer figure he cuts gives him an overall healthier look. “I live on a mountain. I bike. I fish. It wasn’t a conscious decision to lose weight, per se, but to enjoy those activities I’ve always enjoyed and now get to do again.”