EDITOR’S NOTE: The DRJ Career Development Committee is supporting this series of articles featuring the career paths of industry professionals. Throughout this series of candid interviews, we hope to provide career advice to our readers by highlighting lessons learned, highs and lows, opportunities and challenges. The DRJ Career Development Committee promotes education, opportunity, inclusion, and excellence surrounding the exploration and evolution of career paths in all aspects of business continuity and risk management. Key elements of our mission include promoting open and candid discussions of career opportunities, providing mentorship, resources, and guidance to equip our membership with the necessary knowledge, best practices, and tools to succeed in their chosen career path.

Darren Nichols was hired into Sprint’s business continuity office in 2004 mostly to support the BC applications. He knew nothing at that time about business continuity but had the background and education in information technology. He began to learn the tools, and by association, the field of business continuity.

Now, Nichols is enterprise business continuity manager IV for Sprint. He has a variety of duties at Sprint: developing and managing the business continuity program for several large departments of the company, including business impact analysis, risk identification, and plan development; sharing responsibility to lead the company’s preparation and response during major disasters; designing and administering all business continuity systems including the business continuity management system and mass notification system; developing and facilitating training for the BC program and systems; and developing and facilitating enterprise exercises for multiple scenarios including violent employee incidents, cyberattacks, and hurricanes.

Nichols has faced challenges in his role with Sprint. The company merged with Nextel in 2005. At the same time, they had to deal with one of the largest disasters—Hurricane Katrina—they had ever experienced. Quickly integrating the two disparate teams and processes to respond to the disaster was challenging but turned out to be one of the best events to learn from and improve the process. In addition, the event proved to be of significant value to awareness in the BC program.

Another challenge for Nichols is on several occasions during his 13-year career in the field, the BC team has been significantly reduced in size for business reasons. “When this happens, priorities need to be revisited and unfortunately important work needs to be discontinued,” he says. “Being resilient in your own work and refocusing on the top priorities help get you through these tough times.”

According to Nichols, in 2005 business continuity management systems were beginning to be developed by several companies that understood the need. Unfortunately, these tools were often not flexible and had limited capabilities. “The lack of customization and flexibility often caused me to revert back-to-basic spreadsheets and Word documents to document plans and processes,” says Nichols.

Fast forward to 2018 and there are several great enterprise governance, risk, and compliance systems that are flexible and designed to align with ISO standards. These newer systems allow for more robust reporting, with increased compliance and integration across several lanes as well as increased ability to keep plan data evergreen with dashboards and automated notifications.

As for accomplishments he’s most proud of, Nichols has earned Master Business Continuity Professional certification. This requires a minimum of five years of experience in the field to even take the training and subsequent test. “This was not easy to achieve but has proved valuable many times over the years.”

In 2007, Nichols and a coworker flew to Baton Rouge, La., to pick up two RVs that were still staged from a previous hurricane. They drove the RVs all night during heavy storms and arrived in Houston early the next morning. Their role was to set up what they called a “Sprint City,” complete with a command center, food, and lodging accommodations for hundreds of network technicians and other resources who were all working to get the network back online. Nichols was deployed for nine exhausting days, but he came home with a great sense of accomplishment and some newfound friends from the experience.

Nichols also recalls a time when he and colleagues were tasked by the CEO to develop and complete pandemic plans and strategies for the entire company within two weeks. Their BC team at the time consisted of only three people. “This was extremely challenging, but we were able to develop a couple variations of plan templates and several enterprise pandemic strategies and get them completed and socialized for all of the business units within the company.”

Over the years he has learned many valuable lessons. “In my experience, the people I typically work with are not dedicated BC professionals but have been ‘volunteered’ by their management to develop their organization’s plan,” says Nichols. “As BC professionals, we live, eat, and breath BC/DR on a daily basis. We often know concepts, terms and acronyms that others don’t understand. The more you complicate it, the quicker you will lose your audience.” He says professionals should practice talking with their kids or others about what to do. If they understand it, then the professionals know that they have achieved the correct level of simplification.

Nichols suggests that professionals should try and focus on core BC activities as much as possible. As they gain more experience in BC, they will likely acquire contacts and a broad understanding of many areas of the company. Sometimes this expertise can be leveraged by management to resolve other issues not related to BC.

“This is not always a bad thing but can be a distraction,” he says. “When possible, bring your focus back to your core BC activities. They are important!”

As for advice Nichols has for new professionals embarking on careers in the industry, he says they should

  • become certified by industry institutes such as DRII and BCI. Most companies looking to hire BC professionals require, or highly recommend, having an industry certification as part of their job descriptions.
  • get started by creating their own team’s BC plan, or possibly work with a church or school, to help them in the development of their plan.
  • earn a degree in BC/DR. There are several schools now that offer degree programs at both undergrad and graduate levels in BCDR.
  • get involved locally with a partnership for emergency planning or other similar organizations. These types of organizations are good for networking and educational opportunities.

“The BC field is growing every year, and there are many opportunities and varying areas of the field,” says Nichols. “Try to gain experiences across multiple areas to keep things interesting and keep yourself marketable for the long haul.”–

For more information on the DRJ Career Development Committee, contact Tracey Forbes Rice. Rice is a member of the Disaster Recovery Journal Editorial Advisory Board (EAB) and chairperson of the Career Development Committee. Rice has 20 years of experience in business continuity and risk management. As vice president of customer engagement at Fusion Risk Management, Rice brings customers together, partnering with them to develop innovative solutions and to achieve new levels of program success. Rice welcomes your feedback at trice@fusionrm.com.