Tell us about yourself – your name, company, title, and responsibilities?
Hello DRJ family! My name is Gabrielle Sandy, and I am the AVP of business resiliency for CFCU Community Credit Union in upstate New York. My responsibilities include managing and overseeing physical security, facilities, business continuity, disaster recovery, and enterprise risk management. I have a hefty team which includes myself and one other individual who manages facilities.
How did you get into the business continuity industry?
I began at CFCU in 2017 as a junior paralegal, fresh out of college with a bachelor’s degree in criminology. I was waitressing at the time and was eager to find a “big girl” job where I could put my degree to use. I had applied to many job openings to include TSA agent, border patrol agent, and junior paralegal at CFCU. The hiring process for border patrol was lengthy and brutal. After the interview portion (which I passed), I realized the career was not for me. I did complete the hiring process for TSA, but right around the same time I had also interviewed at CFCU and was offered the position. I had a difficult decision to make.
However, as you can tell from my bio, I decided to take the junior paralegal offer. It was the right decision. I remained in the position for two years, but I was itching for something else about a year into it. I knew I needed more of a challenge, a chance to really push myself. Throughout my time at CFCU I had always been interested in the physical security role within the organization, but I did not think I had a shot at it. For the first year and a half, a tenured police officer was in the role. I had zero experience aside from my criminology degree. During his last few months at CFCU, the former officer ran for Tompkins County sheriff and won.
There was now a job opening for the position I really desired. After six months of the position being vacant, I applied with the support from my mentor/supervisor. I studied for weeks to nail the interview as I knew I did not have the background or experience they were looking for but was hoping I could win them over with my drive and preparation. It worked! I began my role as physical security/BCP manager in January of 2020. I was ready for the physical security aspect of the position but did not have a clue about the BC world. Little did I know, I was about to embark on an uphill battle when I lost my supervisor a month after starting the position. A month after that, the pandemic began.
I was now facing so many of my fears. How was I supposed to lead an organization through the pandemic when I just started my role? I had no guidance, and the pandemic had so many unknowns. I took it day-by-day, learned a whole lot about BCP, myself, and the organization in its entirety. We made it through the pandemic successfully, knowing many companies were not as fortunate. It felt like a huge win. Our leadership team was strong, and we were willing and able to take on anything that came our way. In January of 2021, a new role was created for me; I was promoted to AVP of business resiliency. Never did I think I would be here, but am so grateful I am!
Tell us about some of the challenges you have encountered in your career?
The most difficult challenge was navigating our organization through the COVID-19 pandemic when BC was brand new to me. Being in a role where I interacted with senior management and the executive leadership team, as well as being expected to voice my opinions, concerns, and suggestions to them, was a challenge. We did not have a robust plan in place. We didn’t really have a plan in place at all. Our BC plans were dated, stored in OneNote and were minimal. We were starting from scratch but were able to move all staff remote (except for our branch staff) and continued to remain up and running throughout the entirety of the pandemic. During this time there were many growing pains, but it is a constant reminder we (and I), can get through anything as long as we keep showing up each day and give it our best.
Have you had any mentors? Describe the effect they have had on your career.
I have had an incredible mentor. I would not be where I am today without her. She has always been someone who has supported my dreams, pushed me to be my best, and has served as the best role model. Not many supervisors/mentors truly care and are willing to stand by their employees no matter what, but she has always done that for me.
Most recently, I have embarked on the DRJ Mentor Program and have been working with Peter Laz. He has been able to utilize his years of experience within the BC world to help me improve upon our current program. He is also always willing to provide guidance, tips, and tricks.
What are some lessons learned you still leverage today?
Throughout the pandemic, I was reminded how planning for a crisis is helpful. It can really lessen the stress and cause recovery to occur more quickly, but nothing can beat a strong leadership team who supports the program and the mission. If you have your c-suite on board and stakeholders ready to take on any challenge, it makes a world of difference.
What aspects of working in this industry would you like to see change or evolve?
In my opinion, the industry is already changing and evolving at great speed. Where huge plans used to be created and shoved into a corner for BC, the industry has really begun to focus on business resiliency. A state of the organization being resilient enough to be able to recover from and handle any sort of disruption without having exact step-by-step plans to do so. It is more work and takes an all-hands-on deck approach, but businesses today are able to recover from almost anything because of it.
What types of formal training and certifications have you pursued, and what kinds of learning and networking opportunities are you seeking to continue your professional development?
I have both ABCP and CUERME (Credit Union Enterprise Risk Management Expert) certifications. I am looking to obtain the CBCP certification in the near future. This is an industry where learning and growing are constant, which I love! I have and will continue to attend conferences, webinars, listen to podcasts, and read BC-related books to ensure I do not enter a stage of stagnancy. I am open to all opportunities to learn and network!
What gets you excited about your career?
What excites me most about my career is there are limitless opportunities. There is never a program that is perfect or complete. The process is cyclical and allows for interaction with all areas of an organization. It is our job to help the organization continue to do their job!
What advice would you give to those embarking on a career in this industry?
This is by no means an easy industry to enter. If you love a good challenge, a career that may push you to your breaking point but is also very rewarding, you have found the right industry! Remember, no matter how much you plan, crisis/incidents will never go exactly as you had imagined. Always be ready to pivot and react quickly. You are one who many will keep their eyes on and go to for guidance, but you can do it!