Leading Through Uncertainty – Focusing on the North Star

Leadership Profile
Written by Jenny Kinsman

Gary Harbison

Global CISO

Bayer Corporation


Gary Harbison has been in IT and cybersecurity for the past 25 years. Harbison is not only a cybersecurity expert, he is also a proud husband and father to three children. While staying active in the security industry, he also partners with startups and nonprofits to help drive innovation and address the talent gap. Harbison has a goal of working with local universities to build the next generation of security talent and leaders. Harbison started his career at Scott Air Force Base, right across the river from St. Louis. He then moved his career to Anheuser-Busch, where he helped to build out their analysis and architecture function within cybersecurity. After the acquisition with InBev, he got an offer to continue his career in cybersecurity at Monsanto. After about 10-years at Monsanto, they were acquired by Bayer and he now serves as the Global CISO.

Talk about your journey at Bayer. What accomplishments are you most proud of since being with this organization? What's been the hardest, but most rewarding obstacle you've had to overcome?

Even though I am coming up on two years at Bayer, I still feel like I am early on in that journey. I came in as part of the integration with Monsanto and Bayer, two very large organizations. As we really looked at the transformation of Bayer, it was important to define a forward-looking strategy and organizational structure to move into the future of what Bayer needed to solve the world's health and hunger challenges. We have made good progress in the past two years in the midst of change and new challenges. 

I have been very proud to bring together a global team of experts focused on protecting and enabling Bayer to deliver value and drive innovation in the healthcare and agriculture industries. The biggest challenge was bringing together that global team amidst a lot of the restrictions from COVID-19. We are bringing together teams and people from multiple countries, cultures, and time zones around the world. To ensure we can succeed in building a cohesive team, my leadership team and I have been working to come up with creative ways to virtually bring people together, and we are still on that journey. We are not exactly where we need to be yet, but we are making good progress. 

What challenges have you faced in 2020? And how have you managed through these challenges?

It requires discipline to work from home. It is very different not seeing colleagues around the world. Everyone is adapting to this new visual way of engaging. When you go on your commute to the office and home that is your transition from personal to professional. When you are working from home, it is very easy to just continue working. It takes discipline to keep work-life balance. Understanding my team’s unique challenges and trying to stay connected with them to keep everyone positive and helping them work through challenges is a primary focus. Also, it is important to openly share as leaders that we are also working through this “new normal,” and we are here to help get through this together. Being transparent and authentic in my leadership is important especially in times like this. We must remember the people aspect of what we are trying to accomplish. 

There are some possible benefits that may result as well, such as more flexible options for employees. I have some team members that really struggle without human interaction, and they are ready to go back into the office, but I also have some that working from home helps them balance their life. If companies offer more options and flexibility for what works for each employee, I think that is a positive. For a lot of companies, the pandemic has shown that employees can work virtually and continue to be effective.

Sometimes it takes an event like this to accelerate change.


How have you grown as a leader through this? What leadership principles are carrying you through?

As a leader, there is always an opportunity to learn in anything that you do. Even though I have always worked for global companies, this is the first time that I have been located away from the headquarters for the company because Bayer is headquartered in Germany. Learning how to bring a team together that is cross cultured, cross locations, cross time zones and unify them behind one strategy -- with this I have learned a lot. We are not finished yet, but I have learned a lot along the way. It’s important to shape a vision and strategy in which stakeholders are aligned behind that vision. 

There have been a lot of opportunities to grow through this. I have really leaned on the saying, “Always surround yourself with good people.” You can rely on your people to help you out, and you can get through it together. Having the right team in place and empowered leaders has been instrumental in delivering progress in our cybersecurity transformation. People are a big piece of my leadership style. I try to always be open-minded and to assess if there is a better way to do things. I don't want to be tied to the way that I've always done it, but I ask myself and my team, “What is the right direction going forward?” I rely on being open-minded and challenging the status quo. It's always important to focus on the outcomes and be very pragmatic about where we want to be and how that aligns with the business. Then, we can figure out where we need to be. I also like to maintain that balance and focus on family and home life, as well. 

How has your 2021 strategy changed?

We've been going through a lot of change through the integration of two very large companies, which brings together different ways of doing things. That combined with additional challenges, like the pandemic, has challenged us to continue to evaluate and adjust to the changing environment. It is going to continue to evolve, but overall, we are maintaining the focus on the outcomes we need to deliver to enable Bayer to be successful in addressing health and hunger challenges. As long as we stay focused on that North Star, we will continue to make progress and deliver results.


Special thanks to Gary Harbison and Bayer Corporation.

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