Christine Vanderpool Builds Better at Florida Crystals

Florida Crystals’ Christine Vanderpool constructed the company’s first-ever cybersecurity program—and a successful career as an IT business partner

Christine Vanderpool, Florida Crystals Photo: Miguel Zlot Photography

Christine Vanderpool is a builder. Whether it’s people, programs, or her own career, she loves to develop and create. As vice president and chief information security officer at Florida Crystals, Vanderpool has put that talent to good use by building the company’s first-ever cybersecurity program.

According to Vanderpool, many people might think it unnecessary for a sugar company like Florida Crystals to have an IT cybersecurity program. But that is a dangerous misconception, she explains. “It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. We’re all going to be targeted, and we’re going to face some of the same attacks,” Vanderpool says. “It’s often the smaller organizations, or the ones that don’t have strong cybersecurity teams, that lose out. They’re still going to be targeted, because they’re making money. But they don’t have the tools or resources to protect themselves.”

With the support of the company’s chief information officer, who understood the importance of having an executive in a cybersecurity role, Vanderpool strategized, planned, and implemented the program in just nine months. But the speed of her execution isn’t what Vanderpool is most proud of.

When she joined Florida Crystals as VP and CISO, Vanderpool knew that she wanted to focus on the program’s efficiency. The key to being an effective IT business partner, she believes, is achieving IT goals while keeping in mind the broader financial and strategic picture.

“As soon as I came in, I started asking, ‘How much are we spending? What are we spending it on? What does that mean from the licensing perspective?’” she recalls. “I didn’t want to go to the board and ask for all kinds of money; I wanted to show that a program like the IT security program can be implemented within the existing budget, just by changing some things around.”

To Vanderpool’s mind, however, efficiency extends beyond just a department’s budget. As she sees it, the operational efficiency of modern cybersecurity is often constrained by the constant influx of new IT tools and services. In that sort of environment, Vanderpool says, an IT tool released today becomes obsolete just one day later, so consumers are obliged to either constantly buy (and learn) new programs or stay behind the technology curve.

“It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in. We’re all going to be targeted, and we’re going to face some of the same attacks. But it’s often the smaller organizations, the ones that don’t have the resources available to build a strong internal cybersecurity team, that lose out.”

Vanderpool didn’t want to be beholden to that model any longer. “I wanted to be able to get a security tool, use it for however long it works, and then be able to get a new one when a better tool inevitably comes along,” she says. “I’m a huge fan of Lyft, Uber, and other companies that employ an on-demand service model. That’s really exploding right now, that idea of getting whatever you want at the moment you need it and using it for however long you want. And I thought, ‘I can get my groceries that way, and my healthcare. Why can’t I do something similar with security?’”

In taking the initiative to build a novel, shop-from-your-phone-style IT security model, Vanderpool has lived up to her personal values as well. “I tell people to own their own development, to own their own career,” she says. “Early on, I would think to myself, ‘They’re not giving me opportunities, they’re not promoting me.’ But I’ve come to realize that we all need to drive and own our own careers.”

Vanderpool has done that by recognizing who she is and where she needs to improve. She says that skill is especially important as you advance into executive leadership. “I’m a really loud, outgoing person,” Vanderpool explains. “When I first became a CISO, my boss actually rated me ‘below expectations’—he told me I needed to be better about being calm and collected and not overreacting.

“Of course, when he told me that, I did completely overreact,” she laughs. “It was very much like the moment when you finally realize that your parents were right all along.”

At Florida Crystals, Vanderpool works with her team to create those same moments of insight and transparency. “It’s important that we feel like a collective, that we talk to each other about what’s going on and what we’re thinking. We have to support each other,” she says.

That tone is only reinforced, Vanderpool says, by the company itself. It has a family-like feel to it, due in part, Vanderpool believes, to the nature of its work. “Sugar is a product that enhances who we are,” she says. “It reminds us of those special moments when we ate birthday cake with our family or baked Christmas cookies with our mom. Sugar brings us together, and the company works on bringing people together, too. They are very big on building relationships, and that’s one of the things I most enjoy.”