Ning Wang has traveled a long road to become CEO of Offensive Security, a company offering highly specialized training in cybersecurity for clients ranging from the U.S. Army to Amazon.
Born and raised in China, Wang, 56, earned a PhD in physics at the University of California, Berkeley. From there she branched off into the business world, going to work for McKinsey & Company for a few years as a consultant, eventually joining six different companies in the online training and software business. The companies ranged in size from as small as 20 employees, to as large as several thousand.
Prior to becoming CEO of Offensive Security, Wang was chief financial officer and chief operating officer at Hacker One, a platform that allows organizations and governmental agencies to use ethical hackers to help them find security vulnerabilities in their computer systems. The Department of Defense was a client of Hacker One.
Wang has succeeded in a world dominated by men. At Offensive Security, she is the only woman on a leadership team with eight men. When she joined McKinsey she was a new mother with a baby.
Talking to her own daughter, a PhD student in physics at Stanford University, Wang realized that even at one of the nation’s leading institutions of higher education, her daughter struggled with sexism. That’s when Wang decided to reach out to her own female employees – 35 percent of Offensive Security’s workforce are women – and ask them what she could do to support them better.
Wang is also a leader in creating a virtual company. Based at home in Chicago, she oversees a farflung organization through a combination of video calls and emails, as well as as office hour online every week, without appointments, when any employee can drop in, virtually, and talk about anything they want to talk about.
“We talk about physical exercise, we talk about nutrition, we talk about quantum computing, all sorts of topics not specific to work,” Wang said. “We can’t bump into each other in the kitchen, so I try to create a virtual way to stay connected.”
Most of Offensive Security’s executives work from home, as Wang does.
“We don’t have a headquarters,” Wang said. “No two executives are in the same city. Everyone is in the United States, except one executive who is in Europe.”
Wang points out that it saves a huge amount of time, not commuting for hours a day back and forth to an office. She starts her day by firing up her laptop and meeting one-on-one with her leadership team.
Offensive Security’s director of customer support lives “somewhere in Montana,” Wang said. He tells her he feels very lucky to have found a job that allows him to live on 10 acres surrounded by beautiful mountains and still be gainfully employed.
Offensive Security does maintain a large physicial office in the Phillipines, where the company has hired lots of smart, young people. She describes the Phillipines as a well-kept secret in the business world.
“People don’t know yet, it’s a country where people speak really good English and they’re very educated,” Wang said.
Offensive Security has employees in more than 20 different countries, according to Wang.
“We are selecting self-starters with more independence who can get stuff done without a huge amount of supervision,” she said. “That in itself is a tremendous advantage.”
Article written by Daniel D'Ambrosio, Senior Contributor, Forbes.