It has not been an easy year, but it has been one that was still full of achievements; thanks to the work and determination of one particular person and her team, a new approach was developed to manage the complex relationship between Italy’s Public Administration (PA) and its citizens. This individual is Susanna Fortunato, Head of the IT Solutions Architects operational unit for PA, Defence & International Agencies within Leonardo’s Cyber Security Division. Needless to say, the pandemic has led to a renewed drive and commitment to developing digital solutions that help the PA support citizens, businesses and institutions.
As part of Leonardo’s ongoing series of interviews with some of our outstanding female employees, we talk to Susanna who has played a leading role in developing public cyber security – a task undertaken without ever compromising her private life and family, while always looking forward, thanks to her positive character and outlook.
Susanna, what are your most distinctive characteristics?
Optimism and tenacity, together. I face situations with strength, optimism and positivity, and I pass this on to the work groups I manage, even in very complex situations. This year has been challenging; there was no lack of stress, but we responded well.
As a good "social animal" in which I recognise myself, I reach my goals relying on words more than writing; I use the telephone a lot and hate long emails, where sometimes you have to interpret what you mean and you risk misunderstanding, especially in conflict situations. Today it is fashionable to talk about an agile approach. We have been working like this for years.
What is your main flaw?
I go on like a train, headed for the goal, and sometimes I overtake other people a bit. I’m often single-minded and instead I should listen a little more. I'm working on this.
Who are your heroes?
It's a question I’ve thought about a lot, and I believe that the real heroes are normal people who always look forward, who feel confident, look back only to reflect on the mistakes and are always in search of new challenges. Normal people, in fact. Because I don't like people who take themselves too seriously.
What are your favourite hobbies?
Eating and cooking with my children, especially last year when we couldn't travel a lot…actually, travel is my real passion.
What upsets you most?
Superficiality, when people do the things just to do so. In my opinion, if you do something, you have to do it at your best, otherwise it's better not to do it and explain why. I also hate impropriety, subterfuge and lack of transparency in people.
What motto or phrase inspires you?
My husband suggested the answer to me, and it speaks perfectly: "everything starts with a scribble"...because when I am working on a new project, trying to understand the needs of customers and to find technical solutions, my reasoning takes shape from a scribble that represents a primordial idea. Then I refine it, I think about it and I develop a solution. An idea that comes out of an intuition can help you anticipate customers’ needs.
Why did you choose STEM studies and why would you recommend them?
I studied engineering and prepared my thesis in one of the companies that later became part of Leonardo Group. I followed the whole path: first apprenticeship, then developer, software architect, team leader, programme manager and now Head of the IT Solutions Architects structure.
Having an analytical thought process is an important asset. Computer engineering offers many job opportunities, but the university provides you with basic training. The rest comes with experience. However, as mentioned, scientific training is crucial. A question I usually ask in interviews is: "What was your maths grade?" If the answer is 9 or 10, the candidate is certainly ready for analytical thinking.
Tell us about your professional challenges in Leonardo and the projects you are proud of
In recent years we have worked for the Public Administration, contributing to large digitisation projects. Really big challenges, even on hot topics, such as cyber security. And you feel proud when you develop projects that lead to an improvement in the bureaucratic machine of the whole country or of a ministry. Then there are the small and big everyday victories, which come from the satisfaction of a customer or from the results obtained by a team you lead. Another thing I am proud of, is the launch last year of the project to share knowledge in the company. We always talked about it but it was never developed previously. We built it as a community of “architects” that expands into a real community where we exchange information, references and skills.
Diversity as a business value, gender as an opportunity. During your career, what challenges or opportunities have you faced as a woman?
Diversity is an important value: different opinions that confront each other; the male and female point of view, the latter certainly more pragmatic.
As a talented Leonardo engineer, how have you balanced your professional life and your private life?
The relationship between the two lives is made of balance that I try to find every day. I am a very organised person, even with my family. In this, the support from my husband is very important. Then harmony is needed, and in my case, if it is true that I dedicate a lot of time to my professional life, it is also true that I live my work with passion, as a hobby.
In your opinion, in which areas (of culture, welfare, economy) are there room for improvement?
There are undoubtedly some important welfare issues on which Leonardo is already working and on which more can be done. I am thinking of ways that make it easier for a woman to balance her commitment to her career and her commitment to her family and children. It would be a great help to have more flexibility to support a new mother in her daily organisation, and reduce the stress and complications she may experience when dividing her time between work and family.
This may even make it easier for women to have children in the early years of their careers (if they want to) and to return to the company immediately after motherhood, with enthusiasm and a desire to invest even more in their work.
In conclusion, what message would you like to share from your personal or professional life to young people in particular, as well as to Leonardo’s global workforce?
I can only suggest to be humble, always. And never take yourself too seriously, because, especially at the beginning, you need to gain experience in the field and develop solid relationships with colleagues. In fact, people are always the greatest asset.