When Michelle La Plante embarked on her career as a lawyer, she never would have imagined ending up in corporate security. Yet every twist and turn in La Plante’s story has led her to where she is today and given her a strong, solid view of security, risk and intelligence.
“I spent the first half of my career working at a firm and in-house counsel,” La Plante shares. Then, La Plante’s husband took a job working for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow; La Plante quit practicing law and took a job working for the U.S. State Department as an analyst for the economic unit in Russia.
“At the time, there were the Sochi Olympics, and then right after that Russia invaded Crimea, and that really gave me my first glimpse into this world of security,” La Plante says. It was here that La Plante got her an initial look into how the government looks at security issues, approaches emergency and disaster planning, and participates in tabletop exercises of potential scenarios. “I really enjoyed it all: the monitoring of risk, the thinking of the what-ifs, and the idea of keeping people safe and ensuring everyone’s wellbeing,” she says.
From there, La Plante’s husband got transferred to Beijing and La Plante followed, working for the U.S. Embassy there. “It was another environment where security is always top of mind, and I’ve always held on to that,” she says.
When they eventually returned to the U.S., La Plante found her way to Deere & Company. She started out on the international public affairs team, advocating for Deere & Company’s interests in international markets, including Russia and China. In addition to working externally with policymakers, a large part of La Plante’s role was working internally to collaborate with all the departments touched by the company’s market interest in overseas locations. “Our market interests link to HR, investor relations, public affairs and, of course, security,” La Plante says.
La Plante’s career experiences, breadth of contacts, and her ability to look at problems from a variety of lenses make her uniquely positioned to look at risk and intelligence from a holistic point of view. Company stakeholders recognized this and Deere leadership asked La Plante to come over to the enterprise security and preparedness (ES&P) group as Global Security Manager.
“They recognized that I wasn’t a traditional security candidate, but they wanted to try something different,” La Plante says. She started out covering North and South America, learning the nuances of corporate security from her team. “I wanted to change the perception of security, encourage stakeholders to engage us early on, and become a trusted enabler and source of business intelligence,” La Plante says.
Soon after bringing La Plante on board to the ES&P team, Deere & Company executives saw the need for and value of having an intelligence analysis function within the organization to enable planning, preparation and strategic decision-making; La Plante has been tasked with building out that function.
The company already has a network of security operations centers (SOCs) focused on travel security and incident response, but the intelligence function will be a proactive source of information from a geopolitical threat lens and market entry lens. “We are so lucky to have C-suite buy-in on this, and I appreciate the trust and privilege to be the steward of this effort,” La Plante says. “Ultimately, this is about elevating security’s position and perception within corporate America and the company as a crucial and necessary part of enabling strategic decision-making. In some organizations, security has been misunderstood or misaligned, but I want to be a department of options, strategy and collaboration and we are solely focused on that mission.”
Because of La Plante’s winding route to security, she sees the value in hiring a diverse set of professionals from different educational and career paths, backgrounds and experiences. “I think it’s important to go away from the ‘cut-from-the-cloth’ security candidate. If we want to evolve security’s role in the corporate world, then we need to welcome people into the field that might not have the typical credentials,” she says. “Diversity can bring a new angle and a new approach and with the rapidly changing world and industry, the more innovators we can bring into the field, the better off our industry and our companies at large will be.”
In La Plante’s experience, she’s used her passion and intellectual curiosity to succeed in security, but she’s also worked very deliberately to fill the gaps in her background and become a thought leader in the field, seeking out support from associations, peers and other organizations. La Plante is an active member of OSAC’s Women in Security steering committee and Chair of the Women in Security engagement subcommittee, as well as a member of the Association of International Risk Intelligence Professionals and a number of other security and women in security groups.
“This is a field where everyone works together,” she says. “You could be rivals as a business, but when it comes to security, everyone works together and everyone’s objectives are aligned. I get so much out of sharing thoughts, ideas and mistakes. The network of this community is inspiring and allows me to bring back best practices and ideas to my own company.”
Though La Plante has made it a point to network internally and externally with security and risk intelligence peers to learn, share information, and grow, she hasn’t taken her foot out of other non-security organizations she has been a part of during her career, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a number of foreign policy trade and economic groups. In fact, she sees all of it as an asset to her profession, her career and her company.
“I am still very active across these groups because they are all a great source of intelligence and information,” La Plante says. “All of these angles of relationships, security, intelligence, policy trade, labor issues and economics help me as a professional, and my company as an organization, to go beyond the traditional and add depth and perspective to elevate security.”