For many people, the COVID-19 pandemic slowed down everyday life. Not so for Sarah Decker, the chief compliance officer and global head of litigation, employment, compliance, privacy, and ethics at consumer cybersecurity company McAfee.
“It’s definitely been an exciting time at McAfee,” says Decker. “We have really come together as a cohesive team, and it’s fantastic the things that we’ve been able to achieve in this new environment that we all live in.”
Decker’s recent achievements as part of the McAfee team include helping steer the company through two major organizational changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Decker has also spent the pandemic reimagining her approach to leadership within McAfee. After observing the practices of her fellow leaders, she started to attune herself more closely to the emotional needs of her team. Along the way, she realized the value of expressing her own emotions as a means of connection, no matter the physical distance between her and her colleagues.
Even under “normal” circumstances, Decker always has a lot on her plate. Her responsibilities span the proactive and the reactive, the litigation and the prelitigation. With such a broad scope, she faces down a litany of challenges day in and day out.
Those challenges only grew in 2020, when McAfee moved into a new phase of operations. “We became a public company listed on the NASDAQ, and then we divested our enterprise business,” Decker explains. Each event required significant input and support from Decker and the rest of the legal team, which had by then gone remote due to the pandemic.
“Remarkably, I don’t think that it presented too much of an additional hurdle,” says Decker of the pandemic. “We were laser focused on these activities, and everyone is excited to have accomplished them. Now, we’re focused on being the best consumer cybersecurity company out there.”
Effective leadership by Decker and other senior staff facilitated the smooth transition to remote work as well as the successful execution of McAfee’s initial public offering and enterprise business divestiture. Decker considers it a great privilege to have the opportunity to lead a team, and her gratitude feeds into her idea of what leadership at McAfee entails.
“I care deeply for my team and my coworkers, and I try to make that apparent in every interaction that I have,” she says. “But that’s only part of the equation. I also have a significant responsibility to my team and to my internal clients that includes understanding the ‘why’ of what we’re doing as a business and translating that to them, so that we can operate in a solutions-oriented mindset that aligns with the business needs.”
The extent to which Decker cares for her team became fully evident in the early days of COVID-19. She witnessed an inspiring combination of fearlessness and humanity in other McAfee leaders and vowed to strike that same balance herself. “The pandemic brought down many of the walls that we have historically kept between professional and personal life. We see more deeply into the everyday lives of our coworkers, and I wanted my team to know and to understand that it’s OK not to be OK,” she says.
To that end, Decker began to lower her own walls—a first for her in a professional setting. “I took the opportunity to share some of the day-to-day challenges that I was facing. At the same time, I tried to find new ways to connect with individual team members to get a deeper understanding of what they might need from me or from their job,” she says.
“In my early career, I spent a lot of time trying to overcome vulnerabilities, and I certainly was never inclined to share them,” she continues. “But being a leader during a time when our company was undergoing transformative change, all while coping with a pandemic, really changed my perspective.”
As she looks to the future, Decker plans to continue evolving in parallel to McAfee itself. Likewise, she will drive development within her team to ensure the proper scaling of legal resources moving forward.
“My goal is to provide exceptional support to the company as it focuses on being the world’s leading consumer cybersecurity provider. For me, that means intuiting the needs of the business and innovating alongside it, so I’ll keep looking for ways to provide legal services that are better and faster and that meet the growing demands of our company,” she confirms.
In the process, Decker hopes to honor the new perspective that she gained during COVID-19 by remaining an empathetic and authentic leader who communicates openly and transparently with her team. “I believe that we are at our best when we operate from a place of trust and respect,” she says. “As a leader, I have an opportunity to allow people the space to be human.”
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer:
“Fantastic to work with Sarah and her team on this challenging mandate and during these challenging times. We were delighted to represent McAfee in the Competition and Markets Authority’s consumer enforcement case and to secure a successful commitments outcome.”
–Deirdre Trapp, Partner
“Sarah has a deep appreciation for legal strategy and how it impacts the business goals of McAfee. In addition to her ability to resolve existing disputes in a favorable way, Sarah is always looking around the corner to get ahead of any risks that may face her company.”
–Yvette Ostolaza, Partner