Debora Rocha is International SOS Travel Management Security Service as regional security manager for Brazil, based in the company’s São Paulo office. Rocha is primarily responsible for developing evacuation and communication strategies and training programs in support of client operations in Brazil and Latin America. Prior, Rocha spent 13 years with American Airlines in Brazil working in their aviation security group.
Rocha started her career at American Airlines as a security agent in Porto Alegre and was ultimately promoted to country security manager for all Brazilian operations. Her responsibilities included the selection and training of security personnel, management and auditing of outsourced security and logistics service contracts, as well as the preparation and implementation of new market expansions throughout Brazil. Rocha was also responsible for the development and management of high-level relationships with the Brazilian Federal Police and Immigration Authorities. Rocha is a member of the U.S. State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) and holds a degree in psychology.
Q: You had 13 years of experience in the airline industry and are now working for a company that assists when there is an unexpected medical or travel emergency. It sounds like you work in a very fast-paced environment. Can you describe a typical day in your current role?
A: One of the most important things for me is to be up-to-date with what is going on in my country and around the world, paying special attention to matters related to security, of course. That could be crime, violence, civil unrest, political uneasiness and natural disasters—those events that impact business travelers and expatriates. My day can change pretty quickly depending on clients’ demands. I can be speaking to a client about protests in Rio de Janeiro and later start working on an evacuation plan for a remote site in Brazil. Nothing is typical in my days and that makes going to work a very exciting thing. You mentioned my airline background and it is true that I have to thank that fast-paced environment for keeping me be always awake and ready to respond.
Q: What has helped you to be successful in your current position?
A: I would say that confidence, hard work and a good pair of ears are the best tools I have and they really have helped me along the way. People often like to speak more than hear, and being a good listener (I thank my psychology degree for that) has helped me to gain customers’ trust. Empathically understanding customer’s needs—and really we are all either internal or external customers–saves time, money, and energy.
Q: Is there anything you know now that you wished you knew at the start of your career?
A: I wish I had known that not knowing it all was normal. Very early in my career I had to manage a very large group of people. It took me a while to understand that the best way to succeed is to empower your team, finding the best in each person. You don’t have to know it all.
Q: Has security changed much since you started your career?
A: I started in security before 9-11 and a lot has changed since those tragic events, such as new security procedures at work, or the raising of security awareness. I also think we now place importance on implementing security not only at work but in our day-to-day lives.
Q: Have you had to overcome any obstacles, perceptions, or stereotypes?
A: Being a woman working in security, without any sort of military background—yes. I had to overcome a few perception obstacles. I don’t have to fight against those stereotypes any more. Actually, I take advantage of them now because there are still not many women in security and people are curious and most likely will pay attention to what I have to say. Most of the time, I am the only woman attending the security meetings, but thankfully this scenario is also changing.
Q: What advice do you have about working with senior executives and stakeholders outside of security?
A: Listen to their needs. Security doesn’t have to be in the way of anything. Work on changing that perception. Be prepared to speak their language and—to facilitate interaction—know your audience. In the end, we all want the same thing. Security departments don’t make money; they spend money, but you can change that perception by explaining how much you actually save in terms of money and exposure.
Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
A: Don’t promise what you cannot deliver.
Q: Have you and your employer benefited from your involvement with ASIS?
A: I realized along my career that a good network is one of the most important things we need to develop. Exchanging information and knowledge with ASIS colleagues has benefited my career as well as the companies I have worked for.
Q: What activities or interests do you pursue outside of work and how is that important to you?
A: Achieving a balance in life is my main goal. Work is sacred but a rich personal life brings meaning. Since I am a psychologist and a Buddhist, any book that talks about the human experience is on my list. I love reading and spending time in silence.