by Colton Campbell

Every 20 seconds, an individual in the United States becomes the victim of a cyberattack. It happens to an American business every two minutes.

A phone against a screenBill Esslinger, CEO of the Carrollton-based Fogo Data Centers and the keynote speaker of this semester’s McCalman Executive Roundtable at the University of West Georgia, works every day to change that statistic.

Business students at UWG recently took advantage of a rare opportunity to meet with faculty and community leaders to discuss major societal topics of the day as well as hear an eye-opening message about cybersecurity from Esslinger at the biannual event, held at Sunset Hills Country Club Friday morning.

The McCalman Executive Roundtable is hosted each year by the Richards College of Business and supported by Mary Covington, a long-time donor and board adviser for the Richards College of Business. The roundtable has been a staple of the unique experiences offered by the Richards College of Business since 1987 and has featured various guest speakers, including former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, former Georgia Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine and Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Health Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald.

“This is what we’re talking about when we say we’re transforming lives at UWG,” said Dr. Faye McIntyre, dean of the Richards College of Business, at the end of the event Friday morning. “This experience has been invaluable for the students who’ve attended, but I think everyone — myself included — has learned a great deal. Thinking and talking about these issues from a practical, business-minded point of view is important if we want to continue changing the business world for the better.”

UWG senior Nikkita Gordon, who’s double majoring in accounting and marketing, said the event was a real eye-opener.

“I think it was valuable for me because it really set in the reality of how serious this is,” Gordon said. “Whether we think about these cyberattacks every day or not, it’s a problem out there that has to be dealt with. This morning really showed me how to deal with the issues head-on, instead of ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away.”

Esslinger, who’s served as CEO of Fogo since 2014 and had more than a decade of experience at Greenway Health, is a 1993 UWG graduate and serves on the university foundation’s board of trustees.

“What we need to protect our businesses and keep our data safe changes every single day because the threats grow and change every day, as well,” Esslinger said. “I hope everyone leaves here more informed of the threats that are out there, as well as some of the options for protection and prevention they can have.”

Esslinger detailed the variety of threats faced by businesses now, saying there are “thousands of varieties” of malware and other threats that can be perpetrated on a business’ servers.

“The threat used to be data exfiltration, in which hackers were wanting access to the actual information for whatever reason,” Esslinger said. “Now, it’s more about ransomware. Hackers don’t really care what the data is — they just care that you need it. They hold the data hostage and name a price as ransom. The really terrible part is that only one out of five businesses who pay the ransom and comply with the hackers’ demands actually get their data back.”

Esslinger provided numerous tips for the audience to protect themselves and their businesses, including more extensive employee training, next-generation firewalls and a resilient backup strategy.

Bill EsslingerDuring the event, student leaders are given the opportunity to dine and interact with UWG faculty members and business professionals. A keynote speaker addresses an important topic in the business world before opening it up to the tables for further conversation.

The McCalman Executive Roundtable is a tradition at UWG. It began with Meryl and Hardy McCalman to enhance the personal and professional growth of business students. The roundtable discussion allows business students to express their ideas and thoughts about business-related topics.

Each semester, a different keynote speaker is chosen to speak and involve attendees in an open discussion on topics related to the speech. This gives all members the chance to work as a group to create a collaborated business strategy to the prompted questions.

Senior Michael Pepe, who’s majoring in economics, said it was “cool” to get the different perspectives at the table.

“I got the chance to engage with a group of people who have such diverse backgrounds, and it was really refreshing to hear the different ideas about the topic we were discussing,” Pepe said. “I loved the practical viewpoint Mr. Esslinger gave us. In class, all we learn about is theory, so it was great to be able to come here and talk about something that’s really happening in the world today that we can do something about.”

Posted on November 15, 2017