October 24, 2016
Focus: Outstanding women in business

Michelle Drolet: Building walls and breaking barriers

Michelle Drolet, CEO of Towerwall in Framingham, is an innovative thinker. Never one to shy away from looking at new factors that come into a situation with an open perspective, she has a few things she's learned about good management and good leadership along the way.

First, she delegates more.

"When I first started, it was all about internal, and we had to do it all. As I've gotten older, I'm able to hand things over and say, 'We can't do that well, but I know they can do that well,'" Drolet said.

Secondly, she works hard to be a support for other women, involved with groups such as the Women's Independent Network, Young Women and Minorities in Science and Technology, and Athena, a girls' mentorship program. She has three daughters and is personally mentoring a woman on the brink of a career change.

Third, Drolet, with a deep respect of the business acumen and talent of her team, admits when she's wrong. She says she is the first one to say she's sorry.

"We take responsibility and never play the blame game here," she said, creating what she hopes is an empowering environment as the company readies for growth and adds a new vertical market.

Hackers, Inc.

With five full-time, on-site employees, much of the Towerwall team is virtual, Drolet said.

Towerwall works to prevent hackers, trying to break into clients' systems and then helping remediate the system weaknesses. Drolet herself has been in the field of information security for more than 20 years. That's about the same amount of time the company has been trusted as a security partner by the municipal government of New England's second-largest city.

"Drolet's integrity, professionalism and expertise in network and data security continues to guide us in safeguarding the city's data," said Eileen Cazaropoul, deputy chief information officer for city of Worcester.

Towerwall also specializes in regulatory compliance in fields like health care and banking, which carry potential fines for non-compliance.

How Towerwall got to where it is today – with major clients like Smith & Wesson, Boston College and David's Bridal – is a telling narrative of Drolet's tenacity and achievement. Where it's headed is a story of her ability to recognize opportunity.

Drolet founded a company called CDG Technologies in 1993, sold it in 1997 and remained part of the team.

She didn't agree with the direction in which the company was headed, so in 1999, she bought it back and named the company Towerwall. The company's new strategic plan, meanwhile, involves not only repackaging some of Towerwall's current client services, but expanding into a new, much-talked-about compliance space: cannabis.

Business opportunity: marijuana

Cannabis is a new regulation vertical for Towerwall, said Drolet. It's still being assessed, and deciding to delve into the industry took some serious consideration.

Drolet said when all positives and negatives were considered, she and her team concluded that from a strategic standpoint, it made sense.

"It's exactly what we do with everything else," she said, "to help organizations do what they are supposed to do, consistently."

Although marijuana companies are not supported by the federal government, they still must comply with rules of federal agencies. It's one of the most-regulated industries out there, she said.

"What we want to do is help Massachusetts be a gold standard," Drolet said.

Expanding technical prowess

She foresees more hires at Towerwall and the addition of more tech resources in the coming year.

In the meantime, Drolet keeps up on her industry with various LinkedIn groups and listening to customers and consultants. She is also new to Twitter. She writes regular articles on cyber security for Network World – where her blog Infosec at Your Service can be found – and for InfoSecurity magazin.

Drolet makes it a point to reach back to the next generation on a larger scale as well as in a more personal way. She has earned citations from State Sen. Karen Spilka (D-Worcester) and former State Sen. David Magnani (D-Framingham) for her involvement with the community. She works with organizations such as Mass Bay Community College Foundation and Middlesex Savings Bank.

"It's all about a hand up, not a hand out. With the MassBay Community College Foundation, we've gone from 30 to over 250 scholarships," Drolet said, and fostered strong college and business community relationships.

For the past few years, she has organized a MassBay information security summit. The college will offer cyber-security associate's degree this fall.

"I try and help everyone understand what they can bring to the table," said Drolet.

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