As politically polarizing as this year has been, we’re all in agreement about something: 2020 has been “a hot mess, inside a dumpster fire, inside a train wreck.” It’s inarguable, near unethical, to say otherwise.
What kind of person would I be if I said: “I know more than 275,000 Americans have died from COVID-19; unemployment has nearly doubled since the start of the pandemic; and we lost a pioneer of women’s rights, an NBA legend and his daughter, and a guitar god (to name a few), but, hey, 2020 has been a banner year for me”?
Yet, there is a reason I can’t commit to hating 2020: my daughter. I gave birth to a baby girl, my first child, in April. And although my daughter probably thinks most humans live in a box (thank you, FaceTime), 2020 actually has been one of the best years of my life. It made me a mother.
So, my dilemma is this: To condemn 2020 is to diminish the arrival of my daughter, but to celebrate this year is to turn my cheek to the state of the world.
Which makes me wonder: Are there companies out there in the same boat as me—that have been blessed with good fortune in 2020 but, out of common decency, decline to flaunt it?
I can think of one:
Zoom. When the global health crisis hit, the communications technology company boomed by helping corporations and government agencies remain operational and by providing a platform for people to stay connected to their loved ones. In the words of CEO Eric Yuan, the company “ballooned overnight”: from 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019 to more than 200 million in March, to more than 300 million in April.
But the company did more than succeed financially this year. Zoom also broke the mold ethically. The company offered free accounts to K-12 schools affected by the pandemic, helping educators and administrators foster remote learning with countless students.
“It’s time for us to focus on our corporate social responsibility to really take care of those users in the education sector,” Yuan said in an executive Webinar on Sept. 16.
This is not to say Zoom has been immune to the 2020 curse. As traffic surged last spring, “Zoombombing” erupted, a phenomenon where uninvited guests hijacked remote sessions, often by introducing lewd and offensive content. The company’s evidently insufficient security measures caught the attention of the New York Attorney General. In April, a class-action lawsuit was filed against Zoom in California. Then in August, the first court appearance of this year’s infamous, accused Twitter hacker was Zoombombed, as well.
In November, the Federal Trade Commission required Zoom to enhance its security practices to settle allegations, dating back to 2016, that the company publicly touted a level of security it didn’t deliver.
Yuan has been contrite about meeting tampering and disruptions by bad actors. In an open letter to users, the CEO apologized, vowed to double-down on security and privacy, and laid out what the company planned to do to address current platform issues and implement “controls and practices that [were] best-in-class.”
“We feel an immense responsibility,” the CEO wrote on April 1.
The company launched a 90-day security plan, pledging a “feature-freeze” in order to dedicate the maximum amount of resources to privacy, safety, and security. Notably, the company remained transparent with users through the execution of this plan: It launched a weekly Webinar series called “Ask Eric Anything,” encouraging users to ask questions directly to the CEO and the executive team on security and privacy matters.
Over the course of the 90-day period, the company made substantial changes to its back and front ends, not just in terms of technology and user interface but also, more symbolically, the bones of the organization itself.
Lynn Haaland, who joined Zoom in January as chief compliance and ethics officer and deputy general counsel, earned the additional title of chief privacy officer. The company also hired a chief information security officer (CISO), Jason Lee, a cyber-security veteran from Salesforce and Microsoft, in June.
Recognizing information security is not static but dynamic, Yuan established a CISO council and advisory board. This move strikes me as most impressive from a business philosophy standpoint, as it reflects the CEO’s gritty commitment to sustained excellence.
“The purpose of the CISO Council will be to engage with us in an ongoing dialogue about privacy, security, and technology issues and best practices—to share ideas and collaborate. … Within our CISO Council, we are establishing an Advisory Board that will include a subset of CISOs who will act as advisors to me personally,” the CEO wrote in an April 8 blog post.
So, there you have it: A company that had a pretty darn good 2020, responding with resilience to the unique challenges the year rained down on it.
It’s not an exact parallel to my home life, but I see traces of a theme. When my daughter arrived, demands on my bandwidth “ballooned overnight,” too. I became instantaneously flooded with round-the-clock requests, escalated in proportion to the time it took to address them. Like Yuan, I felt an “immense responsibility” to rise to the occasion; meet the demands; and embrace the ongoing, dynamic challenges of motherhood.
Now, I wonder: Who got less sleep in the month of April: Eric Yuan or me?
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