Carolyn Holcomb (MSM 1991) encourages companies to focus on consumer and employee privacy not only because it’s the law, but also because it’s the right thing to do.
A partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) who leads the Risk Assurance Data Protection & Privacy practice, Holcomb says, “Privacy and data protection are complex areas because organizations both need to comply with these laws and be ready for attacks by hackers.”
Companies that collect personal information – such as credit number numbers, e-mail addresses, home addresses, or other personal details – should have the people, processes and technology in place to protect that data. “We help organizations protect that information in accordance with the privacy notice they presented to you when you shared that information,” Holcomb says of her team at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“We’ve done surveys that show that 90 percent of companies know that hackers have been in their systems, but we think it’s closer to 100 percent. The other 10 percent just might not be aware yet,” she says. “It’s questionable whether some of the data is useful to these hackers, but they could sell it on the black market or steal your identity. Sometimes hackers steal it just to prove that they can.”
As consumers increasingly voiced concerns about their data being shared, the Federal Trade Commission has continued to heightening its attention on privacy issues, warning companies that they could be fined (in the millions of dollars in some cases). “The constantly changing world of technology has inspired many regulators to increase their enforcement,” Holcomb explains.
“This is still a young topic,” she adds. “A lot of companies are still not sure what to do. They might not know what all the risks are or what laws they might be violating.”
Seven years ago, she saw an opportunity for PwC to help clients respond to settlements with the FTC and other regulator for privacy and information security violations – or perhaps even to avoid penalties and sanctions altogether. “We thought we could create another practice within the firm,” she remembers. “In 2006, there were three of us talking about this. Now we have 100 people all over the country who do this work.”
Holcomb credits her education at Georgia Tech with helping her develop the entrepreneurial know-how necessary to create a new practice. “I never planned to start a company,” says Holcomb, who earned a master of science in management (a degree that evolved into the Tech MBA). “I remember classes with group projects in which we had to create a company, focusing on marketing and sales.”
A native of Boston who earned her undergraduate degree in math at Bucknell University, Holcomb focused her master’s education on accounting. Right after graduation from Tech in 1991, she joined PwC, working in external and internal auditing and systems and process assurance before making partner in 2005.
In fall 2012, she won one of the Women of the Year awards (in the large business category) from Women in Technology. Created in 2000, this awards program honors women in Georgia who have contributed to the growth and success of the technology industry.
Through the years, Holcomb has maintained an active role in inspiring girls and young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), fields traditionally dominated by men. She used to participate in a weekend program that would bring female high school students to Tech in order to help expose them to opportunities in those fields. Today, she brings women in STEM careers to talk to the Girl Scout troop she leads.
For Holcomb, math, science and technology were a regular part of growing up as the daughter of a biologist mother and atmospheric-physicist father. Both of her own children (a 10-year-old daughter and seven-year-old son) talk about attending Georgia Tech one day.
“The name Georgia Tech means a lot in this community,” Holcomb says. “It certainly opens doors. A lot of my colleagues and the clients with whom I work are Georgia Tech alumni. I’m very active in recruiting Tech grads to PwC because I know they have strong work ethics and will be highly successful.”