Co-op Community Loses Cybersecurity Leader; Szamrej Urged Collaboration

Jacek Szamrej (Photo Courtesy of SEDC)

Jacek Szamrej, a leader in cybersecurity for electric cooperatives and utilities large and small, most recently as vice president at SEDC, died Oct. 13 from a heart attack. He was 61.

Szamrej joined Atlanta-based SEDC in 2016 and helped launch its Cyber Resilience Initiative. In announcing his hire, SEDC President and CEO RB Sloan said Szamrej “really brings a holistic approach to cybersecurity.”

“He has left an enduring mark on SEDC, on the NRECA community, and on utilities everywhere. His mentorship and his love of sharing knowledge ensure that his work in cybersecurity will continue to grow and benefit us all for decades to come,” SEDC said in a statement marking Szamrej’s passing. SEDC provides utilities with software solutions for billing, accounting, engineering, cybersecurity and operations.

Prior to SEDC, Szamrej devoted 13 years to building cyber defenses at Vermont Electric Cooperative, where he expanded his expertise in IT, utilities, network and communications technologies.

Born in Torun, Poland, Szamrej took his first U.S. job as an electrical engineer at the cooperative in Johnson, Vermont, in 2003 after decades of acclaimed work in computer models at the University of Warsaw.

Known for his wit and humor, Szamrej joked in a 2017 interview about which was more difficult, the move from Poland to Vermont or from Vermont to Atlanta.

Szamrej offered a simple truism for improving cybersecurity that he found rooted in the spirit of co-ops: “The bad guys are collaborating; we need to collaborate too for good defense.”

He also emphasized the importance of creating a “culture of cybersecurity” built on three key pillars: a well-trained staff, sound policies and the latest tools. 

“People, processes and technologies,” he said.

Before leaving Vermont Electric, Szamrej worked for three years to put together a full-scale physical and cyber management drill sponsored by the U.S. Northern Command of the National Guard. The exercise involved 20 co-op staffers, the Guard and state emergency officials tackling natural disasters as well as cyber and grid attacks.

“He was visionary and insightful. Jacek had a great sense of humor and he got things to happen,” said Cynthia Hsu, NRECA Business & Technology Strategies principal for cybersecurity solutions. “His passing is a great loss for the co-op community.”

Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.