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It Takes a Network: Transitioning from Public Service into the Private Sector

Every entry into the security profession is unique. For David Weiner, founder and CEO of global management consulting firm Secure Measures LLC, that entry point was as a military policeman for the U.S. Air Force in 1993.

Weiner worked as a patrol officer field training officer, K-9 handler, a training coordinator, and as a member of a special response team. After leaving the military, he then began serving the local community by entering law enforcement and ultimately rising to the role of regional chief of police of the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Police in Long Beach, California.  

During his tenure in law enforcement, Weiner worked with other agencies to address veteran-related issues and implemented a mental health outreach program for veterans—Veteran Mental Evaluation Unit—that was adopted by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

You should be highlighting those portions of your career that most closely reflect the job requirements.

Many individuals at that point might decide to retire. Instead, Weiner left public service and decided to enter the private sector by starting his own company.

Ahead of Military and Law Enforcement Appreciation Day at GSX 2022, The GSX Daily interviewed Weiner about his experiences, insights, and recommendations on skills he gained during his service, the power of a professional network in transitioning to the private sector, and other tools that veterans carry into careers in private and corporate security.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

GSX Daily: Prior to founding and becoming CEO of your company, what was your public service role?

David Weiner: I spent roughly 27 years in [federal and local] law enforcement and military service. I retired officially from law enforcement in 2019. I have my own veteran-owned public safety consulting and training firm here in Los Angeles. I’m also an Air Force vet. Most of the stuff that we do for law enforcement agencies is really training first responders in general—police, fire, EMS—on how to respond appropriately to veterans who are in crisis. Currently, we have two state-certified courses here in California and Arizona that we deliver to public safety agencies.

GSX Daily: How did you decide to make that transition from law enforcement into the private sector?

DW: When I retired from law enforcement, I had a decision to make: it was either go to work for someone else or start my own firm. I decided that I wanted to try a hand at entrepreneurship and go down that route. I started my own business—coming up on three years, now. We’ve made some great strides. I would also say it’s been very much a learning curve, too.

GSX Daily: In regard to that learning curve, were there any resources that helped you make that transition once you retired?

DW: Absolutely. Early on, I connected with the Veterans Business Outreach Center out here in Carlsbad, California. They’ve provided a number of free resources for veteran-owned businesses in a variety of areas—budgeting, marketing, pursuing federal contracts, federal certifications for veteran-owned businesses.

The other resource that I got connected with was Bunker Labs, which has a Veterans in Residence program. It’s a program with six-month cohorts. Bunker Labs is in a partnership with WeWork. They provide veteran-owned businesses with free office space at WeWork locations to help people grow and expand their businesses, plus they provide a lot of mentorship and access to a ton of different resources—whether it’s capital, whether it’s marketing, whether it’s branding. All those things have had a positive impact on me, in particular.

GSX Daily: You touched on this a little bit earlier: What skills did you learn in your law enforcement ad military service experience did you carry into your private sector work?

DW: I would say discipline, first and foremost. I always have viewed the military and law enforcement as a team sport, about being humble and being able to raise your hand and know when you’ve reached your limitations and when you need help. That is something that is very difficult in the military and in law enforcement because we’re all very type A. I think discipline and how to work in teams has really been some of the stronger points—at least for me—in moving my business forward.

We tend to struggle more than we really need to. I’ve been very fortunate throughout my career. I was able to retire at the rank of chief of police. There were a lot of failures along the way, and I don’t view failure as final. I view that as, “Hey, I just found the way it didn’t work.” That’s really what starting a business is.

You have to really figure out sometimes what works and what doesn’t work, and you’re going to fail an awful lot. If you manage your expectations upfront about failure and understanding that it’s going to happen, you’re going to be much better off moving forward.

Being able to ask for help and reaching out to your contacts can be very, very helpful.

An additional one would be strategic planning. Ideally, the biggest corporations in the world do strategic planning, and they do that to make sure that they’re always being innovative and they’re moving their products and services forward. I’ve always been an advocate of planning activities. You have to plan out your progress because you need to be able to look at your metrics to understand where you’re thriving and where you’re not. The only way to do that is to develop strategic planning and have key performance indicators that you look at for your own business. “Where am I excelling, where am I not excelling? Why am I having problems? What does my cash flow look like?”

All these things matter, and analyzing that data really gives you the opportunity to figure out, “Okay this product or service is not working,” so you may consider next year ditching it. Strategic planning allows you to make good decisions based on factual data.

GSX Daily: What skills did you need to learn going into the private sector?

DW: I really needed to understand marketing and branding. All of us have our own personal brand. Everybody has some type of personal brand. Everybody knows you for a specific thing—you have friends, family, who would articulate you in a certain way. Understanding the mechanics of branding, marketing, being articulate, how to use social media appropriately for business-related purposes, I think is an important factor.

Understanding profit and loss sheets, financing, capital, how to manage your own business. The other thing too is understanding what tax laws apply to running a business. That’s where a lot of people get themselves in trouble. It doesn’t hurt that my dad’s an accountant. He effectively keeps me out of tax jail.

GSX Daily: That’s always a plus.

DW: Absolutely. It’s really learning those things that aren’t always going to be intuitive right off the bat. Everybody’s excited about starting a business. I’ve seen a lot of people get overwhelmed very quickly when you start looking at all the things that you need to do as a business owner. People tend to punch out sometimes, say “This isn’t for me.”

GSX Daily: What are some resources for people who are looking to transition from that public sector and into private security sector?

DW: Carlos Francisco wrote a book about transition that is a must read. It’s called So You Want To Get Into Corporate Security, and it’s really a tale from start to finish almost about how to transition.

I would also highlight that one of the resources is your own personal network. I literally was having this conversation yesterday with a gentleman who retired and now is looking to get into corporate security or executive protection. He just didn’t know where to start. He just put a post on LinkedIn, saying, “Hey, transitioning. Need a little help and guidance.”

Being able to be humble and being able to ask for help and reaching out to your contacts can be very, very helpful.

Be humble. Manage your expectations. You could apply for a lot of different jobs and that’s fine, but that’s not the best way to go about seeking out a corporate security role. Using your network and leveraging your connections would be appropriate. Doing your research, understanding the roles that you are trying to seek and what the requirements are is very, very important.

Be patient and learn the organization that you’re working within. I’ve unfortunately seen a lot of people go into organizations directly from their law enforcement or fire or EMS roles, and they crash and burn because they want to turn everything into a mini-agency version of what they were previously associated with. You need to be cognizant of those cultural nuances if you want to be successful.

The other thing I would seek out as a resource is somebody to help you tailor your resume to something that is more palatable for the corporate world. I always use the example, “hey, you were on SWAT and you kicked in doors and that’s great but that’s not what that tech company’s looking for.”

On your resume, you should really highlight the skills that match what a particular job is looking for—whether it’s thinking analytically, being a team player, collaborating with other organizations in the company, or leadership skills. You should be highlighting those portions of your career that most closely reflect the job requirements.

GSX Daily: To be fair, it’s hard for some people to look at themselves to see the other skills they’ve learned or how those skills would translate into the private sector.

DW: Agreed and that’s why the very last piece of advice is seek out a mentor who’s already done it.

Even though I’ve learned a lot about marketing and branding, I’ve literally gotten no business through marketing or branding. All of it has been through referrals of people in my network. That’s why I feel the power of a network is very, very strong and if you’re not leveraging friends and colleagues and things like that to land a role, you’re doing yourself a bit of a disservice because there’s untapped resources right there at your fingertips basically.

GSX Daily: Was there anything else that you wanted to add that I didn’t think to ask you about?

DW: Here’s one thing I would add that when you’re starting a military or law enforcement career, nobody thinks about transition—nobody. Because everybody thinks, “I’m going to do this job forever and I’m going to retire and then I’m going to go fishing.” That is so not the case for a lot of people—when they retire, they go do something else.

I would say that if you are just getting started in your military and law enforcement career, think about the other things that you’re passionate about that you could do should you no longer be in this career field for whatever reason. If you’re developing those things early on and laying those foundations, your transition will be so much easier.

Sara Mosqueda is associate editor with Security Management, publisher of The GSX Daily. Connect with her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @XimenaWrites.