Skip to content
headshot photo of William Bill Tenney, ASIS CEO

Into the Spotlight: Bill Tenney Moves from CSO to ASIS CEO

Mission, value, and culture—these three elements convinced William “Bill” Tenney to take on the top job at ASIS International. But what led Tenney to the CEO position, and what are his goals for ASIS moving forward? Security Management spoke with Tenney shortly after his selection as CEO was announced to answer some of those key questions.

Who is Bill Tenney?

Let’s start with the personal side: Tenney is an avid Minnesota Twins baseball fan, even when the team isn’t performing particularly well. His favorite place is anywhere outside, and his favorite travel destination is anywhere he hasn’t been yet. When traveling internationally, he enjoys learning about other cultures but even more learning about his own culture through the eyes of others, gaining insight and context about global interpersonal dynamics. He has studied Turkish, Russian, and French. When it comes to managing his mental well-being during periods of stress, he tries to be disciplined about unplugging—especially in the evenings—and spending time outdoors and exercising.

Using the term “physical security” as a catch-all is a pet peeve for Tenney, because it brings to mind an image of “guns, guards, and gates” rather than the complex plethora of risks and challenges that security leaders manage daily. Instead, he prefers to use “corporate security” to emphasize how wide security’s reach is within the organization, even when security’s budget is essentially a “rounding error” in a Fortune 50 company’s annual budget, Tenney says.

“Security frequently punches above our weight,” he adds. “Because we show up in these strategic positions or in times of crisis, we carry more organizational heft than we appreciate or give ourselves credit for.”

Tenney is the eighth executive to lead ASIS in the association’s 69-year history, and he has been an ASIS member since 2010. His professional career began, like many security professionals’ careers do, in public service, with eight years as a U.S. Naval Officer before serving internationally in the U.S. national security community as a civilian.

After 15 years in public service, Tenney decided it was time to shift gears, and a friend introduced him to the asset protection and corporate security function at Target.

“Going to the corporate world was like oxygen,” he says. “You can be kind of rigidly defined in the public sector in what you’re allowed to do and not do, and in the private sector, it was: ‘Here are our problems, what can you bring to that? Great, go do it.’ The amount of license empowered me to learn.”

Tenney also discovered that his public service had fostered skills that would enable him to thrive in his new organization, including knowing how to deal with government departments effectively (he calls this “knowing the secret handshake”) and being able to conduct in-depth research and analysis of outside information and then relating it effectively to the organization’s priorities. During his time at Bloomberg LP and then as CSO for global life insurance company MetLife, he leaned into business queries from stakeholders and board members to build new functions that brought in expertise from across the organization to evaluate geopolitical risk and provide analysis, creating a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts.

In these times, it’s necessary for security professionals to step in and use their unique perspectives to lead, Tenney says, rather than wait to be called on.

This isn’t to say that Tenney’s transition into the private sector was perfectly smooth, as very few are. He had to come to grips with business language and priorities quickly, and he worked hard on improving his executive skills, including communication.

“We come in with a major in security and we need a minor in business, right out of the gate,” he says. “But as you become more senior, you have to flip them, and you need to be a major in business while bringing expertise in security. You need to strive to learn more and more about the business, what it values, how it makes money, and what the risks are that they see versus the risks you see. And then you educate them and work through how to mitigate those things together.”

When in his early private sector roles, Tenney began discovering the value provided by ASIS International, starting with the standards and guidelines offered by the association. The standard on workplace violence prevention (now in a new iteration, ASIS WVPI AA-2020, Workplace Violence and Active Assailant—Prevention, Intervention, and Response) enabled him to reach out to human resources and other departments to forge partnerships around proven guidance to move workplace violence priorities and programs upstream—shifting from a security-centric “right of boom” response to a coordinated “left of boom” effort around defenses, mitigation, and early intervention.

“The standard helped me put together a framework to communicate with people in their language—in HR, in legal, in other disciplines—why this is their problem too and not just security’s issue,” Tenney says.  

We come in with a major in security and we need a minor in business, right out of the gate. But as you become more senior, you have to flip them.

ASIS resources also helped Tenney’s teams to thrive. A CSO’s time is in short supply, so Tenney couldn’t attend many ASIS educational or networking opportunities personally. Instead, he kept informed about what ASIS offered and encouraged his team—especially early and mid-career individuals—to pursue certification, networking, professional development, and education at GSX, in webinars, and through other ASIS programs.

“ASIS played an important role in the development of our team and the team’s ability to be successful,” he adds.

With a Successful CSO Career, Why Change Gears to Become ASIS CEO?

As a security leader with an intelligence focus, it’s no surprise that Tenney did his research before pursuing the ASIS CEO role.

After speaking with peers, ASIS members, nonmembers, and doing in-depth analysis of the organization, Tenney was compelled by the association’s mission to make the world a safer place to live, work, and play. He was surprised at the depth of value that ASIS conveys—including a wide variety of member resources that he was unaware of (part of Tenney’s early plan for ASIS is ensuring members understand the breadth of what the association offers). But he also found that the culture of the association—from the headquarters staff to the volunteers—aligned with his own, focusing on purpose, caring, and results. These factors encouraged Tenney to believe his leadership could make a difference at ASIS and within the corporate security industry as a whole.

“The world is a dangerous place, and it’s not getting any less risky,” he says. “So, I think there is a recognition among business leaders that corporate security and security professionals in general have a ton to bring to the table to make businesses more resilient, to make communities safer, and to make countries and economies work better. We are part of a noble profession, and I think that ASIS is really a leader in the corporate security space.”

Because we show up in these strategic positions or in times of crisis, we carry more organizational heft than we appreciate or give ourselves credit for.

Tenney could have moved laterally to a different in-house role or a new CSO position and influenced one company, but instead he chose to “work with a global team—the core ASIS team, a global team of thousands of volunteers, and tens of thousands of security professionals. To me, that’s super exciting.”

In the face of wars, civil unrest, terrorism, crime, natural disasters, and crises, “there’s a level of concern and anxiety among populations around the world, and I think corporate security and security professionals have unique abilities, skills, and experience to bring to this,” Tenney adds.

With that lens, Tenney asks some essential questions to shape the future of the association: “How do we lead ourselves as an industry? How do we respond to the challenges that our members face and that companies we work for and support face? How do we educate those who don’t understand what the security profession can bring? How do we educate our members and bring that value back to the communities and companies they serve?”

ASIS has already been doing part of this work for years, Tenney says, especially recently with the development of a standard on school security by soliciting input from non-security stakeholders such as school principals, resource officers, counselors, psychologists, school security directors, and more. As part of ASIS’s new strategic plan, Tenney aims to take that even further.

Security professionals are known for being open in sharing information with each other, even between rival organizations, because they know that security competes against malicious actors—not against other security professionals. The new facilitator model at ASIS seeks to apply that unified aid approach to a broader audience.

“ASIS can help the cream rise to the top, whether that’s thought-leaders, providers, individuals, or teams,” Tenney says. “Providing that platform and space for these groups to engage and get to a space where one plus one equals three, we as an industry can lift all boats together.”

This model also widens the potential membership of ASIS by reaching new talent pools and letting individuals know what the corporate security field entails. At the same time, it connects existing ASIS members to new points of view and skills that they can apply to their jobs. For example, Tenney says that by linking intelligence professionals with corporate security, both individuals learn about risk management and analysis while synthesizing the skill sets to be more compelling to stakeholders and earn a more visible seat at the table.

“ASIS can be a megaphone for the industry,” Tenney says, and that megaphone can be leveraged to give even more security professionals a voice.


Claire Meyer is managing editor for Security Management. Connect with her on LinkedIn or email her directly at [email protected].