Updated: Jan 24
My friend Josh at Police Muscle asked if I would answer a few questions on transitioning to the corporate sector:
Cop to Corporate Life
Have you ever thought what it would look like to work in the corporate world? Have you ever wondered how your skills translate outside of law enforcement?
I know I’ve asked myself these questions. I was lucky enough to interview Brian Tuskan, a man who is a great example of transitioning into the corporate world. Brian has not only transitioned into a corporate job with Microsoft but he now helps others make the transition through his company. Read more below to learn about Brian’s story and his company. I hope this interview provides value and a resource for anyone looking to make the transition.
My initial question begins with…
When and how did you come to the realization you were ready to transition out of law enforcement? Was it a gradual buildup of thoughts or did it hit you all of sudden?
I think it was a gradual buildup over the years. I recall as a young police officer I was amazed at how jaded a lot of the more senior officers were. I’ve always been a very positive person and a glass half-full optimist. I also realized as I got more and more years on the force at how challenging the job was. If you look at what police officer are tasked to do, it’s understandable why some are jaded. You’ll hear comments like “it’s a thankless job,” or “people only like the police when they want help.”
I’ve always been entrepreneurial at heart whether it was from program / project management to building out new programs in my police agency to looking for ways to better police work through technology and software. One thing that I didn’t like were police officers that complained and complained. They complained about their work, the administration, their pay, the union, you name it. I would say most officers were dedicated to the department, community and police mission, but the few that were the department’s curmudgeons made the department a toxic environment to work in.
I recall a younger officer that took on the persona of one of these officers and I had to pull him aside and tell him not to get caught up in the naysaying. Misery loves company and negative people love to spread negativity on people they can influence such as young officers.
I started to seriously think about a career change after my wife almost died from a brain aneurysm in 1999. This life-changing event made me reflect on other career options. I had been exposed to the Microsoft Corporation as I was a technical detective and used to get most of the cases reported. I didn’t realize it at the time but my skill-set developed as a detective made me very marketable in the private sector, and an opportunity presented itself to me to take a job as a senior investigator in Microsoft’s corporate security team.
How did you begin to plan your transition?
First I did a lot of thinking and planning about the pros and cons of leaving my department. I had over 12 years in law enforcement and I’d be giving up tons of sick leave, lengthy vacation based on my seniority, pension, and the security of a government job. I was also at the top of my game being a senior detective however this is the best time to think about leaving mid-career as you have a lot to offer. For some reason my entrepreneurial spirit kicked in and I was full of excitement for the opportunity to work for Microsoft. I also had the support of my wife who was still recovering and she liked the idea of me leaving police work. Most police spouses worry every time their police spouse leaves for work.
What were your biggest fears?
Giving up the security of a government job, and on a prestigious law enforcement career for a private security role. Knowing that Washington State was an At-Will employee state meaning you could be terminated at-will was concerning. There were also countless other fears and many of my police peers thought I was nuts giving up on my career. I didn’t feel I was giving up on police work but taking on a new challenge knowing I had the drive and competency to be successful. The one thing I made sure before I put in my resignation is that I was 100% sure I wanted to do this. I wasn’t 99%, or 80%, I was 100%. When you make a 100% commitment, then you’re all in. Any adversity or challenge, you know you’re 100% committed. If you’re not all in, you’ll find excuses and limit your success.
How did you transition into your job at Microsoft? What was your biggest challenge in do so?
The security team was embedded in the IT security team and I had to become technical really fast. It was almost like being in college and the atmosphere was very collegiate. Another challenge was working in 40,000 person company coming from a small police agency. Navigating through a large company in a new team was a little scary but also very exciting.
The biggest concerns that most officers I talked to were regarding money, retirement, work atmosphere, interactions with co-workers. If you can shed some light on the differences you have experienced that would be great?
If you’re a former police officer going into the corporate world, you need to adapt to the corporate culture and not the other way around. I’ve seen former LE struggle as their only identity was being a cop or Federal Agent. War stories of the great cases you’ve done only go so far, in the corporate world you better deliver on projects and be agile enough to change with business.
What’s a mantra you live by or an inspiring quote you feel has a deep impact?
Keep positive. Continue to learn new things and don’t be afraid to expand your experience with new opportunities.
How did you get into your current endeavor?
My current roles were built over the 14 years I’ve spent at Microsoft. I started as a Sr. investigator and I’m now a Sr. Director of Technology & Investigations in Global Security.
What do you see for yourself in the future?
I see continuing in my role at Microsoft with a focus on security technology.
What advice would you give an officer who did not have the luck learning skills like you while being detective? What route should they take? Do you feel learning specific skills are better than others when entering the corporate world?
Just being a police officer gives you tons of skills that no other job can give you. There are many officers that are quite content being in patrol. Patrol is the backbone of the department. You’re on the front lines. Although, I had the opportunity to do many special assignments, I loved every minute I spent in patrol. You had the autonomy to do many different things and you could guarantee that every day would be different.
The key though is not only “what” you do but “how” you do it. If you learn to be the best at your craft and do it in way that doesn’t undermine your peer officers or the department, or your integrity and work ethic is well known, these “how” skills will follow you in your life after law enforcement. One area of study that can get you ready for the corporate world is “business.” Now you don’t need a business degree or MBA. If you possess one, that’s great! But you don’t necessarily need it as there are so many ways to learn business and have a great business acumen by reading, self-study, certificate programs, mentoring, etc…
Having a good understanding of business and applying it in your job as a cop can prepare you for the corporate world. Look at all the things you can do just in patrol that can apply to business: Investigations and case management = project management; Interacting with local businesses = cross organizational skills; conducting a neighborhood or a business watch program = business presentations and interpersonal awareness; police operational problem solving = program management. The list can go on and on and when you add specialized skills this can expand your body of work and make you very marketable.
Most police officers don’t think about life after law enforcement until the year they decide they want to retire. I recommend you start thinking at least five years before and to prepare. I’ve started a blog to give insight on these topics: https://coptocorporate.wordpress.com/
Just be true to yourself and know exactly what you want to do or not to do after law enforcement. The sky’s the limit and the more your prepare and plan for your transition, the easier it will be.
What are some challenges that you have faced in your new endeavor?
The biggest challenge is staying focused. There are so many technology opportunities that I need to focus on my core role and responsibility.
What’s your why? What motivates you?
I do what I do for my wife and three boys. The success I have allows them to pursue their endeavors.
A book, movie, or documentary that you can recommend that has been impacted you profoundly?
Netflix has a great documentary called “Happiness.” Before making a huge change, you need to think about what’s important and what makes you happy. More money, a new career doesn’t necessary make you happy.
Did you have any mentors or coaches along the way?
Yes I’ve had great mentors/coaches over the years. Many came from books on leadership but also personal relationships with leaders in my field.
How do you find balance in your life
Being organized. You’d be surprised at how much time you can waste if you’re not organized. I’m not saying I’m the best at it but I constantly look for ways to maximize my time so when I work, I work, but when I’m off, I’m off. With smartphones, and tech you can get caught up in a technology loop and blur work and your life. There’s a way to find balance but you need to figure that out constantly and adapt.
A proud moment in your life?
My wife’s recovery from her illness and my children’s growth into young men.
What would you like to share with the readers that you wish someone would have shared with you?
I recently attended a University Business event as they were honoring alumni for their accomplishments. One of the honorees gave a bunch of sage advice but the one thing that stuck out was the statement “life isn’t fair.” As I thought about that statement I’ve heard it before but it never really dawned on me in my earlier corporate career that what is fair and what is reality may be two different things. I know a few former LE that transitioned to the private sector struggle as their thinking is black and white. Cops tend to think that way as you’re used to enforcing laws that are in writing and you have probable cause to make decisions based off of those laws. In the corporate world things may be a little gray and a lot of times perception is the reality.
That’s what I would share.
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