Anyone can manage a project or situation if they accurately follow directions. But leadership requires another level of commitment and risk to excel when the going gets tough.
In this interview series, we are exploring the subject of dealing with crisis and how to adapt and overcome. The context of this series is the physical and financial fallout that resulted from the COVID 19 pandemic. Crisis management is one characteristic that many successful leaders share in common, and in many cases it is the most important trait necessary to survive and thrive in today’s complex market.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Tim Tofaute.
Tim Tofaute is the Director of Security and Operations for Operational Security Solutions (OSS). Mr. Tofaute’s prior working relationship with the founders of OSS lead to his involvement in the development of the operational strategy and stand-up of corporate operations. Since then, his role has evolved into his current position as the Director of Security and Operations. With dual reporting lines to the Chief of Security and the Chief Operating Officer, Tofaute provides day-to-day supervision of OSS security personnel, Cash-In Transit (CIT) personnel, vault and teller personnel, and all affiliated contractors. Further, Tofaute directs all OSS security policies, procedures, field operations, and training.
Prior to joining OSS on a full-time basis, Mr. Tofaute assembled a comprehensive career with extensive hands-on / top-tier security experience that evolved into positions of executive leadership for several security companies. Launching his career as a US Navy SEAL supporting the Naval Special Warfare Center and the Naval Strike Warfare Center on SEAL Team 5 and then SEAL Team 8, Tofaute held various roles of leadership as a senior instructor and operator for numerous overseas deployments. After more than 10 years of military service, Tofaute transitioned into several protective security roles for domestic and foreign dignitaries, as well as deployments for both US security contractors and several US intelligence agencies. Finally, Mr. Tofaute held executive leadership roles in two (2) private security companies that specialized in technical security, risk management, and Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTP) for law enforcement and affiliated security personnel.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I’m Tim Tofaute — Director of Operations and Security for Operational Security Solutions (OSS). Except for being adopted by a loving family in Greensburg, PA, my childhood was rather typical of any working-class family living in an industrial town. My father was a glass manufacturing executive, and my mother was a homemaker and staff member of the American Cancer Society who cared for me and my sister. Our family moved around a lot to follow my father’s new jobs, and it gave me a lot of exposure to different people and cultures. Growing up I played baseball, skied, and varsity soccer — overall, I had an enjoyable childhood.
And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?
Most of my work experience has been with the military, US intelligence and security agencies, and private security contractors. A little more than four years ago, I welcomed the opportunity to make the entrepreneurial jump into a company with several former colleagues — Operational Security Solutions (OSS). Currently, I’m the Director of Operations and Security for both our west coast and east coast operations.
One unique aspect of our work at OSS is the fact that we’re all military, law enforcement, and federal service professionals. So, in a 180-degree opposite direction of those backgrounds, we now work with (and support) MRBs…many of which were operating in the black market before legalization took place in their state. So, many of our customers are often dumbfounded that we are working to help them, protect them, and equip them with legitimate bank accounts and professional services not typically associated with the cannabis industry.
Can you tell us a bit about your military background?
It didn’t take long after high school to realize that I had become disenchanted with college, so I voluntarily told my Dad: “I’m wasting your bucks.” Shortly thereafter, I enlisted in the Navy with a strong interest in diving. I had seen the film: Men with green faces (re: about the US Navy SEALS) and became determined to become a SEAL. I completed BUD/S class 151; went to Airborne training at Ft. Benning; and then started my SEAL career with SEAL Team 5, Naval Strike Warfare Center, and then SEAL Team 8. This gave me exposure to SEAL operations on both coasts of our country. During my military service, I had many deployments across 4 continents and numerous countries, with extensive time spent in the middle east, Asia, and Eastern Europe.
Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?
Two incidents that have nothing to do with tactical operations or traditional warfare engagements immediately come to mind. These incidents helped shape the mindset that I still employ in my day-to-day life.
Incident #1: Early in my SEAL career, a friend and Warrant Officer were talking to me about life in (and after) the SEAL Teams. After Vietnam, he became a professional bull rider; went back to school for some new knowledge; and then re-joined the Navy — eventually becoming a Warrant Officer. During my conversation with him, he was trying to explain his choices in life.
He told me: “Life is like a bucket of water. Your time with SEAL Team is like a hand in the bucket…splashing around and making a ruckus. When you pull your hand out of the bucket, you see the impact you had…but you become a ripple…and then eventually the water calms down and you are part of the past until your memory is all but gone. So, don’t make SEAL Team your identity…make it what you do…and eventually what you did, but not who you are. Continue to grow and learn, live and love…and develop yourself as you move on to do other things.”
Through his counsel, I realized that I would have highs and lows. But I have learned, experienced, and pulled everything together into what has become my current self.
Incident #2: As a joint commission observer in Bosnia, my team was searching for specific people charged of war crimes. We engaged an NGO — a Muslim humanitarian group that supported invalids, amputees, and others damaged by the civil war. About 100 of those affected were children. Since we knew they had to know the people we were seeking, we initiated several functions to not just push them for intelligence but to support their humanitarian efforts and gain their trust. During a Christmas celebration, we went to every military base in the region. Over several weeks, we collected money and gifts of child toys. We then hosted a holiday celebration; invited the entire Muslim community; and handed out toys to all of the children. Almost all of them had never received a toy in their life. The kids cycled back through the line 3 or 4 times because we had so many toys. During a wartime conflict, it was great to do humanitarian efforts. It made me appreciate what we have in the US. It also taught me that going kinetic is the easy option. But, to spend the time to focus on the end goal: to provide safety and humanitarian aid — was the much more difficult and more laborious task. In the end, we established solid lines of communication that helped us move our intelligence efforts forward finding several of the wanted individuals while making a difference in the lives of the indigenous survivors.
I’m interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.
A mentor, leader, and father-like figure of mine, CDR(Ret) RJ Thomas, was a Vietnam veteran (Navy SEAL sniper) who relayed a story from his personal experiences. His unit and sympathetic villages to the US were enduring incessant mortar attacks from a distant ridgeline. Instead of carpet-bombing the area and causing potentially extensive collateral damage, they decided to send a few observers to define the target(s). Once he flew over the area in question, a massive group shot down the helicopter into a rice paddy. Most of the crew either immediately died or were severely wounded during the engagement. The survivors, including RJ, came under heavy fire. Another helicopter in the area eventually landed. With a broken back, mangled face, and extensive fuel burns on his body, and a gunshot wound, RJ carried the entire crew — one by one — to the other helicopter using only his sidearm for defense.
Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?
What is a hero? To me, a hero is an individual who goes far beyond their comfort zone to get the job done…often putting their own safety at risk.
Does a person need to be facing a life and death situation to do something heroic or to be called a hero?
No. It’s more about going beyond one’s comfort zone to get the job done. For example, a single parent working two or more jobs to support a family also fits my definition of a hero.
Based on your military experience, can you share with our readers 5 Leadership or Life Lessons that you learned from your experience”? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Anyone can manage a project or situation if they accurately follow directions. But leadership requires another level of commitment and risk to excel when the going gets tough.
2. Leaders put others before themselves. Leaders often lead by example and ensure that the team succeeds before their own recognition.
3. Leaders inspire and motivate others to maximize their potential in tumultuous situations.
4. Leaders apply strategic vision at a very high level that inspires employees to focus on their specific tasks. It’s only when all of the tasks come together that the team excels.
5. A leader takes responsibility.
Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business? Can you explain?
In the military, there are times when you have to make decisions with limited, less than ideal, or inaccurate information. However, mistakes can cost lives. So, you treat the collection, understanding, and accurate processing of data gathering as the most critical aspect of your leadership role. So, military leaders gain as many advantages as possible given data collection limitations: plan ahead, be early, prepare your resources in advance so that you’re ready when the opportunity arises, and be open to as many sources of information as possible (including the evaluation of what could be redundant sources of information). When applying these lessons to business, treating the project with the same criticality better positions you for success. Leverage as many tools, strategies, and advantages to your favor as possible.
As you know, some people are scarred for life by their experience in the military. Did you struggle after your deployment was over? What have you done to adjust and thrive in civilian life that others may want to emulate?
I don’t think I struggled as much as many of my brothers and sisters in the military. I think my key to thriving is my focus on processing and moving forward. I have learned to make sense of my past experiences and process them in a way that doesn’t weigh on my shoulders or put me in a position where I take out my frustrations on my friends, family, and coworkers.
I still feel that I’m growing as a leader in my civilian life. So, I wouldn’t say that I’m thriving yet. Rather, my military experiences helped me understand how to accept and process defeat, equally as well as accepting and processing victory.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our organization, OSS, recently expanded to the East Coast. OSS East will enable us to provide more security and Cash-In Transit services to PA, NY, and NJ soon, and the greater New England and Mid-Atlantic regions by the end of this year.
I think this expansion will help more businesses remain compliant while their resources (both financial and employee) will remain safe.
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive?
Leaders need to listen! Information is power. Gather insight by checking with your entire team: from the most junior positions to the most senior executives. By listening more and speaking less, leaders will gain a better understanding of their team’s capabilities and challenges.
What advice would you give to other leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Know your people. Just like my previous answer, leaders should know who is supporting all aspects of the organization. Familiarity with most of the positions in an organization will enable a leader to get the maximum effort from their staff.
Trickle-down non-leadership is when leaders are autocratic, and they speak more than they listen. When you have a large team, these missteps will quickly sink an organization. Get out of your office and interact with your staff. Engage them and let them know you are listening.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Even when I didn’t, my father always had faith in me. Whether it was a crazy idea or a goal that was highly improbable, my Dad always made me feel confident. He would talk to me, listen, and help me think through these ideas so that I would eventually see the weaknesses or fallacies in my thought processes.
When I decided to drop out of college and enlist in the military, my father supported me and my decision. When I decided to try out for the SEALS, my father was the only person from my family, relatives, and friends who believed that I could complete the program. As a smaller kid from a land-locked state with very little swimming and diving experience, I had more than my fair share of doubters. But I found out that my Dad countered all of the nay-sayers by reminding them that I have the heart and determination needed to accomplish anything. His belief in me gave me the extra push when I was down.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m confident that my current company — OSS — is making a positive difference by providing security and banking services to cannabis companies that previously thought those services were verboten.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
It’s such a broad question, so it’s difficult to narrow my thoughts down to a single movement. But I would want to be part of a group that brings more thoughtfulness to the world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Those who would give up essential liberties to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” -Benjamin Franklin
I’ve spent a fair amount of my life overseas in conflict areas where people gave up their freedoms for what they believed was additional safety or security. Only to have life get far worse afterward. I see those similarities happening here in the US right now. We may have the unalienable right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness but it isn’t a guarantee. Don’t take things for granted. We must work hard for our opportunities as they are rarely if ever just handed out and, in my experience, nothing is ever “free”. In my business dealings, I must remind myself that daily.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Donald Trump. I would love to hear his view of his journey through business, his Presidency, and life after his term ended. Of course, lunch may not be enough time!