Jim Walker is the President of Black Swan Digital Forensics in Memphis, Tennessee. The son of a school teacher and an officer in the United States Army, Jim Walker spent the majority of his early years traveling between military bases across the globe. He would attend Austin Peay State University on an Army ROTC scholarship, earning his Bachelor of Business Administration. Walker felt that he had more to give and ended up serving in the military for more than 20 years, while continuing his education at the University of Oklahoma where he earned a master’s in public administration.
A recipient of two Legion of Merit medals, Jim Walker’s unique assignments led him to Washington, and eventually Capitol Hill, where he also served as an aide to President Ronald Reagan. During his eight-year tenure as the Director of Alabama’s Department of Homeland Security, Walker won five national awards for innovation in technology and government.
Jim Walker was a key player in the claims program for the state of Alabama in the aftermath of the tragic BP Oil Spill of 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, serving as the State Liason. He then looked to apply his experience in state and federal governments to local government where he spent four years.
In 2018, Walker turned his focus to the private sector and joined Black Swan Digital Forensics as the company’s President. Black Swan fields a team of computer and cell phone engineers, forensic programmers, and private investigators to bring innovative solutions to government and the marketplace.
He currently resides in the Chattanooga, Tennessee area with his wife. They have traveled to more than 50 countries together and in their free time, he enjoys playing golf, reading, fishing, and spending as much time with their children as possible.
1. Tell us a little bit about what Black Swan Digital Forensics does.
What we do is data extraction from just about any device. In other words, we can extract all information, including deleted information, off of a cell phone, a computer, and out of cars. We’re also moving into appliances and other digital devices that have a memory chip. We work with a lot of defense attorneys, public defenders, private investigators, and any others who need data recovered from a digital device.
2. You served in the United States Army for more than 20 years. What lessons did you learn in the military that you’ve been able to apply most when transitioning back to civilian life?
I learned that service to others is more important and more fulfilling than serving the almighty dollar. Honestly, that sums me up in a nutshell. After I retired from the Army, I also learned that you don’t have to wear a uniform to serve other people. The military does a good job putting you out there at the tip of the spear, telling you that your country is relying upon you. However, when we take the uniform off, we discover all of these selfless acts of kindness and the millions of ways people can make a difference and reach out and help their fellow man. So, I think that’s the one thing the military has taught me that service to others is more meaningful and fulfilling than just serving for financial gain.
3. What do you love most about the industry you are in?
I think it’s the potential for growth. I also like when the undisputed facts make a difference in a case. For example, we had a young man sitting in jail for almost two years for a murder he swears he did not commit. It took a court order to get his cell phone out of the evidence locker, but once we did, we were able to use cell phone towers, the data on his phone, pictures, and timelines to prove that this young man wasn’t even in the state where the murder was committed. When you can make a difference in someone’s life like that, it’s very fulfilling.
4. What does a typical day consist of for you?
I spend a lot of time traveling. Being able to take digital devices like a cellphone and extracting all the information off of the phone, it’s a growth industry. So we developed a remote extraction device. If you had this device in your presence right now, I could extract everything off your phone, including deleted items. You can see where this is a powerful tool in investigations.
As a growth industry, I have to spend a lot of time speaking, educating, and marketing about what we do. This is in addition to the typical responsibilities that the president of the company has for your personnel, payroll, learning about cases, staying current with technology and the licensing that we have.
5. What keeps you motivated?
For me, it’s affecting positive change. It’s keeping the ball moving in the right direction. It never gets old for me. Also, what Black Swan does, even though it’s for profit, in a way, it’s a public service. It takes irrefutable evidence that can either prove or disprove a case. This way, you’re only shining the light on the truth, and then the system has to react accordingly. When we’ve done our part, it takes out some of the conjecture and the finger-pointing.
6. What traits do you possess that makes a successful leader?
You learn this on day one in the Army; you have to lead by example, and you have to be willing to do everything that you’d be willing to ask someone else to do. As a manager, the thing that I’ve learned is not to micromanage people. Tell people what you want and let them do their job. Just be there to support them and make sure they have all of the resources they need. Do this, and they will amaze you with their initiative, their ingenuity, and what they can accomplish. People want to feel important, and they want to make a difference. So, tell them what you want and then cut them loose and support them. I think you’ll be surprised at how much they can accomplish.
7. How do you motivate others?
I motivate others by leading by example, being fair, being ethical, sticking to my principals, and also by understanding why people choose to work in the first place.
8. Who has been a role model of yours and why?
I have several, I can throw out a lot of fancy names that everybody knows, but the guy that I worked for in the oil spill, I thought that was a fascinating guy. His name is Ken Feinberg. He’s an attorney. During the oil spill, no one was happy with how quickly the money was being paid, where the money was, no one was getting enough, and the national press among the affected states in the South was clobbering him. Despite it all, he had confidence in his ability and his intellect. He worked tirelessly, and he looked past all the noise around him and stuck to what he believed was best. He was also honest to a fault. At the oil spill, there were plenty of opportunities to accept bribes to turn the other cheek. Mr. Feinberg had responsibility for the entire program, and it just wasn’t in his nature. He was just a very honorable, decent person who was incredibly loyal to the people who work for him. So, he was a great example.
9. How do you maintain a solid work-life balance?
I once heard somebody say that they’ve never known anybody that on their deathbed said they wish they had spent more time at the office.
Work-life balance is a learned habit. When you have people who work for you, you have to remember there are people that love your employees and whom they love, and things that they enjoy doing, that are the reasons why they work. So, you’ve got to be mindful of that with your employees. They work for a reason. Not everybody is altruistic. They need money to provide for their family, to do the things that they do to spend time with people that they love. And so you understand that as a leader and a manager, but you’ve got to remind yourself that the same thing is true. I’ve had to do that a lot. I’ve gotten better at it, but you have to practice what you preach.
10. Having worked in public service for more than 30 years, would you recommend others follow that same path?
I would. I think that service to others is incredibly important. There are many paths to do it, be it through volunteering or what you do professionally, but you’ve always got to give back. There are various ways to serve your country, to serve your community, to serve people that are less fortunate than you, and there are few things in life that are more meaningful or valuable than helping to make a difference in someone else’s life. I would encourage anybody to find a way or a path to serve.
11. What has been the hardest obstacle you’ve overcome?
The hardest obstacle was convincing my wife to marry me. So far it seems to have paid off!
12. What is one piece of advice that you have never forgotten?
To do your duty in all things to the very best of your ability. If you can do that, what else is there? You’ve then got no more to give. So, I try to remember that piece of advice. If you do your very best, there’s nothing else that you can do. If your position fails or you don’t succeed, you have to take comfort in that you did everything you can do, and that’ll get you through some of the dark days.
13. Where do you see you and your company in 5 years?
I’d like to shift to a larger international presence. We have a presence in a handful of countries, a couple of different continents, and we’re having success. However, I think that as digital forensics continues on this growth trend, we will move toward having more of a global impact. We still have much work to do here in the continental United States, but five years from now, I’d like to see us with a more significant international presence.
14. Tell me about the proudest day of your professional life.
I have two. One is when I realized that I worked because I wanted to, not because I had to. When I got to that point in life, I think that it certainly gave me the ability to pick and choose a little more wisely. To me, that is a professional accomplishment, to get to where you work because you want to and you love it, and you no longer have to do things you don’t necessarily want to do.
The other is when I reached the point where I could invest enough to be able to pay for a college education for my children. I’ve got one more with one year of college left, and the money’s already in the bank. I’ve already had three children graduate. They’ve been given an education, and they have the tools to now go forward and be the people that they are meant to be, to chase their passions. It was incredibly important to me that they had that baseline, so I made that a personal goal of mine when my children were born. And now, the fact that I’m going to be able to do that, it’s a personal accomplishment because, at the end of the day, all you really have left when you check out of this life is your family.