TigerSwan’s James Reese: From Special Ops to Entrepreneur
It’s not every day that you see a CEO brewing a pot of coffee for the office. James Reese isn’t just any CEO, though. “People see me making coffee, and I get people [who] come up and go, ‘Hey boss, we got this.’ I go ‘Nope, I drank the last cup. My turn,’” says Reese. Reese’s example of servant-leadership is refreshing in a world full of power-leadership and CEOs using their authority solely to amass wealth.
As a former special operations commander and the chief executive officer and founder of TigerSwan, Reese knows how to motivate and build a successful team. His work ethic and humility are foundational to his success in business because, first and foremost, he is all about serving people.
“I’m in there working my butt off for the people because if it’s not for the people, then I wouldn’t be anything either,” he states. His passion for people has shaped every part of his business and life.
What makes Reese tick? And how does he lead teams to success without micromanaging them?
A Legacy of Excellence
James Reese was born in Panama. His father was in the military and the government, so he spent his childhood moving frequently, mostly in the western United States. However, he spent his junior high and high school years settled in Rockville, Maryland, where his father was promoted.
In the beginning, the military wasn’t on Reese’s radar. He was a football and baseball star and got into college on a scholarship. He didn’t take it very seriously, though, and ended up dropping out of school.
It was then that Reese’s little brother, Kevin, inspired him. His brother had dreamed of becoming an airborne ranger and was already an Army ranger when Reese left school.
Coming from a family full of people dedicated to serving their country, Reese decided to follow in their footsteps and joined the Army. He ended up serving for 25 years in the elite army special operations force of the 75th Ranger Regiment and the secretive Delta Force. Reese served at all levels of command from a sergeant team leader, company commander Delta troop commander and culminated his career as the Director of Operations for Delta. Reese deployed to Afghanistan in the initial year of Operation Enduring Freedom and spent multiple tours in combat operations in Iraq.
During his career, Reese became a decorated combat leader. General David McKiernan, the commander of Coalition Forces of Iraq and Afghanistan, called Reese “one of the finest operators in the modern military.”
When Reese retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2007, he could have comfortably sat back and enjoyed it. However, he was determined to continue serving others. He came up with the idea for TigerSwan on his last rotation in Iraq and the name and the logo of the company came to him while doing cold-weather training in Colorado.
In the age of global enterprises, many corporations need a way to protect vital assets from worldwide risk. Whether protecting personnel, Cyber, intellectual property, physical assets, or brands. TigerSwan seeks to help mitigate risks for these enterprises.
James Reese founded TigerSwan in 2008 as a government services company and quickly transitioned into the private sector to provide global risk management and mitigation services and consultancy. TigerSwan is the perfect mix of advanced technologies and real-world experience to offer a wide range of personnel, , cyber and physical security solutions to protect modern enterprises. TigerSwan provides the actionable intelligence to effectively foresee, manage, and alleviate any risks that they may face.
TigerSwan’s personnel flagship technology, GuardianAngel, seeks to protect families and loved ones. Whether at home or abroad, TigerSwan’s GuardianAngel gives families peace of mind by providing complete protection. This analytics program mitigates risk by supplying precise and actionable insights, location data, anonymous reporting and public and private response capability globally.
When presented with clear risk, many people freeze and aren’t sure what to do. TigerSwan’s GuardianAngel enhances situational awareness to avoid danger. It also provides improved decision-making for every scenario. Whether connected with the company’s own operations center (GSOC) or a public first responder operations center, it shortens the time between any incident and response.
There is always some risk when traveling abroad. However, you shouldn’t limit your opportunities worldwide because of uncertainty and risk abroad. TigerSwan’s GuardianAngel helps eliminate any ambiguity and fear with its travel risk management and duty of care.
In addition to enterprises and families, TigerSwan provides risk solutions for government entities. It is a VA-certified, service-disabled, veteran-owned small business that is trusted by government agencies to help them fulfill their missions all over the world. Their technology and expertise that TigerSwan brings to the table helps provide a full spectrum of global risk management and mitigation consultancy for government entities.
On TigerSwan’s Mission
Whether for individuals, families, corporations, law enforcement, or military, TigerSwan provides the perfect level of protection. “We are proud of the work we do for the State Department and for our Fortune 500 clients,” says James Reese.
As TigerSwan grew, its needs and focus changed. As a result, James Reese started a software development company to work alongside TigerSwan to achieve a Skunkworks environment of top tier operations (Law Enforcement, Military, First Responders, Emergency Management and state of the art computer engineers and developers to work side by side and ensure, the technology software that TigerSwan requires is setting the standard in the safety and security technology space. Our developers work hand in hand with our operators and clients to see exactly what is going on as they develop and update the software.
TigerSwan is growing in incredible ways. The company is currently working with Fortune 100 technology companies to develop some projects. Reese says that “as a small, disabled veteran business, to be working with industry-leading technology companies is exciting.”
Not only have TigerSwan and Reese revolutionized risk mitigation and situational awareness, but they have also changed the notion of leadership. Despite their incredible capabilities and growth, they continue to maintain the healthy culture of a small business. “We are a small business culture with big business systems and capabilities,” says Reese.
With such impressive accomplishments, Reese found out a few things about success. Luckily, he has provided ample advice about cancer, transitioning to civilian life, leadership, travel, and family.
On Overcoming Cancer
Not only has James Reese accomplished incredible things in his professional life, but he takes his personal life seriously as well. Reese was diagnosed with cancer two separate times. The second time was extremely serious. He was diagnosed with a very rare cancer, Mantle Cell Lymphoma, and doctors gave him 24-36 months to live.
However, Reese is not one to give up. “I said ‘it’s my life, and there’s a mission. Let’s go beat this diagnosis. I don’t have time to mess around with it,’” he says. His wife, who is a neurosurgery Physician Associate jumped into her medical network and found Dr. Michael Wang from MD Andeson in Houston who is a global leader in MCL research and their phase one approach to beating MCL. She also researched alternative methods of treating cancer. It was then that she found Dr. Gerson and his protocol for treating cancer.
Reese jumped headlong into the research program at MD Anderson and also into the alternative treatment to augment the medical treatment from Dr. Wang at MD Anderson. He drastically changed his eating habits and focused on a clean, organic, NON-GMO diet, cut sugar out of his diet, and ate high-alkaline foods. It was an intense program. “I went on a 60-day juice cleanse where all I did was drink cold-pressed juices,” he says. “I drank about 13 of them a day for two months and lost about 30 pounds.”
To this day, he continues to follow anti-cancer protocols. “I get up every morning, and I start my day by drinking four glasses of 9.0 ph water,” he says. “And in those waters, I have my own little concoctions I’ve made over the years with apple cider vinegar and essiac tonic (a native American medicine) and then I have eight ounces of cold-pressed juices. I do that every single morning in my life, whether I’m on the road or whatever. I carry it with me,. My first caffeine of the day is organic green tea. That’s what jump-starts my day every day,” And I work to dring at least 80 ounces of water or cold-pressed juices a day.
On Transitioning to Civilian Life
James Reese’s story is one of finding success after an illustrious career in the Army. As such, he knows what it’s like to leave the military and acclimate to civilian life. His top advice for people leaving the military is to get a lawyer.
“The number one piece of advice is before you sign anything, the contract, a non-disclosure agreement, an I-C agreement,” Reese says, “spend $200, and take it to a lawyer, and understand what is in that contract before you sign anything.” Although it may be more work and money to get a lawyer to look over your contracts, it’s worth it, according to Reese. “I know it doesn’t sound sexy,” he says. “Hey, this isn’t how you’re going to make a million dollars. But what it will do is set you aside from a lot of other veterans.” We are spoiled as veterans in the military and are used to working through production lines to get everyone qualified. The day you leave, your First Sergeant is not going to be there to make sure you are doing the correct thing. Research, learn about the new environment you are partaking into, and make sure you understand the legal ramifications of what signing these contracts mean!
It’s essential to understand exactly what you agree to. “Have a lawyer explain non-circumvention, what does intellectual property mean?” Reese continues. “What does employ versus I-C mean? All those kinds of nuances. What does liability insurance mean? And if you can learn that, you will set yourself apart from most other veterans.”
On His Leadership Style
One of the major differences in James Reese’s business that led to his success is his leadership style. Most of what he learned about leadership came from watching his father work in multi-cultural environments and his time leading special operation operators as both a non commissioned officer and commissioned officer. However, Reese beams when he discusses one of his most memorable leadership lessons commanding a company in the 1st Cavalry Divison, of regular army armored and mechanized infantry soldiers, during a two-year hiatus as an infantry officer from special ops.
“It’s real leadership,” Reese explains. “When you’re in special operations, everybody wants to be there. Everyone volunteers. Everyone is motivated.” However, in the regular military, there are daily life challenges of soldiers who some are not as naturally motivated as you would assume!. “The leadership challenge,” he says, “is how do you motivate people? How do you get people going? How do you get people that don’t want to be there all the time, get fired up to do their jobs and become a team!
“Don’t get me wrong, I had several soldiers that were as good, and motivated as special operation soldiers, but having a spectrum of good and bad brought a new challenge every day!” He found out how rewarding it was when the unmotivated suddenly found ambition and started working hard under his leadership. He describes what it’s like “to really look at people, look deep inside of them and see what motivates them, and then pull out that motivation. They see that you trust them, It’s so cool to watch.” “They watch you! If you are doing all the hard things as a leader, they emulate the leader and the team starts to form!”
It was in the military and specifically, DELTA, that he learned and experimented with leading a networked organization instead of a hierarchical organization. As a result, James Reese formulated his culture of TigerSwan around these same methods of network leadership and executed a servant-leadership type of relationship with his employees. To him, servant-leadership means “you’ve got to lead by example. You have to show your people that the leader realizes his or her people are the most important assets you have as a leader. Develop an environment that allows creativity, that allows competition and the employees know the senior leadership does not sit in a white tower!” Any easy way to show that is when you walk in the lunchroom, and the trash can is filled, be a leader and take out the trash. If you drink the last cup of coffee, make a new pot. Your momma is not there to pick up for you as a leader and neither are your employees.
James Reese’s military background also laid the groundwork for his intent-based organization. According to him, “what intent means is like the boss – whether it’s a commander, a CEO, whatever – you have to tell your folks, here’s my intent and what I see [as] the vision of the company.”
Once the leader lays the foundations and vision for the company, they leave to allow the creativity and details to the workers. As James Reese says, “Once people understand what your intent is, then it’s now your job to let those people do what they have to do, and provide them the assets and support to do their jobs. We live by this adage ‘big boy, big goal’ rules, meaning, ‘I’m not going to sit here and micromanage you and tell you how to do something. When I ask if you understand my intent, what we’re trying to accomplish and the end state, and you tell me you understand then, go execute and enjoy what you’re doing and ask for assistance if needed.”
This hands-off leadership style gives his workers the autonomy they need to come up with creative solutions and propel the business forward even more. James Reese’s employees can set their hours for the most part and create their own plan for executing his vision. “You tell me you work better between midnight and 7:00 am, and you’re productive? Go for it.”
That doesn’t mean that there’s zero oversight or accountability, though. It just happens in an unconventional manner, and we establish checkpoints along the way for communication and performance indicators. It makes the boss, according to Reese, “stay engaged with their people, not from a micro-management [standpoint], but just checking, asking questions, understanding, and making sure they understand the intent. And sometimes you’ve got to give course corrections.” It also makes leaders get out from behind their desk and lead by walking around. Go talk to your people and get off the computer.
This collaborative experience has worked well to propel TigerSwan’s success and innovation. Many workers at TigerSwan become entrepreneurs. James Reese seeks to encourage it and draw it out of his employees. “I really try to breed out the entrepreneurship,” he says. “And you can see it very quickly who the entrepreneurs are in TigerSwan.”
Because he encourages his workers and builds their skills, they reward him with their devotion and hard work.
On His Travels
As part of the military, James Reese gained a love for travel and a global perspective. He still loves to travel today and travels around the world with his wife. Together they have been to Iraq and Afghanistan, where she runs medical missions. I love taking her to different places and seeing the joy she has with experiencing the other environments and when she gets to help people with her medical expertise it is something to watch!
Reese learned through his travels to have a healthy respect for all people. “Everyone brings something to the table,” he says. “Sometimes, when I’m abroad in these other countries, especially those that most people would call a third-world country, we treat the locals differently at times instead of embracing them and realizing they’re important. They have great ideas, and they have history and a better cultural understanding. They’re an important part of the solutions that we’re trying to accomplish around the world.”
Reese’s global perspective allows him to expand his business and gain a broader view of solutions.
On His Daughters
James Reese is also a father of two girls, one in college and one in high school. He is actively involved in their lives and supportive of their passions. His oldest daughter has taken his passion for football and works in the football recruiting officer at her University, “She could be the first NFL Head coach one day. She is very passionate about recruiting. He also has become a huge volleyball fan since his youngest daughter is passionate about and is the starting setter on her volleyball team. He even coached his daughter city volleyball team and won the city championship for their year group.
His girls keep him connected to the younger generation. “I take a look at what my daughters are doing on their social media,” he says, “and stay abreast of the millennials and what they’re thinking. I think that’s important to do.”
Most importantly, though, his girls have shaped his views on gender and inspirational women.
“I’m a big fan of girl power. I really am, and I tell my girls all the time they can be anything they want to be. Anything. I mean, they’ve got women army rangers now, infantrymen, marines, and everything else. So, whether you like it or not, it’s the reality. And I think it’s great. I really do. I applaud them all, and I hope my daughters look at some of these women and realize to go big or stay home. And I’ll back them up 1,000 percent, whatever they want to do.”
Reese: A Force to be Reckoned With
James Reese created a legacy of humility, responsibility, and excellence. His accomplishments speak to his character and dedication to putting people first. He has already done incredible things, and he will surely continue to achieve even more in the future.