One of the statements Steve Jobs frequently repeated was, “Creativity is connecting things.” Often, they are seemingly unrelated, but once the link is made, like music and mobile devices or social networks and the Internet, the world responds with a collective, “Of course, why didn’t I think of that?”
As Jeffrey Dyer and Hal Gregersen said in the Harvard Business Review, “Associating, or the ability to successfully connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas from different fields, is central to the innovator’s DNA.”
There is a connection like this that Todd Wilcox makes nearly every day, and it is one of the keys to the phenomenal growth and success of his businesses. Wilcox takes the gathering and analysis of intelligence, the discipline and execution of strategy, and the crucial quality of having the courage to risk (which he honed as a Special Forces officer and with the Central Intelligence Agency) into the fabric of Patriot Defense Group.
In fact, if there was a look that a member of America’s most elite warfighters has, Wilcox would be the poster child. It is not an air of bravado; he is gracious but confident, accomplished but quick to point to the team that makes his success possible. Did we mention a big heart? Wilcox was temporarily overcome with emotion when he spoke of his mother. She lost her struggle with cancer after raising a family of six children as a single parent.
Wilcox recalled with understandable feeling, “She worked multiple jobs and never accepted any kind of assistance. She instilled in me such a sense of independence and pride.”
There is a bit of the Horatio Alger story in Wilcox’s rather extraordinary career, from decorated soldier to entrepreneur to even a senatorial candidate.
“The part of Tampa I grew up in looks a lot nicer now, but when I was there it was a poor section of town,” Wilcox recalled. “My civics teacher in high school, Mr. Neuberger, served as a mentor to me. His values were traditional and his politics conservative. He impressed on me the importance of education as a key in getting out of the area I was raised in. That, along with the call to service and patriotism that was part of the Reagan era, had a profound and lasting impact on my life.”
Though Wilcox was thinking of becoming a Naval aviator, it was the Army that offered him a scholarship to the University of Tampa. Then, as a freshly minted officer, he went to Airborne Ranger School and began his military career as a platoon leader during Operation Desert Storm with the 101st Airborne Division. As he advanced through the ranks, he learned a great deal.
“Leadership, resource management, the hard and soft skills of overseeing an organization and belonging to something whose mission is much bigger than yourself, all of that was taught in the military,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a better school to learn those skills. Plus, they teach you that you don’t ever stop learning and training.”
It is obvious Wilcox is one of those individuals who is always scanning the horizon for the next opportunity or challenge. This may explain why he would later enter the senate race for Marco Rubio’s seat when Rubio ran for the presidency. However, he also possesses the ability to assess the likelihood of success and withdrew when Rubio decided to end his presidential bid and return to the senate. For Wilcox, years earlier, the next step was being a part of the Green Berets.
A veteran of some of the most harrowing operations in the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, Wilcox commented, “Being involved in counterterrorism was a natural path for me, as most people inside the military knew the threat would continue to escalate internationally. I commanded a 12-man A-team as a Green Beret Captain assigned to 1st Special Forces Group in the Pacific Command. We were usually deployed by either a halo jump or as a scuba team.”
Redeploying His Skills
Wilcox was promoted to major and assigned to be a Special Forces recruiter, where he was able to develop and hone his marketing abilities. Next, he came to a crucial juncture in his career, having the opportunity to move into Delta Force. Instead, he chose to join the CIA, and after intensive field training and learning Arabic, he took his two daughters with him to Cairo for his first assignment. He was in Egypt when the 9/11 attacks took place in New York. Today, his oldest daughter is 25 and lives in Austin, his middle daughter is a junior at the University of Alabama, and his third daughter by his wife, Christine, is 9.
His experience and unique set of skills made him a natural recruit among CIA case officers for operations in Iraq. “Our efforts were first involved with trying to bring Saddam’s regime down before the actual war, then to support operations when Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced,” Wilcox recalled. After the war stabilized, his mother’s cancer reappeared, so he came back to the states and was assigned to be a CIA liaison with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which brought him to Orlando.
“I always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and it was time to take all that I had learned during my career and apply it in a private sector venture,” he explained. “I wanted to create a company that combined my skills in Special Forces and with the agency, to provide training and support activities to the special operations and defense community as a contractor and formed Patriot Defense Group (PDG).” As its website says, “We are what we do… serving those who defend America.”
“I always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and it was time to take all that I had learned during my career and apply it in a private sector venture.”
Wilcox built a very distinctive team. The current CEO of PDG, Brian Scott, rose through the ranks of the U.S. Army from private to captain before he became a CIA Operations Officer and Chief of Station. The company delivers professional services including specialized training, curriculum development and logistical support to defense and government services, focusing exclusively on the needs of the U.S. military and intelligence communities, as well as the requirements of friendly foreign governments.
The More I Prepare, the Luckier I Get
“Like all successes, there was a lot of luck involved in our success. It was the perfect time for a company like ours. The market demand was great and we had the unique skill sets to address the need,” Wilcox said. Though we hate to say it, security is a growth industry.
“Because the global demand became so great, the armed forces in many cases didn’t have the time to train themselves; those who could do the training were deployed in service. We began to fill that very unique training niche. The military was cutting back its size, but the operational tempo was still very fast, so they began to outsource the training and support services,” Wilcox explained.
As threats have evolved, so have Patriot’s trade craft training options—“trade craft” being the tools of that particular profession. For a carpenter, it is sawing and hammering; for those who are involved in cyberdefense, the trade craft is code, for a police department, it may be threat assessment. “We analyze the trade craft of the client and then develop training processes that are better than what the client could produce,” Wilcox said.
“Our company is 10 years old and we have met all of our 10-year objectives. Now we’re reassessing and setting our goals for the next 10 years. A part of that strategy is the larger we are, the greater our capability is to support more of our national security infrastructure.
“Currently we’re looking to acquire companies that are five to 10 years old, with good reputations and a culture that’s in alignment with ours, that has an owner wanting to take some money off the table and be a part of something bigger. That’s our strategy, and we have a great group that includes Tim Meyers of Seaside National Bank and Mike Okaty of Foley & Lardner. Then, in the following five years we will go after larger acquisitions.”
Another company that falls under the umbrella of Wilcox’s Patriot Capital is Strategic Risk Management, which provides cybersecurity training and services to corporate clients. Also, Innovative Logistics, which was covered in the Wall Street Journal, specializes in expeditionary logistical services in the most hostile and difficult environments in the world. They provide logistics and supply chain management for everything from military and aid agencies, to commercial clients in emerging nations or in areas that are recovering from the ravages of war.
By applying the principles Wilcox developed over a lifetime of service to his nation, it looks like his company’s next 10 years will be as profitable as the last 10.
Todd Wilcox’s 5 Tips To Avoid Cybersecurity Threats
- Freeze your credit. This eliminates anyone from opening credit in your name. It can be done by visiting the three major credit bureaus and is easily lifted when you want to apply for credit.
Update your devices and anti-virus software regularly.
Use hard passwords of eight characters or more that combine upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols such as Pa$$w0rd! and change them from time to time.
Protect personal information and avoid social networking elicitation (i.e. don’t publish accurate personal information online or in social media accounts; don’t provide unknown callers your personal information over the phone; and do not open email attachments from unknown persons.)
Be aware of and avoid using public unsecure WIFI networks to log into email, banking or other secure website accounts without using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).