Director of Global Safety & Security at Airbnb Susan Goggin took her current role because the organization’s mission and culture resonated with her.
“The company really looks to find people that embrace inclusivity and a sense of belonging, along with embracing adventure and making an impact in the communities where they are operating,” she says of Airbnb. “I fell in love with the culture.”
The mission, the culture, the job all felt authentic to Goggin, and she’s all about being authentic. You can feel it when she speaks. Being true to yourself is an important leadership characteristic, according to Goggin, and it has served her well in her security career thus far.
“I think you have to be an authentic leader overall; if you’re not, then it will backfire,” she says. “For me, that means being a vulnerable, honest and straight-forward leader. Being genuine and showing those moments of doubt come across to my team, and I believe create a sense of connection among my team as well.”
That team connection, particularly within security, is important for efficient, cohesive, streamlined operations and informed decision-making. And it was particularly important for Goggin to build that sense of team at Airbnb after starting her position three days before the organization began preparing and dealing with COVID-19 response in February 2020. She still hasn’t met half of her team in person as many remain remote throughout the globe — and yet, through trust, honesty, vulnerability and hard work, they’ve been able to create a strong bond of honesty, appreciation and community.
“The biggest security challenge right now is we’ve seen a workforce change dramatically across all corporate cultures, especially at Airbnb where ‘live anywhere, work anywhere’ is our business model, so security teams have to shift our paradigm of how we protect our workforce and our assets around the globe because we want everyone to feel secure and safe wherever they are,” Goggin says.
In her current role, Goggin oversees corporate security with a regional safety and security model across the company’s worldwide locations. She also has direct responsibility over executive protection, global travel, special event security, the global security operations center (GSOC), threat and risk assessment, and global environment health and safety (EHS).
While Goggin tries to be an authentic, approachable leader, another defining characteristic she owns is a drive to take the road less traveled — and that’s certainly demonstrated by her life’s path. Before Airbnb, Goggin spent more than 22 years in the U.S. Secret Service, filled with numerous positions, moves, responsibilities and significant recognitions. She started out as an agent in the New York Field Office in criminal investigations, threat assessment and protection before transferring to D.C. and being selected to serve on the Presidential Protective Division for both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama.
“I traveled all over the world and really got a front view to history,” she says.
Later, Goggin held a number of leadership roles within the Secret Service, including Head Recruiter, Inspector of Internal Affairs, and Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Protective Intelligence and Threat Assessment Division, to name a few.
In the middle of all of that, Goggin was selected to go through the OPM (Office of Personnel Management) Certification Process to be a part of the Service’s SES or Senior Executive Service. Part of that process included a developmental assignment, for which, Goggin chose the path less traveled and completed her assignment in the private sector rather than with another public agency, working for retired four-star General Stanley McChrystal’s consulting group, The McChrystal Group.
“I knew I wanted to eventually move into the private industry so that gave me some of that additional professional growth I was looking for,” Goggin says.
During her tenure with the Secret Service, Goggin received the U.S. Secret Service Medal of Valor as well as the Women in Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE) Julie Y. Cross Award, which honors a sworn federal law enforcement officer for an act of courage and a willingness to go beyond the call of duty, resulting in an exceptional heroic achievement in the field of law enforcement for her actions during the September 11th terror attacks at the World Trade Center in New York City. She also received the Department of Homeland Security Secretary’s Award for Exemplary Service and the U.S. Secret Service Director’s Project Team award in 2017.
Goggin’s security career is already long and storied, but what happened before she ended up at the Secret Service is just as interesting. While her successful agency career undoubtedly prepared her for leadership in the private security sector, perhaps it was her life before the Secret Service that taught her to be authentic.
After playing several competitive sports growing up through college, Goggin had her eyes on being an orthopedic surgeon, but after graduating with a biochemistry degree out of college, she didn’t get into medical school. She worked for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) doing AIDS research in Dr. Anthony Fauci’s lab and began pursuing a graduate degree in biochemistry. But when she didn’t get into medical school again, she was forced to reevaluate her career trajectory; it was a transformative experience.
“It was really the first time in my life that I had set a goal and I didn’t get it,” she says. “I had to recalibrate my life and really figure out what I wanted to do because I had had this idea of where I was going my whole life and it didn’t work out. I had to open myself up, and really take time for some internal self-reflection, listen to my internal voice and find out what else I might be interested in.”
So, how did Goggin end up in the Secret Service and eventually the private security sector? “I did that by thinking about what it was I was naturally interested in,” she says. As she tells the story, Goggin reflected on her fascination with the true crime section of Barnes and Noble, her fondness for reading the Washington Post metro section about recent murders, and her interest in the psychology and mental and emotional traits of serial killers and other violent offenders.
She switched her graduate program and received her Master of Forensic Science at George Washington University where an adjunct faculty member encouraged Goggin to apply to the Secret Service after she graduated.
“I got my foot in the door not knowing much about it, and I really fell in love with the agency and felt very comfortable there,” she says.
Though Goggin’s career trajectory was not something she had even dreamed of growing up, it’s safe to say she found her calling and a true passion in protecting and helping others. For Goggin, the road less traveled has shaped who she is today and instilled in her that sense of purpose and fulfillment that she had been searching for long ago.