Putting people first in security
Ava Cooper-Davis, Global and U.S. Chief Security Officer at Deloitte, has imbibed her values of community and family throughout her security career. Cooper-Davis moved to Brooklyn, New York, from Honduras when she was 12 years old. After earning her Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement Administration from John Jay College, Cooper-Davis then joined the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) at 21 as a Special Agent.
“My first assignment was back in Chicago. I went kicking and screaming — I didn’t want to leave New York City. But it was probably the best thing that happened to me,” Cooper-Davis says.
Cooper-Davis went through basic training, learning from the ground up before beginning investigations and undercover work for the agency. She says her identity was an asset to her undercover investigations.
“As a Black woman and a Spanish speaker from New York City, I was able to successfully do a lot of undercover operations throughout the country. I was able to really disrupt and dismantle major organizations,” she says.
Cooper-Davis worked for the DEA for 30 years where she retired as the Agent in Charge for the DEA in Washington, D.C.
“I had responsibility for the drug investigations in the state of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia,” she says. “My number one priority was making sure that all my agents got home safe every night to their families.”
When Cooper-Davis retired from the DEA and moved into the private sector, the scale of her security concerns changed, but her priorities remained the same — ensuring the safety of all stakeholders in her organization.
“I was no longer dealing with a domestic environment. I’m dealing with an international footprint with over 150 countries where we have people serving clients,” Cooper-Davis says.
Now, Cooper-Davis’ work focuses on travel security, risk management and incident response. Cooper-Davis highlights a workflow safety program that encourages safety not only within the workplace, but also everywhere in an employee’s life.
Cooper-Davis is currently the Global and U.S. Chief Security Officer at Deloitte. “My role, and my team’s role, is to make sure that employees are able to get to wherever that destination is safely and be able to get back home safely to their families,” Cooper-Davis says.
For example, as business and personal travel have increased since the decline caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, her security team has dealt with travel security challenges regarding their employees, especially if traveling to a client in a high-risk area.
“Stress is the nature of the work that we do, but being able to manage that and be aware of it is critical in the work that we’re doing.”
— Ava Cooper-Davis
“We’re very active around the world. We want to make sure we understand what the health safety and travel requirements are around the world to make sure our people are prepared,” Cooper-Davis says. “In some cases, we are in constant communication, just to make sure we have check-ins and they’re telling us what’s taking place.”
Cooper-Davis was able to develop a security program that pivots quickly during the pandemic, in the habit of developing various emergency plans. One part of maintaining an adaptable security organization is maintaining incident response and training programs.
“Every year, we conduct testing and training to make sure we prioritize right if an incident or event takes place. What are the priorities around that business? How soon can we get everything running again to continue to serve our clients? It came full circle during COVID because we had been testing our incident response for so many years, we were able to shift quickly to working from home. It was something we had practiced and tested for years,” Cooper-Davis says.
The pandemic was a stressful time for a number of departments, especially while trying to ensure everyone’s safety. As someone with decades of experience managing teams in a high-stress environment, Cooper-Davis advocates balance to her team, especially while dealing with difficult cases.
“Stress is the nature of the work that we do, but being able to manage that and be aware of it is critical in the work that we’re doing,” Cooper-Davis says. The teams that Cooper-Davis has built emphasizes open communication, especially for teams that don’t see each other in person. “We look for ways to make sure the entire security team has opportunities to grow and develop,” she says.
Cooper-Davis’ teamwork starts with her commitment to treating everyone around her with respect.
“I treat people the way I want to be treated. In a law enforcement environment, things can get heated when people disagree. My motto has always been everybody is going to be treated with respect and everybody’s position is going to be heard,” Cooper-Davis says. This mindset has helped her build strong security teams for both the government and private sector.
When asked what she was most proud of, Cooper-Davis says, “I’ve been married for 36 years, so my husband is at the top of my list. I’m proud of the amazing daughters we have that are now amazing adults. And I’m proud of the career that I’ve had. I’m proud of all these accomplishments, but obviously I didn’t do it by myself. I’ve had an amazing team. I look to surround myself with people smarter than me, people with different ideas, and people that challenge the status quo.”