Gina L. Osborn is an expert in navigating Chaos, Crisis and Change. Having responded to catastrophic terrorist attacks and cyber hacks as an FBI Special Agent and chasing Cold War spies in the U.S. Army, Gina knows that crises can be managed, chaos can be controlled, and change is inevitable. Gina serves through speaking, coaching and hosting executive round tables, VIP Days and Masterminds. She provides tools and techniques to eliminate self-imposed obstacles, stop tolerating the intolerable, have the courage to lead authentically and create clarity and confidence to become UNSTOPPABLE. She also hosts Behind the Crime Scene – A True Crime Podcast. She can be reached through her website at ginalosborn.com.
1. What inspired you to join the FBI? How did your career begin?
When I was growing up, I wanted to be a writer. I also dreamed of being an international woman of intrigue working as a CIA Operative. It was the 1980’s, the decade of the spy. I was fascinated with the Cold War. All I needed was a sense of adventure and a four-year degree.
In my second year of college, I was a cocktail waitress wondering how I would afford to go to a four-year university. A young man sat down next to me in the library and began to tell me about the U.S. Army’s Counterintelligence Program. He told me I could chase spies across Europe while earning my college degree. The next day, I went down to the Army Recruiter’s office and enlisted.
It was a dream come true. I spent six years in Belgium and Germany working the highest profile espionage cases through the end of the Cold War and the beginning of Desert Storm. The most noteworthy espionage case I worked on was the U.S. Army Specialist Albert Sombolay. After months of investigation, I was present when he was arrested for espionage and aiding the enemy. He was sentenced to 34 years in prison.
After six years in the military, I wanted to continue my career in law enforcement. I joined the FBI as a Special Agent in 1996.
2. How did you navigate working in such a male dominated environment?
My parents divorced when I was a child, and my mother raised my sister and me. I never heard “It’s a man’s world.” In our home, there was no mention of a “glass ceiling.” The three of us mowed the lawn each week. If my feelings were hurt because of what someone said, my mother told me what other people thought was none of my business. I was raised to believe I could achieve anything through hard work and determination. Gender had nothing to do with it.
When I joined the FBI, only 14% of FBI Agents were women. I learned early on the FBI didn’t hire me because I shared the same characteristics as a man. They hired me for what I brought to the table: my counterintelligence experience, problem solving skills, good judgement, and I could professionally represent the brand. At no time during my 28 years in law enforcement did I ever feel the need to give up my femininity or sideline my personality to “fit in.” The higher I rose through the ranks, I realized that embracing my skillset made me a more effective and authentic as a leader.
I also learned early on not to take things personally. I’m very passionate when working with my coaching clients to reinforce this lesson. Taking things personally is a major defining factor in how we handle chaos and crisis. If we are constantly being offended or hurt by what other people may say or do as though we are the center of the universe and their intent is to take us down, we are creating unnecessary obstacles that detract us from accomplishing our goals.
3. What did you love most about your job?
I loved helping people and making our communities safe. My first job in the FBI was working Asian Organized Crime in the Little Saigon District in Orange County, California. My first case involved Thai women being brought into the United States and forced into prostitution. That led to investigating violent crimes, such as murder-for-hire, extortion, gang shootings, to name a few. The Asian gangsters targeted their own community. Arresting violent criminals and taking them off the streets was very gratifying.
When I became an Assistant Special Agent in Charge, I led over 100 special agents, task force officers, computer scientists, intelligence analysts and forensic examiners working in the largest cyber and computer forensics program in the FBI. I loved creating an environment where my people had pride and ownership in their work and had everything they needed to do their jobs. I found that encouraging ownership in our program increased morale, creativity and productivity.
In my final years before I retired, I loved coaching and developing the leaders coming up behind me; teaching them how to effectively navigate major cases and projects in extremely chaotic situations. I often stretched them to their limits so they could grow. I also allowed them to make mistakes so they could learn to be better FBI Agents, leaders and humans.
I love that I continue to be in a position as an Executive Coach to help female leaders in transition to navigate chaos, crisis and change, identify their strengths and encourage them to have the courage to make mistakes and learn from them.
4. What challenges did you face in law enforcement?
The greatest challenges I faced came from being exposed to the worst society has to offer. I worked cases involving organized crime, terrorism, espionage, crimes against children and cybercrime. I’ve responded to kidnappings, terrorist attacks and catastrophic computer hacks. What offsets the darkness law enforcement often has to endure, was the hope I witnessed in the aftermath.
As the host of Behind the Crime Scene – A True Crime Podcast, I recently interviewed Erin Runnion, the mother of five-year-old Samantha Runnion who had been kidnapped and killed in 2002. I was working in the command post the day Samantha’s body was found. It had been a case I hadn’t forgotten after all these years and was apprehensive about interviewing Erin. I couldn’t imagine the pain she must live with everyday after losing her little girl. Erin attended the trial everyday and sat in the same courtroom with the monster who killed her daughter. I asked her, “How did you get out of bed everyday and have the courage to do that?” Erin told me Samantha had the courage to fight till the end of her life. Erin said she had to have the courage to make sure justice was served so this could never happen to any other child. Erin went on to create the Joyful Child Foundation to teach children how to be safe.
After facing all these challenges, I learned that crises can be managed, chaos can be controlled and change is inevitable. This is so important to remember, especially in 2020 and why it has become my mission to speak on this topic to help people turn chaos into calm.
5. After six years in Army counterintelligence, 22 years in the FBI catching terrorists and cracking down on cybercrime, you decided to quit and follow your passion of writing. What gave you the courage to do that?
After 28 years in law enforcement, it was time for me to retire. My passion for writing was stronger than ever, and I knew I could continue to serve as a positive influence on the world by sharing my stories.