INTERVIEW: John Sanders, Daon's President of Emerging Industries
Posted by Daon Blog Team

In September of this year, Daon announced John Sanders as President of Emerging Industries. We recently caught up with John on our Podcast Series where he reflected on his career and previous roles as Chief Technology Officer for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Chief Operating Officer and Acting Commissioner for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and what he believes is the future of Daon.

Read the full interview with Martin Walsh, Daon’s Chief Legal Counsel and John Sanders:

Martin: You are very welcome to the next in our series of podcasts and today’s interview is slightly different to the other ones, in that I am not sitting here grilling a willing colleague rather, I’m welcoming our new President of Emerging Industries, John Sanders.

John you are very welcome to the company. You were the Chief Technology Officer at the US transportation Security Administration; you were also the Acting Commissioner and CEO at US Customs Border Protection, how do you go into a role like that? How do you get your head around that position where you are managing 60,000 people, tell me about that?

John: I don’t think you do; I wouldn’t say that, you know, I look back on the experience when, I was the Acting Commissioner at CBP and had 60,000 people reporting to me. And it’s hard to believe at times the different experiences and opportunities that I had. I would tell you a quick story… when the current Secretary of Homeland Security, Kevin McLean asked me to do that job, he got me on the phone and he said, I’m going to ask you to do this job and when I woke up after fainting and we started taking about it a little.

He told me the sort of the obligatory you know, I trust you, and you’re smart, and all those kinds of things that may or may not be kind of true, but what he did at the end of it which really stuck with me is he said “John, in all the interactions with you and all the interaction I’ve heard about you’ve always treated people with respect”. And now more than ever people need to be treated with respect and, and I think that is really the key, and in some sense, says more about him than it does about me. But I try to treat people like I want to be treated. So, when I went into CBP or into TSA, I’d never been or worked in large government organizations, I just try to treat people, try to be genuine and the treat them with respect that I wanted to be treated with in return, and that has worked out for me.

Martin: Ok, it sounds like a good approach to anything really in life.

John: You know, I think it is, I think people, in my experience are good - they want to contribute, they want to help they, they want to be part of it, part of a team. And I think if you treat them with that respect you treat them like they’re part of the team, part of the solution, you can just can accomplish great things.

Martin: Can I ask you about one of the big elements and big project that was in there was around the TSA pre-check system and we would have heard a lot about that in our industry, in the identity industry over the last couple of years, I think our listeners and viewers would be interested to hear what were the successes the issues that you saw, what’s potential for that system in the future?

John: So, I think it’s huge. That TSA pre check, the concept there was risk-based security, so that if you will, the underlying principle is, that the vast majority of people that are flying pose little or no risk of committing a terrorist act. So, you can have a bad person flying but if they don’t have intent to do something then they’re fundamentally not a risk to the plane and to the passengers.  And when we were rolling that out, for you know put in context that was back in the 2010 timeframe, it is after Richard Reid tried to set off a shoe bomb, and at that point in TSA’s history, the officers were taught that everybody could be a potential terrorist and that’s how you needed to portray them.

I think it gets back to what we just talked about in terms of respect and treating people, and just how you want to treat people. Passengers are trying to get from point A to point B and so I think the idea of risk-based security, as it applies to whether it’s aviation security, whether it applies to banking or whether it applies to everything. There are going to be bad people out there, but the vast number of people that are travelling or doing a transaction on their cell phone have good intent and if you can make that a better customer experience, while you are providing the security which is critical I think everybody benefits at the end of the day.

Martin: And you probably have ultimately a much more successful system?

John: Absolutely, and you can offer those services at much better cost and I think that cost-benefit in addition to the customer experience, customers are looking for that at the end of the day.

Martin: Can I ask you how what attracted you to Daon, what did you see in the company that made you decide to join?

John: It’s a really a simple thing to say and people at Daon may not appreciate that this as much as me, or somebody that has interacted with thousands of companies and that is the Culture. That the people I saw, there was something unique about Daon and truly I have interacted with thousands of companies and I joke about when I was at TSA, that I had a budget of one and a half billion US dollars so I spent a lot of money with a lot of different companies, and so a lot of companies would come and see me, and it was even bigger at CBP, and the vast majority of those conversations I make up the number 98% of those people that came to see me, they would say, John the heart of the conversation was, John if you would just be a bit smarter, you would understand how this would solve world hunger, and, and they would’ve never taken any time to understand the problem “I” was trying to solve.

When, before I joined the government I came over to Daon about two years ago, and I’ve been talking to Clive and Tom and others, and they have been at Daon for quite some while. The way Daon approaches it is, very very different, Daon and the people in Daon try to understand the customer and try to do what is right, there is empathy that they demonstrate, and how they treat each other that is just, it is a very rare thing to see there are some great companies out there. 

I would say my time out there at CBP, great people in 60,000 personnel organization but sometimes the culture is a little more a little more difficult than what you see at Daon, so it was the culture that brought me here in the end.

Martin: Okay, that is great to hear lovely to hear that positive feedback, I should ask you probably what you see as the future for Daon, for the company.

John: Well great things, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t see great things. So, I think when you have great people and great culture, I think you can accomplish great things.

So, if you will I look at the potential, I just see almost unlimited potential. As long as the company and the leadership team can rally around that and be rowing in the same direction. We talked earlier about whether about TSA pre-check, that was a core team of 20 people. It was a 60,000 person organization, but it was 20 people that really drove a lot of the thinking and what happened at the end of the day, so it doesn’t take big teams you don’t have to have thousands of people to scale and change the world if you will, and I think Daon is poised to change the world.

Martin: As well as welcoming you to Daon of course, in a way I’m sort of welcoming you back home, I don’t know if you know this but Irish people are always very fixated on finding out where people’s roots are and where they come from and so on, and I learnt during the week, that you are like a man like myself and you are from the west of Ireland. Your ancestors were from the West, from Galway? Is that right?

John: Yeah absolutely from the Galway area.

Martin: Okay.

John: And, as you probably know from we Americans, we claim to be Irish whether we are or not! Yes but, my family is from the Galway area. My great grandparents moved to Chicago actually, Chicago in the US, in they were in the early 1900s and then emigrated to Iowa and they became farmers and that is where I was born and raised.

Martin: And, one last question, in your spare time when you are not travelling the world or spending $1.5 billion, what do you do with your spare time?

John: Try sleep! No, the number one thing I do is read. I am a voracious reader; I did not do it in my last job as much it kept me pretty busy. But I and previously, I would read between 2 and 3 books a week so I read a lot.

I also love to hike. My wife and I love to go on long walks it is not uncommon on a weekend, we’ll go for a ten to fifteen mile walk and I just find I leave my cell phone at home and we walk and talk and I love those experiences.

Martin: Ok great. I want to thank you John for your time today you’ve been a very very interesting discussion and it’s great to have you on board. I think it is super to see the company continue to invest in its future, broadening its scope in the market and it’s great to see the sun still shine on Daon, and also to hear all those positive and nice things about the company and the people that you have met.