Business Administration graduate Dean Phillips ’96 knows that enforcing the law doesn’t just require strength, it takes the ability to lead.
In 1996, Dean Phillips earned his Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) from UCCS and over the past 25 years later, he’s been using it to be a better leader for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Phillips has held seven different roles within the FBI, making for a long and storied career that’s far from over. But before he joined the bureau and recently began overseeing its complex IT services department, he had a burgeoning career in the Air Force.
An obligation to serve
“I always had this sense that everyone had an obligation to serve,” Phillips recalls. “I was a good athlete in high school. I started getting recruited by a number of schools. I narrowed it down to two, Yale or the Air Force Academy.”
Once at the academy, Phillips excelled at football and earned his Bachelor of Political Science degree. Then, from Peterson Air Force Base, he went to the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) in Monterey, California.
There, he learned Korean, just before serving in Korea for two years doing Counterintelligence. From Seoul, he went back to Peterson to work in the Air Force’s version of the FBI, the Office of Special Investigations (OSI).
Soon, Phillips’ desire for a promotion to Major encouraged him to get his Master’s of Business Administration from UCCS.
Getting a career-focused degree
“At the time, a Master’s Degree was really important for a promotion to Major,” Phillips explains. “I was trying to consider career opportunities so I looked around at different options and decided that UCCS was best for me, I did my Master’s of Business Administration at night, over the course of a couple of years.”
As Phillips explains, his business administration degree isn’t exactly related to the law, but the critical skills it taught him have been invaluable to his varied career.
“That experience has really helped me when I’m making big decisions,” Phillips says.
In 1999, Phillips’ decision-making skills, paired with his ability to conduct and communicate, landed him at the Pentagon with OSI.
While there, he began working alongside FBI agents who eventually recruited him based on his aptitude for everything related to law enforcement, but also business and finances.
Given that the FBI solves many crimes through the use of data and accounting information, Phillips’ MBA was paying off.
A love for the law
“It wasn’t really a plan of mine to go into the FBI — I was enjoying my career with the Air Force,” Phillips explains. “I loved law enforcement and that was really a decision point for me. There’s no one better than the FBI when it comes to law enforcement.”
Once an agent, Phillips was sent to Honolulu, where he worked to stop terrorism in Asia. Come 2005, he was picked to work Organized Crime at the FBI Headquarters in Washington D.C., where he oversaw a handful of different FBI field offices.
By 2011, Phillips’ growing love for leadership roles, reinforced by his Air Force training and MBA learning, helped him become Assistant Agent in Charge (ASAC) of the Las Vegas Field Office.
In Vegas, Phillips began working on organizing IT services for the entire region, which put his organizational, logistical and leadership skills to the test.
“We have all these programs to organize,” Phillips explains. “Whether it’s technically trained agents or the IT service folks — we decided to pull them all together into one place to create a Technical Squad, I was in charge of the whole program.”
From Vegas, and a stint working on highly classified Counterintelligence projects in the El Paso Field Office, Phillips jumped back into the world of IT services by going to Quantico, Virginia for almost two years to learn about every technical system used by the FBI.
“The FBI actually manages the radio systems for all Department of Justice (DOJ) components,” Phillips says. “So we have the largest shared land mobile radio system in the world, with all the towers. So it’s pretty robust — handling everything from the infrastructure to the handhelds, to the cars.”
With all of these roles enriching his experience, Phillips was selected in 2018 to be the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the Denver Field Office, making him responsible for all FBI operations in Colorado and Wyoming, from manpower, to finances, to media.
Becoming a leader
But Phillips’ business administration abilities made him essential to supporting and guiding the agency’s growing technical needs, so he was called back to DC to become the Assistant Director of IT Infrastructure. And he was ready to deliver.
Just like an MBA could seem out of place in criminal justice, Phillips himself may seem out of place in IT. He’s a lawman, not a tech guru. But the critical thinking skills he learned through his degree made him the right man for helping the FBI run.
“It wasn’t my technical skills that I was hired for, it was my leadership,” Phillips explains.” So my subject matter experts — I’m bringing them together to function better.”
To Phillips, he owes a debt of gratitude to UCCS for his many career successes, especially when it comes to being a better administrator.
“My leadership skills came from the Air Force, but my business acumen came from my Master’s at UCCS,” Phillips says. “It’s been very beneficial. I go into a situation now where I translate between engineers and the tech people, and put it into a business case that’s more digestible.”
Making things easy to understand is challenging, especially these days. That’s why Phillips has also been trying hard to interpret the importance of law enforcement.
Upholding the law
“This is a very challenging time in our country,” Phillips notes. “There are extreme forces trying to push political agendas in different directions. And I would tell you that, without law enforcement, society would break down.”
To Phillips, what makes his job so important is the positive impact law enforcement can have on the world when it comes to providing justice, safety, and leadership. After all, a good law enforcement agency aims to protect the community at large.
“The FBI works for the country,” Phillips says. “We take care of US interests worldwide. If you can have a positive impact in this job, that impact goes well beyond just your day-to-day. I find my jobs to be very rewarding in that sense.”
To that end, Phillips’ advice for future both undergraduate and graduate students alike is to take on any task, no matter how difficult it may seem.
“I look at challenges as different opportunities,” Phillips concludes. “If you approach each one with an open mind people see that you can do things that others aren’t willing to do. And having the toolkit, whether it’s leadership skills or a business acumen that others can’t grasp — it’s been invaluable.”