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Investigative Career Shines Light on the Unexpected

Photo by BDO.

David Brant ’74 offered succinct advice to Bradley psychology students when he was invited to campus in 2008 to receive the LAS Distinguished Alumnus award: “Expect the unexpected, and don’t rule out anything.”

Little did he know those words would continue to be his mantra even after his retirement from an illustrious, nearly 30-year career with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), headquartered in Virginia. Not one to rule out anything, following his position as director of NCIS, he “quite unexpectedly” has worked the last 8 ½ years with two different accounting firms inside the Washington D.C., beltway. 

Interestingly, a lifelong love for athletics set him on a path to coaching … or so he thought. Admitting he was never good enough to play basketball at Bradley, he certainly remembered being inspired by top-notch players such as Chet “The Jet” Walker ’62 and others while growing up in Georgetown, Illinois. When researching colleges, he focused on the following criteria: a school smaller than the state universities his friends planned to attend, a good basketball team to follow, intramural sports and a decent distance from home. He decided to make a summer visit and “loved the atmosphere; Bradley just felt good,” he recalled. “I was realistically undecided in my major when I arrived on campus. Surprisingly, my Harper Hall roommate, [the late] Del Jo ’75, was from Hawaii, and Bradley was the first place he had ever been in the continental U.S. It’s those unique, personal experiences — the exposure to diverse types of people with different backgrounds — that helped me greatly and made Bradley a good baseline for going the direction I went.”

Brant’s mother, an educator, encouraged him as a high school senior to take an aptitude test to determine what career path might be best for him. He remembered hearing that if coaching didn’t work out, he should consider the softer sciences such as psychology. “I honestly think that test was probably the biggest influencer, and when I started taking psychology classes at Bradley, it was all very positive. Look what happened,” he added with enthusiasm.

Ultimately, two classes during his senior year with Dr. Bernard Zant, assistant professor of sociology, took him in an unexpected direction: Zant’s classes in criminology, and criminal and deviant behavior fueled Brant’s passion to pursue a master’s degree in criminal justice at Indiana State University. “I needed to learn why people do what they do,” Brant remarked. “Professor Zant’s classes were people focused and led me toward a different way of thinking; he was a motivating and thought-provoking guy.”

Anchoring NCIS

After earning his master’s degree at age 24, Brant became a uniformed police officer in Miami where he was “a bit of an anomaly.” He learned how to impact and influence people in an active role. A year later, he pursued a federal position by applying to the FBI, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), NCIS and others. Although he had never heard of NCIS, one of his graduate school advisers recommended he contact the agency. Brant accepted an offer from NCIS, became an agent in 1977 and his investigative career took off from Norfolk, Virginia.

“I was on an unexpected, unplanned career path, and the organization and its mission were phenomenal.”

— David Brant ’74

“I was on an unexpected, unplanned career path, and the organization and its mission were phenomenal,” he noted. “I accomplished everything I had wanted to do — traveled the world, experienced all types of people, led people. It was an honor, and I loved my career at NCIS.” From 1997 to 2005, while leading the global law enforcement organization that focuses on counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations with a tremendous impact on the country, Brant said the opportunity to lead a premier, “one-of-a-kind” agency was uniquely rewarding and humbling; he never could have planned the path he traveled to achieve such a position. He greatly appreciated the opportunity to work with senior government policy and decision makers, as well as being able to serve in a personally rewarding way. 

In fact, Brant was the director of NCIS at the time of the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. “Being responsible for the agency’s response and contributing to the identification and successful prosecution of those responsible was a most significant event in my career. In general, leading an agency’s ‘transformation’ across very diverse mission areas was uniquely challenging and gratifying,” he remarked.

At the head of the agency when the TV program NCIS debuted, Brant spent time with the executive producer and enjoyed a speaking role with actor Mark Harmon in the November 2005 episode “Frame Up.” Brant continues to be a member of the Screen Actors Guild.

“That entirely unexpected career track, quite frankly, I attribute to Bradley because that’s where I became interested in what motivates people,” he observed. “I wasn’t a ‘science guy,’ but I was inquisitive. At Bradley, I had the opportunity to grow, interact, make many friends and shape a certain direction in my life. I took a lot of that from the psychology program, especially the personal interaction with my professors.”

Problem Solving at Deloitte and BDO 

Once he retired from the federal government, Brant realized he had been so immersed in NCIS that he had never projected or planned his next step. Soon, his career path led him from the role of decision maker to adviser. He worked for Deloitte’s Washington D.C., office where he helped build a federal government practice and was the lead for the Department of Justice account, enabling him to stay connected with the agencies and intelligence community he had developed relationships with through the years. “I was able to help them solve some of their toughest problems from an outsider’s perspective as one who also had experience in the field they were focused on,” he noted. “Deloitte was another rewarding experience.”

When he left Bradley in 1974, Brant acknowledged he never could have imagined that he would have yet another uncommon career opportunity in 2011 when he was recruited by BDO, the fifth-largest accounting firm in the world that has been in business for 105 years. Brant was charged with building a public sector-focused practice — including accounting, auditing and consulting — to deliver services to state, local and federal markets. “I am very much a Bradley business school person now,” he said with a laugh. “I transitioned from liberal arts to hard-core business — profit and loss statements, margins, deliverables, artifacts, returns on investment — my focus is on the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security and state and local law enforcement.  I am still helping people and helping solve problems.”

Always embracing an action-oriented philosophy about life, Brant believes that having an appreciation for listening to others has driven his unexpected career path. “Listening was one of my attributes as the head of an agency and in the positions I have been in since,” he said. “I have always valued input from others to help me shape a particular direction I would go or a particular decision I would make. I attribute some of that to my time at Bradley because of the size of my classes, the informality and the personal attention.”

Brant’s NCIS legacy continues as his son, Andrew, has followed in his footsteps as an NCIS special agent assigned in Bahrain. His wife, Merri Jo, is a retired teacher, and his daughter, Emily, is an attorney at the Patent and Trademark Office.

 — Karen Crowley Metzinger, MA ’97