Author and Podcaster
Jerri Williams has been appearing on or in television, radio, online news sources and newspapers for over a decade discussing federal criminal investigations and public transit. She is currently working full-time as an author of crime fiction inspired by actual FBI cases.
Her debut novel – Pay to Play – features a female FBI agent investigating corruption in the Philadelphia strip club industry and is available at amazon.com. Jerri served 26 years as a Special Agent with the FBI. During her career, most of her investigations targeted major economic crimes. Her investigation of a $350 million Ponzi scheme perpetrated against unsuspecting nonprofit organizations, high profiled philanthropists and beneficiary donors resulted in a 12 year prison sentence; the case she conducted on an international advance fee scam resulted in a 14 year prison sentence; and her major investigation of business to business telemarketing fraud, which included a long- term undercover operation, resulted in 16 search warrants, 25 convictions and numerous multi-year prison terms.
Now that Jerri is writing crime fiction full-time, her law enforcement encounters with scams and schemers and her numerous media affiliations provide a broad platform from which she crafts her stories and plot lines. She is also the host and producer of FBI Retired Case File Review, a podcast featuring interviews with retired agents about their careers and high-profiled cases.
Tell us what your greatest personal challenge is, and how you’ve achieved success in spite of it.
My greatest personal challenge is wanting to be the best at everything I do. As a working mother and wife, that has not always been easy to do. There have been times during my career where I had to pull back and concentrate on family, as well as times when my family had to take a back seat to my work commitments. Fortunately, I developed a good sense of when I could afford to devote extra time to one or the other. As a result, my three children have grown into independent and self-sufficient adults, and my husband is more “hands-on” around the house than I am.
Name something that guides both your personal and professional development and helps you to regain focus during challenging times.
Integrity. As a Special Agent with the FBI and a Spokesperson, being truthful and transparent is a job requirement. The public must believe that they can trust what you say and what you do. Ironically, my third career as an author of fiction has been compared to being a professional liar. Isn’t it funn that I now spend my days making up stuff.
What do you believe is at the core of why women hesitate to “lean in” and pursue leadership roles where they are?
Guilt. I believe most women know they have what it takes to be the boss, but they contemplate the sacrifices they’ll have to make in that role and decide it’s at too great a cost. Our desire to lead, to accomplish new challenges, is stored away by our self-effacing behaviors, with the thought that everyone else’s needs come first. I’ve done that myself, many times. The risk is that you are putting aside your goals on the bet that you’ll find the time to do it later. It’s almost like leaning into a strong wind of family responsibilities that counteract your forward momentum.
Tell us one of your greatest professional accomplishments, and why it meant so much to you?
Can I name two? When I was with the FBI, I initiated a complex business to business telemarketing case that morphed into a multi-agency undercover investigation resulting in 16 search warrants and 24 convictions. On the day we executed the warrants and I gave instructions to the search teams, I recognized that each person in the room saw me as their leader. That was empowering. My second professional accomplishment occurred during Papal visit preparation when I was Media Director for SEPTA. When the special train pass lottery system failed and I had to explain how we were going to fix it, I knew the reputation of Philadelphia’s public transit service would be based on the statement I presented at the emergency news conference.
How do you manage fear in both your work and personal life?
I believe in the saying, “never let them see you sweat,” even when inside you are full of butterflies. But displaying confidence is only possible if you are prepared and know your stuff. I gather as much pertinent information as I can, so that I can feel good about my decisions.
What do you believe will be the greatest global benefit to having more women in leadership roles?
The greatest benefit to having more women in leadership roles is to give permission to those who reach those levels to use skills attributed to our gender – objectivity and flexibility – more readily.
What have you found to be the most effective way to motivate and energize your team?
I’ve found that the most effective way to motivate and energize my team was to give them ownership of their work product. By assigning clear areas of responsibilities and expectations, each team member could develop a sense of pride in his or her accomplishments and a commitment not to let the team down.
What is at the “core” of your drive and motivation to succeed?
I wish I knew. If I did, I would turn it off occasionally and give myself permission to relax more and not feel this persistent pressure to succeed. But I guess it’s internal, part of who I am.