Meet Thomas Cairns, Business Professor and Former Presidential Appointee to Homeland Security

by Kimberly Rios

After working for two of the nation’s most prominent organizations, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and NBC Universal, Thomas D. Cairns, DBA, associate professor of business and management, is using his professional experience to help Azusa Pacific graduate students prepare for successful careers in the business world.

Cairns served as senior vice president of human resources for NBC Universal and NBC Entertainment for 11 years, overseeing human resources and labor relations practices. Following that role, he became a presidential appointee to Homeland Security under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama from 2008–09. As chief human capital officer, Cairns was responsible for human resource management and training for the Department of Homeland Security’s more than 200,000 employees.

“The best recruitment line for a job I have ever had the gratification of hearing was, ‘Would you be willing to serve at the pleasure of the president of the United States of America’,” said Cairns.

Currently, Cairns is the chief career coach of the Cairns Blaner Group, a consulting company he created to focus on delivering career management strategies and services to students and professionals at all levels. In addition, he has taught traditional and online graduate courses at Nova Southeastern University, The Kings University, and Southeastern University.

After visiting APU as a guest lecturer for the School of Business and Management in 2010, Cairns decided that the university would be the ideal place for him to teach.

“The minute I stepped on the campus, I knew there was something different here,” said Cairns. “The more I learned about the university, the more the environment resonated with me. APU is a place where I can share my faith and values with my students.”

One of Cairns’ main objectives in the classroom is to examine the role that faith plays in business and everyday life. This includes incorporating ethics and values studies in his business curriculum, encouraging his students to journal daily on their faith, and assigning reading that focuses on the Christian journey.

As a teacher, Cairns acts as a learning facilitator and draws from his business and government experience to provide a hands-on approach to learning. His classroom serves as an arena for students to ask questions and think critically about the material they are learning.

“What I am teaching graduate students is not just theoretical, it is impactful,” said Cairns. “If you can take what you learn and apply it correctly in your career, it will make a difference.” A phrase Cairns heard during an APU faculty meeting inspires him and he often repeats it— “My classroom does not prepare students for their first job, it prepares them for their first promotion,” he quoted.

Cairns believes that experience, preparation, and real-life applications are the most important things for students hoping to launch successful careers.

“My best advice for students is to start planning your career goals as early as possible,” said Cairns. “That means determining what you want to do and evaluating how you can use your time as a student effectively to help you move toward that goal. Every opportunity to learn more about your areas of interest should be taken. There are resources all over campus, including a career center and faculty members who are willing to do everything they can to help.”