December 5, 2011
"You're making a difference in peoples' lives as an FBI agent. You're making a difference for your communities, and in some cases, your country." — Bob Herndon
KANSAS CITY, Mo - -If you're a real cinephile, you might recognize the name Bob Herndon. He was one of the real-life special agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation who worked the case portrayed in the movie, "The Informant," released in 2009 and starring Matt Damon.
A classroom of business students got the chance to meet the real Herndon in the flesh the afternoon of Nov. 30 and listen to his stories of working that now-famous case as well as other tidbits on how one goes about becoming an agent with the FBI.
Herndon, 49, told the class he recently celebrated his 25th year with the Bureau investigating lawbreakers.
"It's surprising what humans will do, not only in the white-collar area, but in every area of crime we work with in the FBI," he said.
Many among Herndon's audience were students majoring in accounting or finance, an educational background that would serve them well should they ever decide on a career in government law enforcement, he said.
"When I first approached the FBI about going to work there, a recruiter told me three things," he said. "Remain athletic, take speech classes and get a degree in law or accounting."
Herndon received degrees in accounting and business administration from Kansas University and worked as a staff accountant before earning his CPA certification.
The physical fitness requirement mainly was to demonstrate initiative and drive more than actual physical capabilities, Herndon said. Studying speech serves well in being comfortable talking with witnesses and suspects … or, on a witness stand.
"When you're sitting up there being bombarded with tough questions by a zealous defense attorney, you sweat in places you've never sweated before," he said.
An accounting degree is helpful, he said, because that field especially requires the use of critical and logical thinking skills critical to being an effective FBI agent.
"An accounting degree gives you avenues to work in many different capacities," said Herndon, who currently works on the technical side in special operations in the Kansas City, Mo. area. "The values they look for now are more diverse, such as foreign language skills."
Herndon told the students the entire hiring process takes about a year. Candidates who make it through that report to the FBI training facility in Quantico, Va. for 4 ½ months of very intense training. That's followed by two years working with a training agent. Herndon said he spent those two years of his career in New Orleans, then transferred to Washington D.C., where he went under deep cover for three years on a national security case.
From there, he transferred to the Bureau's office in Springfield, Ill., and that's where he became involved in the case involving Archer Daniels Midland Co., a corn processing company which was fixing prices for one of its products, lysine. It was this case, specifically Herndon and his partner, Brian Shepard's dealings with ADM whistle-blower Mark Whitacre, that was highlighted in "The Informant."
Herndon admitted that "it was pretty cool" to have one of his cases featured in a movie. In fact, he said, being an FBI special agent has been pretty cool throughout his 25 years with the agency. And, as he told the students who sat enraptured during his nearly 2 1/2- hour talk, it could be rewarding for them as well.
"You're making a difference in peoples' lives as an FBI agent," he said. "You're making a difference for your communities, and in some cases, your country."
Avila University is a private, co-educational, values-based liberal arts institution founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, offering undergraduate, graduate, and adult degree programs. Avila University is located at 119th and Wornall Rd in southwest suburban Kansas City, Mo.