Cos DiMaggio

Breaking the Mold

It was the moment Cos DiMaggio had been waiting for since he had started high school a year earlier. At 143 pounds, he was smaller than everyone else on the football team, and his academic performance led classmates to believe that he couldn’t possibly be athletic. “I was destined to be a benchwarmer, but I got tired of people assuming there was no way I could be competitive,” he remembers today. “I was determined to break that mold.”

Cos got his chance at the beginning of his sophomore year when the team’s starting offensive guard didn’t show up to practice, so the coach had him stand in. “At the end of the play, the coach got right in my face and started yelling at me, asking if I knew what I had just done,” Cos recalls. “I said, ‘Coach, I thought I just did what you asked me to do.’ He said, ‘Yes, and you just took out our biggest and best linebacker. Do you want to play this position, son?’”

But realizing his ability to break the mold of expectations and assumptions was a lesson that has lasted a lifetime. “It’s emblematic of the fight in me in everything I do,”

Cos spent the rest of his high school career as a starter, winning several championships and garnering an offer to play college football. But realizing his ability to break the mold of expectations and assumptions was a lesson that has lasted a lifetime. “It’s emblematic of the fight in me in everything I do,” he says, now the founder and CEO of a premier advisory firm called The Tauri Group. “I don’t run my business with a set of status quo ideas or conventional wisdom. We work to break the mold every day, providing our clients the information they need to truly make a difference.”

Cos launched The Tauri Group with two partners, Mark Herzing and Carissa Christensen, in the spring of 2001. Designed to bring together the multiple disciplines of science, engineering, business, and policy, the company set its sights on tackling tough questions with analytical rigor to produce truthful, unbiased, results-driven information for their clients. “Too often, big decisions are made without the benefit of technical knowledge,” he says. “Those decisions can have society-wide implications, and without the benefit of science-based analysis, the impacts can be highly detrimental. The Tauri Group is dedicated to changing that. It’s my way of leaving the earth a little better than it was when I got here.”

Carissa has since spun off a small business focused on commercial and civil space work, leaving Cos as CEO and Mark as CFO with a portfolio focused on the critical areas of homeland security, national defense, resilience, and rapid capability development. “When we got started, we were known for our expertise in chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear weapons,” he says. “A few months later, after 9/11, there was a lot of concern about the possibility of terrorists using weapons of mass destruction.”

Around that time, Cos was approached by a client with an idea for handling bio threats. Cos told the client it wouldn’t work, and when the client asked how to improve the concept, he charted out his thought process on a white board. “Okay, write that up,” the client said. The resulting paper caught the eye of the U.S. Department of Defense and received funding as a pilot project—setting The Tauri Group on its road to becoming a major player in the effort to protect the nation against biological weapons. In 2015, when an Army facility mistakenly sent out live anthrax spores thinking they were dead, the federal government asked Cos to assemble a team and figure out what went wrong. Then, in 2017, The Tauri Group won recognition as the winner of GovCon Program of the Year for its exemplary work in developing medical countermeasures against biological threats and emerging diseases.

Beyond this subject matter expertise, the company maintains its roots in science and technology, working to revive a kind of innovation that the federal government hasn’t displayed since the days of the space race. “We’re working to show the government how to pursue research and development so we can bring innovative technology to the warfighter,” Cos explains.

Thanks to the company’s broad portfolio and multi-disciplinary approach, it has grown into a diverse, vibrant team of what Cos affectionately refers to as “unicorns”—fiercely loyal and visionary scientists, engineers, acquisition specialists, and former operators who bring real-world perspective. “Too often, the distance between developers and users results in well-intentioned solutions that simply aren’t practical,” Cos points out. “We strive to bridge that gap by bringing it all together.”

“A professor once told me that standing on principle means always needing to keep my bags packed, ready to walk away.  That notion is a part of who we are as a company.”

Beyond innovation, the company is also known for its deep integrity. Early on, while working on a project for DOD and DHS, a client asked Cos to switch course and pursue a different solution—one that had short-sighted benefits, but ultimately wasn’t supported by the analysis as serving the long-term best interest of the nation. “I understand the predicament you’re in with your colleague at DHS, but you’re essentially firing me and my team because I won’t be part of pursuing the wrong solution,” Cos told him. Surprised by Cos’s resolve, the client decided to stay the correct course, and was ultimately very grateful for it. “That story has become folklore in the company. It stands as a reminder to all that we mean what we say when it comes to doing the right thing,” Cos recounts. “A professor once told me that standing on principle means always needing to keep my bags packed, ready to walk away.  That notion is a part of who we are as a company.”

The company grew steadily through those early years, competing against much bigger firms to win large contracts with its innovative approach and reputation for excellence. It peaked at $50 million in 2011, but then suffered a major hit in 2012 when it lost two important contracts in short order. One was bundled with another contract for its re-compete, rendering The Tauri Group “too small.” The other contract, which the company had won through three successive competitions against large companies, was then set aside for only small companies to bid. Thanks to the loyal and giving spirit of the team, Cos and Mark worked hard to minimize layoffs during that hard time. “We decided to go in the red and hang on to as many people as we could,” he remembers. “People were donating leave to one another and working 4-day weeks to allow others to stay onboard longer as we worked to find jobs for them. Then, once things stabilized, we were able to hire back many of the folks who had to leave.”

Through the company’s ups and downs, Cos and his team remained steadfastly committed to making the most of every situation—an approach to life that extends from the culture of his family. His grandparents and great-grandparents came to the United States from Italy committed to working hard so their children could have a better life than they did, and those children grew up with the same work ethic. “I had a lower middle class upbringing, but it wasn’t as though we felt it. Instead, we did the best with what we had,” Cos remembers.

Cos grew up in a blue-collar family in Rochester, New York, where neither of his parents finished high school until his father earned his GED at age fifty. He was their first of five children, born when they were just teenagers, and narrowly surviving termination of the pregnancy when the doctors mistakenly thought his mother had miscarried at five months. “She wouldn’t let them start the procedure until a certain doctor arrived because she trusted his judgment most,” Cos says. “I’m very grateful she did that!”

“To my parents’ credit, my siblings and I had no idea we were struggling financially until we were adults.”

Cos’s mother worked as a bank teller and then earned a real estate license, while his father worked as a meatpacker before getting a job as a machinist at GM. “I remember my dad bringing home a loaf of bologna from work that would become fried bologna for breakfast, bologna sandwiches for lunch, and cubed bologna for dinner. They worked hard to get through those times and make a decent living,“ Cos says. “To my parents’ credit, my siblings and I had no idea we were struggling financially until we were adults.”

As a kid, Cos spent most of his time playing pickup sports with other kids in the neighborhood. When he was in fourth grade, his parents lost their home in the city and had to move the family into a tiny house on the outskirts of town, where the suburbs faded into rural territory. There, Cos cultivated a love of outdoor solitude. Lacking the resources to play organized sports, he and his neighborhood friends mowed baseball diamonds and football fields on adjacent farmland and invited kids from all around to come and play.

When Cos started first grade at a Catholic school in the city and received a math workbook for the whole year, he completed it in one night. In fourth grade, his school began experimenting with Independent Pupil Progress, a teaching philosophy that allowed each student to go at their own pace, and he flew through the textbooks. “I was motivated to excel,” he recalls. “I didn’t know there was any other way to think.”

Cos served in the Student Association through middle school, and in high school, the superintendent created a student position on the Board of Education and appointed Cos to the post.

Cos’s fifth grade teacher had a particularly strong impact on him, mentoring him in the pursuit of scientific study. Cos served in the Student Association through middle school, and in high school, the superintendent created a student position on the Board of Education and appointed Cos to the post. “It was a great learning experience for me. I wasn’t just there as a token kid,” Cos says. “My viewpoint was respected. It’s one of the reasons that respect is such a cornerstone of my life, and of our company culture now.”

With money given to him as gifts over many years, Cos bought a 10-speed bike, and in 9th grade got a job as a janitor at the school nearby. Knowing his parents wouldn’t have money to contribute for college, he saved his earnings for college, and scraped together $475 to buy a rusted old car as he entered his senior year of high school.

When Cos graduated second in his class of 420 students, he went to the University of Rochester, where he worked three jobs each summer to pay his way. “One summer, I would get out by 6:00 AM to paint houses all morning, work an afternoon job at the college, and then cover the nightshift making kitchen cabinets,” he recounts. “My junior year, I got a job on the assembly line at a GM factory, and would catch naps in my car in between working triple shifts. I wanted to put away as much money as I could toward school.”

Academically, Cos decided to major in astrophysics. The work was incredibly rigorous, and of almost two hundred students who started out in the major, he was one of only twelve still standing by the end of his sophomore year. Despite his success, something about the isolating work was unfulfilling. In search of clarity, he decided to take a camping trip alone. “I do my best thinking outdoors,” he says. “I was by myself with a sleeping bag, a knife, and a few utensils. I found a quiet place by a stream and spent the whole afternoon and evening just thinking about what it was I wanted to do. That’s when I realized there was just too much of me that needed to interact with people. I wanted to merge science and policy into work that allowed me to explore ideas with others and truly engage.”

With that, Cos worked with the university to create his own degree program, combining astrophysics and geology into a Planetary Geology degree while becoming the first junior to serve as student body president. He immediately followed his bachelor’s degree with a master’s in public policy with a concentration in science policy, and then decided his goals would be best pursued in Washington, DC. Fortunately, his hometown Congressman happened to be chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee at the time, and was willing to help. “He arranged for me to interview with every New York Republican member to discuss my background, and what an eye opener!” Cos says. “I saw how policymaking is done by the seat of your pants, without any understanding of the underlying science.”

Upon finishing his masters, Cos accepted a three-month stint at the Bureau of Mines, where he was tasked with analyzing a program in which they were investing substantial resources. He recommended that they cancel it. Two years later, they concurred and acted on the recommendation, while offering Cos a permanent position. “I declined, but it hardened my resolve that this was the right course for me,” he says. “I wanted to find a way to combine science and policy in a business, playing it straight and calling it like I saw it, rather than giving politically appropriate answers.”

After the Bureau of Mines, Cos already had his sight set on starting his own company, but he knew he wanted to wait for the right moment personally, professionally, and from a market perspective. Instead, he accepted a position at a startup called SRA, where he learned from the exceptional leadership of the company’s CEO, Ernst Volgenau. “I paid attention to what he did and how he did it,” Cos says. “I observed the culture of camaraderie, and how everyone felt invested. There wasn’t any task, however menial, that someone wasn’t willing to take on for the greater good.”

At SRA, Cos quickly rose to program manager, where he helped FEMA develop and test its very first emergency response plan. He loved his two years there, but realized that if he wanted to start his own company one day, he needed to work in an environment where he could grow his reputation and drive his own business. With that, he decided to transition back to Capitol Hill, where he worked as the Congressional Research Service (CRS) expert on the Reagan Administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative, advising Congress on the scientific and technical considerations behind policy.

There, Cos led a portfolio that included weapons of mass destruction, space, emergency response planning, transportation safety, chemical safety, and more. He also had the opportunity to observe the leadership of President Reagan as he forged a positive working relationship with Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill, compromising for the good of the country. “It was really special for me to see that at a fairly young age, and to then see the Soviet Union crumble as a result, in part, of what they did,” he recounts.

After four years of rapidly rising through the ranks at CRS, Cos took a job at System Planning Corporation (SPC), where he had the opportunity to work for Sayre Stevens, former Deputy Director of Intelligence at the CIA. “He was the most brilliant man I’ve ever met,” Cos affirms. Another phenomenal mentor, Mo Schreiber, worked on the business side and was a master communicator who taught Cos to handle delicate business challenges with poise and directness.

From SPC, Cos joined a small 8(a) firm, where he met his future partners, Mark and Carissa. Within a year, he had doubled the size of his department, thanks to a grueling work ethic that the owner of the company found threatening. He was fired, but quickly scooped up by DynCorp, where he was given a set amount of time and overhead to build a new business unit. He built the unit up twice as big as ordered, and in half the time allotted, and when the company initiated a process several years later in preparation to sell, he knew the time to take his entrepreneurial leap had finally come. “I approached the CEO and told him I wanted to start my company by subcontracting with them,” Cos recounts. “With that, The Tauri Group was formed.”

Now, as a leader, Cos focuses on showing his employees and clients a sense of respect, garnering their respect in return. He also has always felt a deep sense of loyalty to his team members—a weight that compounded significantly when he started his own company. “With ownership, that sense of loyalty deepens into a sense of responsibility, which is tough but important,” he says. Thanks to this philosophy, The Tauri Group has been listed by Washingtonian Magazine as one of the region’s best places to work, and the relationships he shares with employees are defined by deep mutual respect and appreciation.

Through it all, Cindy, Cos’s wife of 37 years, has been along for the journey, supporting his decisions and drive. “She never tells me my ideas are too hard or too risky,” he says. “She’s a nurse at Fairfax Hospital, and when I was fired back in the 1990s, she didn’t complain. Instead, she reassured me that things would work out and picked up extra shifts.”

“Never forget where you came from,” he says. “You can’t predict where you’re going or where you’ll end up.

In advising young people entering the working world today, Cos echoes advice given to him by a college professor as they discussed life beyond college. “Never forget where you came from,” he says. “You can’t predict where you’re going or where you’ll end up. Develop a drive to do something, and as you work toward what you want to do with your career, make sure you take advantage of the opportunities you see along the way. I knew early on I wanted to start my own company, and I thought it would have something to do with science and policy, but I never could have predicted what The Tauri Group would turn into. Follow your intuition, stay open to the possibilities, and don’t forget to glance in the rearview mirror every once in a while.”

Beyond that, Cos is a testament to the power of defying conventional wisdom to set your own course with talent, innovation, and grit. “There were a lot of ups and downs along the way, a lot of risks, and a lot of uncertainty,” he says. “It wasn’t easy, but it was natural and how I had to live my life. For me, it’s about drive, and about not assuming that the way people have done it before is the right or only way to do it. Only by breaking the mold can you find out what’s possible.”

Cos DiMaggio

Gordon J Bernhardt


President and founder of Bernhardt Wealth Management and author of Profiles in Success: Inspiration from Executive Leaders in the Washington D.C. Area. Gordon provides financial planning and wealth management services to affluent individuals, families and business owners throughout the Washington, DC area. Since establishing his firm in 1994, he and his team have been focused on providing high quality service and independent financial advice to help clients make informed decisions about their money.

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