Changing Roles and Challenges in Loss Prevention

Interviewee Bios

 Stacie BeardenStacie Bearden
Director of Asset Protection, Field
The Home Depot

Bearden is responsible for the field organization’s theft and fraud including Home Depot’s organized retail crime program and all asset protection capital and technology programs. In her fifteen years with the company, she has held management roles in operations, distribution, delivery, and transportation. Prior to Home Depot, Bearden retired as a lieutenant colonel in the US Marine Corps, worked in logistics with Schneider National, and taught management in the University of Georgia system. She is currently a member of the RILA AP steering committee, the LPRC Future of LP working group, and the LP Foundation.

Tim BelkaTim Belka
Senior Director of Global Security
Walgreens

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Belka began his career as a US deputy marshal before joining the Central Intelligence Agency as a special agent. He has traveled extensively and has conducted sensitive investigations, performed threat assessments, and developed overseas site security strategy. In his role with Walgreens, Belka leads a team responsible for the company’s Security Operations Center, executive protection, corporate campus security, international travel monitoring, event security strategy, and emergency planning and response. In his spare time, he enjoys participating in various outdoor activities with his wife and three children.

LPM 0316-ALazo, Art_LOcopy1Art Lazo
Director of Asset Protection
7-Eleven

Lazo currently leads 7-Eleven’s investigations function and the field asset protection team for the western half of the United States and Canada. He came to the company as director of LP solutions for AP associates. Prior to 7-Eleven, he was a director with Kmart, held several loss prevention management and training roles with Home Depot, and served as regional LP manager for Circuit City. Lazo started his loss prevention career over twenty years ago with Toys’R’Us as a loss prevention specialist.

Brian PeacockBrian Peacock
Director of Asset Protection, US Operations
Rent-A-Center

Peacock is currently responsible for corporate asset protection support for more than 4,500 locations, managing physical security, remote video, data analytics, merchandise security, supply chain, case management, and the profit protection program. He is an accomplished leader and forward-thinking innovator with over eighteen years of progressive experience in loss prevention, asset protection, and physical security. Prior to moving into the asset protection department, Peacock spent six years in operations as a store manager and area manager.

EDITOR: As senior executives you have two jobs your specific responsibilities and supporting the agenda of your boss. What are the challenges of those two roles?

BEARDEN: We typically avoid those challenges through alignment. Our department strategy was established as a leadership team, and our annual goals are jointly developed to support that. If an effort doesn’t support one of our three focuses (safety, accuracy, or profitability) or isn’t supported by our core values, it isn’t something we spend a lot of time on. In a business as dynamic as ours if things come up, we talk through the situation. Communicating often and openly helps avoid any conflict.

BELKA: It’s easy to lose your bearings but important to remember the perspective of the person you are managing, whether up or down. Senior executives are engaged in day-to-day business, but the truth is that they are necessarily focused on the next period, next set of goals, next set of numbers. It is critical, to the extent possible, to understand the executives’ vision or at least the risk to the future model so that any request or proposal you initiate is relevant. I think the difference to managing down is that it is important to provide context so that the team executing buys into the program. In addition to buy-in, I think giving context fosters an open dialogue that allows the team to innovate and improve.

LAZO: I am fortunate in that I am able to spend a lot of time near my boss, which allows me to calibrate often to make sure we have alignment. There are always some challenges in getting everything done that we had set out to do at the beginning of the year based on the changing needs of the business. Project work can be a challenge as we build solutions to continuously improve our ability to support the stores and our franchisees. Sometimes the scope of a project can change mid-stream based on some unforeseen obstacle in IT or a vendor issue for example. My boss makes commitments at a very high level, and unexpected issues can delay the timeline. Communication and clear expectations are key in ensuring that we avoid any big issues.

EDITOR: How and why did you get a job in loss prevention?

BEARDEN: I had been with Home Depot over fifteen years and served in a number of very different role supply chain, district manager, and operations. I was asked to move to AP and take over a role that had seen a lot of turnover and was full of opportunity. It was an intriguing challenge, so I jumped on it.

LAZO: While working as a sales associate at Toys’R’Us, I was attending community college with the intent to become a police officer. In those days, there was a security booth where customers would come and pick up video games after they were purchased at the register. It was my job to give out the video games. One day, I was in the booth, and a man came in the back door. He had a key that gave him access to every door in the building. I didn’t know who he was, but it turned out that he was the loss prevention specialist. Once I learned a bit more about what his role was from my manager, I was interested in making a career out of it. Sometime later, I was able to witness an integrity interview, and that is when I was hooked. I felt that it was the perfect type of job because it combined problem solving, criminal justice, and business. I worked my way into a manager role in operations while still interested in loss prevention. I was able to get on a development plan to prepare me for the job and eventually was given the role of loss prevention specialist in the Portland area.

PEACOCK: Unlike most traditional LP professionals, I started my career in operations as an assistant manager, store manager, and area manager. After six years in operations, I made a choice to join the asset protection team after being recruited by the regional asset protection manager. The department primarily focused on audits, but after taking the beginner WZ course, I started conducting investigations based on audit results and interviewing coworkers. I discovered that my operational background and my recent interview course provided me a level of confidence and a knack for mining data to identify cases. After six months, I was asked to join the newly created loss prevention department, and four of us covered the US. I quickly realized I had found a career and passion for loss prevention.

EDITOR: What programs, educational opportunities, or other experiences would you have liked to have had as you came up in the industry?

BEARDEN: I have only been in AP for two years. Because of that I haven’t grown up in the industry. While that’s also been an advantageI don’t have pre-conceived ideas of how things have to workit has made it like drinking from a fire hose. I didn’t learn about the LP Foundation or LPC/LPQ until this past year. It would have helped to know about that much sooner. Both RILA and NRF conferences have been invaluable as have the resources RILA provides and contacts they allow you to make. I would have engaged with both faster and sooner. All that said, I have found that there are so many things that do apply from the broader business and operations. Because of my experience in those areas, we’ve been able to address process, projects, capital and expense, and people challenges in a much different way.

BELKA: Generally, I think the industry does a much better job of giving access to training through organizations such as ASIS and RILA and publications like LP Magazine. I think education and training has always been available. I would like to have taken more time to take advantage of these opportunities. Any time you have the opportunity to walk in the shoes of your business partners, you necessarily are better equipped to understand and become a more effective partner.

LAZO: I think the training out there today when it comes to designations like the LPQ and the LPC are a great way to learn about our industry. I have pointed many people in that direction when asked how to obtain a career in asset protection. When I was coming up, I was only aware of Wicklander-Zulawski training as being specific to what we do. Today, there are several industry-specific designations as well as universities offering coursework in asset protection. I think the educational opportunities have come a long way and would have loved to have had these options when I was just learning the business.

PEACOCK: Today I see a lot of great educational programs for someone starting out in a loss prevention career. I think it is critical to continue to push yourself to stay in tune with what is trending in your field and to be aware of the changing landscape of retail and the new skills sets needed to stay relevant. I have spent twenty years between two companies, and I feel very fortunate that, in both firms, I was able to be a part of building a lot of great programs, creating LP strategies, writing standard operating procedures for the department, and working with some fantastic vendors. The experiences I have gained throughout my career have given me a solid foundation for my future, from operations, investigations, and interviewing to managing a field team to managing the back of the house. I feel very blessed with the experiences and opportunities that have been given to me.

EDITOR: What qualities set an LP professional apart as they climb the career ladder?

BEARDEN: Broader business experience is extremely valuable within the organization. While there is a significant piece of what we impact that is theft and fraud related, there are other completely controllable operational factors. Business acumen is not only beneficial but also necessary as one seeks to change processes and vie for funding.

BELKA: I’ve had the pleasure to work with a wide variety of people at all stages of my professional career. While there are many attributes that I admire, I think having a passion to understand and to adapt are the attributes for success. I have to remind myself to consider other solutions and ideas so that I don’t get caught by legacy strategy and thinking. This might be gratuitous but my current boss has consistently challenged our legacy thought processes. It is frustrating at times, but I know it has helped our department become an industry leader.

LAZO: I find that the folks that take the time to truly understand the core business are the most successful whether they stay in LP or move over to operations. Many people in the industry today understand the value of breaking down barriers between LP and operations. I think the key is then making yourself and your team indispensable by continuing to show value and taking on challenges that may fall outside of your typical program. On an individual basis, the ability to be self-critical and willing to learn is a quality that sets people apart in my eyes. I think that if you surround yourself with people you trust to give you honest feedback and critique your work, you will be better prepared and rarely caught off guard.

PEACOCK: I would say innovation, adapting to change, and being a strategic thinker. The main priorities in LP that made a department successful ten years ago are not what drive a successful department today. To progress as an LP professional, take the time to learn the business you support and understand where the business is headed. Then take a hard look at how your department can support where the business is headed. Whether you are in the field or the corporate office, a team has to share ideas and continue to change with the organization. It is easy to bury yourself in what you are doing now, but if you are not aware of your surroundings, you will find yourself and your department becoming less relevant in your organization. The LP professionals who are a part of a company’s continued evolution are the ones that will set themselves apart from the rest.

EDITOR: If you could change one thing about the LP profession, what would that be?

BEARDEN: I would have it be viewed differently within organizations. The recently publicized rounds of reorganizations and reductions continue to indicate that LP is a field that is much like insurance. It’s invaluable when needed and viewed as nothing but an expense when it is not.

BELKA: I think our profession has progressed significantly in the development of diverse thought and background of the people who pursue loss prevention careers. Our industry is more progressive and challenging than ever before. However, in retrospect it would have benefited the industry to aggressively pursue diversity of thought and background to make us more effective and relevant.

LAZO: I think the LP profession has seen a lot of positive change in the last 20years. More and more companies are seeking out professional LP advice whether they use a third-party contractor or build a program internally. The only thing I would consider changing is how we attract and educate people about what we do and the industry as a career. I believe there is still an opportunity to attract talent and show folks looking for a career that LP can be a great way to go.

PEACOCK: I think it would be the perception. Loss prevention departments (in most companies) are still seen as a necessary component to deal with the “bad stuff.” I think this is why you see a lot of departments beginning to rebrand (Rent-A-Center recently did) to asset protection or profit protection. There is and always has been a strong desire to be seen as a strategic business partner. I almost relate the new role of LP support to be more like sales strategy. More and more LP departments are involved in providing analytics, information, and stats that help drive top-line growth while protecting the bottom line. In addition there is a strong appetite for new technology that can help mitigate losses while enhancing the customer experience. We cannot lose focus on our core responsibilities, but we have to also recognize and capture opportunities to leverage our skill sets in arenas outside traditional LP.

EDITOR: Are there misconceptions about loss prevention that we can or need to overcome?

BEARDEN: The one above is a big one. Another is that LP is just about shrink, safety, and catching shoplifters. For example, our team is heavily involved in disaster response, ensuring our people, property, and product are safe, and we’re also closely involved with first responders and others in the community in times of crisis such as hurricanes. At the end of the day in LP, we protect brand and gross margin in ways few other departments do. That’s a big mental shift for some.

LAZO: There are always misconceptions about loss prevention that you deal with, both in your personal life and within your own company. If you are at a party and people hear that you work in loss prevention, they automatically assume that you walk around and catch shoplifters. Once you discuss the components of a basic LP program, they are extremely interested in all of the different things we get involved in on a daily basis. The misconception that I deal with at my own company and in companies that I have worked for in the past is a limited view on the work that we do. To the uninitiated, we are the company police. Once they spend some time actually working with us, their eyes are opened, and they see the value we can add. It is our job as leaders to get in front of as many of those people as possible and change that perception.

EDITOR: What do you see as the most impactful retail crime trends emerging today?

BEARDEN: As omni-channel dominates the merchandising and fulfillment minds of today’s retailers, criminals are adjusting. It’s a world where prosecution is complicated. There are no cameras, and the victims can look a lot like the criminal. It’s top of mind for all of us. Another is the socioeconomic impact of drug abuse that we’re seeing in communities. It makes for an increasingly dangerous environment for our store teams. The ease of obtaining technology is allowing the criminal to be extremely nimble. They’re running as fast as they can to stay ahead. Just as the Internet is providing them a new environment for theft, it is also an endless resource. The last one is the impact of already over-crowded jails and over-tasked police departments. They’re challenged to meet the violent crime demand, much less the often viewed as “victimless” crime of retail. This increases the recidivism rate and results in our teams catching the same offenders multiple times. It’s a challenge for both law enforcement and the retailer.

LAZO: Organized retail crime continues to be a growing concern. In our environment, we deal with several issues including fuel theft, card skimming, and phone scams for money instruments.

EDITOR: What are the most impactful changes in the retail industry that are impacting LP?

BEARDEN: The ability to check out in the aisle, order from the comfort of our homes, and pay without carrying a wallet will challenge all of us as we seek to provide more flexibility to our customers. It’s a business imperative we have to support.

LAZO: I think that economic challenges are always a concern with any LP program. The last several years have shown that companies continue to assess their LP programs and either trim their resources or change the definition of the role in a variety of ways. It is the role of LP leadership to continue to seek out opportunities to address challenges that may be outside of the normal LP channels. Retail is constantly changing, and we need to be able to adapt accordingly and show value in our roles.

PEACOCK: It would have to be the rapidly increasing digital presence and shrinking brick and mortar. E-commerce and mobile transactions are growing rapidly, and this is having a major impact on the way loss prevention teams are structured. Unless you have a structured audit program in place, the field teams are starting to shrink, and the majority of investigations and interviews are being conducted remotely. With the store counts rising for field managers, the heavy lifting has to be moved into the corporate office. Like many departments, we recently created a central investigations team to focus on supporting the field with information and data to help prioritize investigations and store visits. This streamlines the process and allows a small group to become very efficient at putting a case together and providing data to the field. The field can spend more time addressing the issues and less time reviewing an overwhelming amount of data.

EDITOR: What work or life experiences best molded you for your current job?

BEARDEN: My time in the stores and operations were both invaluable from a business acumen perspective. In supporting my field team, the experiences from my time in the Marines have also served me well. Messaging on our mission and values help our front line leaders make the right decision in the heat of the moment. It also doesn’t hurt to have experience managing through a crisis or being able to make quick decisions and coordinate efforts across groups. With almost 2,000 stores, there is always something going on.

BELKA: I am fortunate to have had a diverse set of experiences that have informed my current role15 years as a federal agent and multiple roles at Walgreens. From the start of my professional career, I have had the opportunity to work with and for professionals from diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds as well as people with diverse life and professional experience. This has given me perspective and allowed me to look at business problems, team members, and strategy in a broader sense. I’ve learned and now better understand that any strategy or directive is executed on the ground by team members who may not have the same perspective or experiences.

EDITOR: Tim, you have diverse responsibilities at Walgreens. What is the most difficult part of your job?

BELKA: Focusing on our team’s strategic initiatives while dealing with the obstacles that often impede tactical execution. The Walgreens Asset Protection Solutions team goes through a deliberate and robust exercise to establish team and individual goals and initiatives; however, we are challenged on a regular basis to develop ad hoc solutions to problems that impact our enterprise. It is important to develop programmatic and ad hoc solutions in the framework of our strategy. If the circumstance is significant enough and does not fit within our existing framework, we must be flexible and adapt our strategy.

EDITOR: Art, you have been a vital part of the transformation of asset protection at 7-Eleven. What have been the key initiatives that have proven most valuable?

LAZO: Several years ago, a process was started with the goal of building an asset protection department that was considered best in class. Many people have contributed to making this a reality by building processes and providing tools to the team in the field and the franchisees in the stores. Some examples include a company-wide rollout of new DVR systems that allow the store operators to easily access recorded video. Point-of-sale analytics at the store level allow the franchisee or store manager to pin-point issues that can then be reviewed on the DVR and resolved quickly themselves or with assistance from their local asset protection specialist.

We have also dedicated more resources to building relationships with local law enforcement. 7-Eleven has partnered with local law enforcement for years on programs like Operation Chill. Recently, we have been able to reach out and collaborate much more frequently with law enforcement in hundreds of different municipalities, offering partnership and support in resolving issues that affect the franchisees and store operators.

EDITOR: Are there differences in how you handle company-owned and franchise stores?

LAZO: Each franchisee is an independent operator. We are a resource for the franchisees as consultants, and we provide tools to help them address issues related to shortage and physical security. The asset protection managers take every opportunity to participate in franchisee meetings to help train them on the tools available to address shortage issues and accurately manage their inventory. We will provide advice to franchisees when asked, but it is their responsibility to operate their businesses within the constraints of the franchise agreement. Corporate stores can be managed in a more traditional manner, consistent with other retail programs where we can directly address issues and escalate lingering issues through the operational chain of command. We partner at all levels of the corporate store structure to provide support and control losses.

EDITOR: Brian, you have a lot of stores and a small LP staff. Where do you spend your time to get the greatest impact?

PEACOCK: In the last couple years, we have realized that sometimes you have to do less with less. We took a step back and looked at all the things our department was doing. This gave the senior leadership team the chance to reevaluate and eliminate the things that were no longer adding value or were not a priority for the organization. The second thing we did was focus on enterprise solutions and ways to leverage technology to help the organization. In 2014 our company started renting smartphones. We quickly realized that while this category would drive incremental business, new customers, and revenue growth, it was extremely high risk. Our department led the creation and implementation of a phone-locking software that helped mitigate the risk within this new segment of our business. We took a technology primarily used for data security and designed a new model that secures our assets when a customer contract expires, assists in collections, lowers losses, and creates a value-add by assisting in the recovery of a phone that was stolen from one of our customers. The results have been better than we expected. It has opened some eyes as to what our department can do for the organization outside of “catching bad coworkers.” We have two more exciting enterprise technology-based solutions we are driving in 2016 and hope to realize similar impacts for our organization.

EDITOR: Specifically at Rent-A-Center, are you most driven by crime, shrink reduction, profit and loss, or something else?

PEACOCK: In our business, loss is a very reactive stat. Our team focuses on past-due accounts. Unlike traditional retail, approximately 70 percent of our inventory resides in customers’ homes. When we rent merchandise to a consumer, we still own the merchandise until it is paid in full. This unique challenge does not allow us to focus on the traditional metrics. So past-dues are our first indicator that we have a potential loss.

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