Editor’s Note: Michael P. Keenan, CPP, is vice president of loss prevention for Ross Stores, Inc., based in Newark, CA. He oversees all LP functions for Ross’ more than 450 stores located in 22 states. Prior to joining Ross, Keenan worked for Macy’s West/Federated for almost 16 years.
Keenan is currently the chairperson of the National Retail Federation (NRF) loss prevention advisory council. He is also a member of the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) and holds the designation of certified protection professional (CPP). He is a licensed private investigator and holds a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice from California State University, Sacramento.
EDITOR:Before we talk about your role with the NRF, Id like the readers to get to know you a little bit. Lets start by asking you to describe some of the more important roles and responsibilities of a vice president of loss prevention.
KEENAN: The critical responsibility of any director of loss prevention is to understand the expectations of the company’s senior management team and develop objectives based on those expectations. Then, you must determine where your department needs to go and how youre going to get there. My experience at Ross is really a good example of that. When I first walked in the door, there were many things that I knew needed to be done to create a successful program. However, I also knew I had to take things one-step at a time. It was impossible to do everything at once. By creating a game plan and sticking to it, thats how you get things accomplished.
EDITOR: Have you accomplished everything you first identified?
KEENAN: Not yet. I still have a few of those original objectives left as well as a lot of new ones. After five years in my job, there are some things that I am just now starting to implement. Thats another critically important characteristic of a director. If you believe in something, you have to be persistent.
You also need to look for opportunities to get your piece of a program as it happens. Some programs are independent initiatives. For example, POS exception reporting and refund control are pretty much LP initiatives. You have to advocate those on their own merits. Others require integrating yourself into an existing system. So, for example, if we are going to implement a new POS register platform, its my opportunity to build in the LP components that I need right along withall of the other areas of the business.
EDITOR: How do you make sure you get that opportunity to add LP components?
KEENAN: The only way that happens is by getting into the middle of the business. Thats extremely important. Whether you’re invited in or whether you have to knock the door down, you have to get there. If you dont, you miss what’s going on. I think one of the biggest errors an LP executive makes is trying to get in after the door is closed. Then, you’re always an add-on, an extra expense, something that the company will get to later. My most dreaded line you’re requirements are scheduled for phase two. You have to do everything in your power not to be in phase two.
EDITOR: How do you do that?
KEENAN: You have to build relationships and a solid reputation inside the organization. If you get invited into a meeting because we really should have the LP person there, you have to bring something to the party or your not going to be there next time. If you get involved and do a good job explaining the LP benefits of your requirements, then ultimately you build a strong relationship with the entire company. That’s when you really get things done.
KEENAN: The first year I was at Ross, the MIS group and I had some heated confrontations about the type of information I wanted out of the company systems. They liked being the only ones who understood how their systems really worked and would tell me that they could not provide what I requested. Well, I challenged them and told them that they could. They didnt like that. But now, the MIS group and I have an incredibly good relationship. There hasn’t been a single MIS program thats gone out that I havent had some fingerprint on.
EDITOR: Obviously, you werent always a vice president. How did you get started in LP?
KEENAN: I started my career with the FBI in San Francisco working foreign counterintelligence. After three years,due to some political issues, I made the decision to look into other areas. I actually interviewed with some SiliconValley companies at first because they were very interested in people with top secret clearances back then. My resume got around and I interviewed with, John Christman, the vice president and director of security for Macys California. Next thing I know, I was the security manager at one of their small stores in San Rafael.
EDITOR: How big was Macys at that time?
KEENAN: At that time there were 25stores, all in northern California and one in Reno. I worked inSan Rafael for about a year and was promoted to one of their largest volume stores in Daly City. I was only there for about nine months before I became security manager in the San Francisco flagship store. That was a huge responsibility and I was exposed to all aspects of the business in that position. After about a year and a half, John promoted me to what he called the security operations manager. I ran the administrative side of the department and was really his number two.
EDITOR: As John Christman has been your mentor, youve been a mentor as well. What types of counsel have you given to young people on how they can further their careers?
KEENAN: Basically, I tell them education. Everyone betters themselves through education at whatever level youre at. For example, I believe that effective verbal and written communication skills are essential to being successful in any endeavor. If I have a person who I think is good, but his or her writing skills arent where they should be, Ill literally send them back to school and make them take English classes. When I train my people, I tell them that their written work is a direct reflection of who they are. I will often read peoples reports before I actually meet them due to the size of my organization. I tell them that I get a picture of them from their work. I ask, What do you want that picture to look like? How many times have we read and made judgments about somebody before we’ve even met them because of their grammar or their sentence construction. They might say to me, But I got all the facts right. Well, maybe they did, however, Ill tell them, If you wrote a proposal like that for the CEO of the company, youre not going to get very far. It is simple things like writing that, I think, are too often overlooked.
EDITOR: What else?
KEENAN: Learning how to present something is critical as well. So many times you will only get as far as your presentation skills allow you. When you’re in loss prevention, you have to really be good at this because generally were not in the mainstream of the business. So, the more persuasive you are, the more effective you can be.
EDITOR: When you’re looking for individuals to promote, what traits are you looking for?
KEENAN: I look for people who can think on their own, who can make decisions and are making the effort to grow in the job. I spend a lot of time individually with my managers. I believe that the way we do our jobs is not black and white. So, I try to teach parameters. Its really easy to say, Jim, go do this. Do it this way and dont deviate. But you dont learn as much from that. So, I challenge my people. I make them think. As a result, they wont come to me with a problem without having already thought of ways to solve it. My response to90percent of the situations that are presented to me is what do you want to do in this situation? Now, if I disagree with them, I tell them. But I want them to come up with a solution.
EDITOR: What about LP skills?
KEENAN: In my opinion, LP skills are a given. Knowing how to investigate is admission to the club. You wont find anyone in my organization who views their job as just a way to get a paycheck. Good LP people have to have the bug.Its what drives us. If you have the bug, I can teach you the other things. My goal is to take people beyond loss prevention. Its taking them to the level of being an executive within the organization. The people who are the most successful operate beyond LP.
EDITOR: Tell us a little about your LP organization inside Ross?
KEENAN: Im a very big believer in LP reporting independently from the stores. I dont think we can be as effective if we are reporting to the same people we are holding accountable for LP policies and procedures. It can reduce your effectiveness if you cant point out noncompliance issues without worrying that your performance review may be impacted negatively.
However, there have to be effective working relationships with all areas of the company. You have to have a balance. LP should be a partner unless you steal or violate the rules. One of things that I think works very well for Ross is what we call a triad. The triad is the district operations manager, the district HR manager, and the district LP manager. As a group they make the decisions that impact their assigned district. Now, the DM is the primary decision maker. He or she runs the district, but my LP people can make recommendations and voice their opinions. If we disagree with a decision, we have the ability to escalate to a higher level triad, made up of regional-level people, and ultimately to a super triad, which is the RVP, the head of HR, and me. This set up enables me to get involved and support my people ifwif went agree with a decision. We dont always get the result we want, but we always have the opportunity to voice our recommendations.
KEENAN: I ultimately report to the senior vice president of operations, so I do report to the stores. He is the ultimate decision maker, however, he gives me autonomy within my group. We can investigate, audit, report, and my people are insulated.
Heres an example. We do LP audits at Ross that carry a lot of weight. Failing audits can result in a poor performance evaluation and even termination. Therefore, DMs are very aggressive in trying to impact the audits in their favor.The independent reporting structure enables us to tell it like it is. This gives the company a better picture of whatsreally happening and they can react accordingly. Ultimately, my boss makes the final call, but he is very supportive and holds the DMs accountable.
EDITOR: While you place a lot of importance on that independent structure, how do your people in the field develop and nurture a good, strong relationship with their counterparts?
KEENAN: As I mentioned earlier, its a delicate balance, and theres not a formula. Everybody has an individual personality. But the overall approach we communicate to people is that were here to work with you. Were a team. Butif you cross the line, its our job to deal with it appropriately. Again, it comes back to the communication and presentation skills. You have to develop your LP people so they understand how to do that. The development is accomplished by coaching them through a lot of scenarios. Thats how they learn. Every scenario is different, but the theme of the coaching is to make sure that they are viewing the issue properly, how they can accomplish their objective,and that they are supported from the top. This builds their self-confidence. This helps them develop the respect of their peers. I dont care if we are liked, but I do want us to be respected.
EDITOR: You obviously put a lot of emphasis on coaching and communication. Tell me more about your management style.
KEENAN: Part of it is creating an organization with the highest level of integrity. I have standards of conductthat are specifically designed for loss prevention people. I hold them to a higher standard. Part of it is creating an environment where people can make mistakes and not be in fear of losing their jobs. I tell my people all the timethat they can make mistakesnobody grows and gets better unless they make mistakes. You have to create an environment where people can tell it like it is. However, you have to temper that with those higher expectations. Forexample, if a person lies or falsifies a document, theyre fired. No negotiation. This ensures that I usually get the truth in every situation. Then as an executive, I can make better decisions.
One thing that works well for me is teaching my people a simple concept. I coach my managers this way: before you write somebody up or criticize them, sit back and ask yourself if you had done the same thing, how would you want to be treated? I honestly believe that my people come to work everyday with the intention of doing a good job. If they dont, then you have the wrong people.But if they are, then how do you get that person to grow from that experience? Generally, youre going to treat somebody differently if you are thinking about how you would want to be treated to get the result. Pretty simple. But you know whatit works.
EDITOR: Lets switch gears a bit. You are the chairperson of the National Retail Federation loss prevention advisory council. What caused you to become involved in the council?
KEENAN: I have been involved in the NRF LP conference since I was the security operations manager at Macys, attending and making presentations. The networking is terrific. I think its one of the highlights of the year for people in retail loss prevention. I wanted to be involved in continuing such a good product. I wanted to contribute to the industry. I believe that getting people together is great for the industry.
EDITOR: How does the council decide on topics for the seminars?
KEENAN: We advertise at the conference and through NRF literature for individuals to submit proposals. Also, those of us on the council are contacted directly by individuals who have topics they want to suggest or present. The NRF is also contacted. We also look at the previous three years of attendees responseswhat do they want to see, what did they like, what do they recommend. All of these suggestions are then shared at the council meeting. We use that information to develop the sessions. Another important component is ensuring that we have a balance in the topics so we address a broad spectrum of issues.
EDITOR: What about speakers?
KEENAN: One of the things we try to do is identify loss prevention practitioners who can speak to the subject. We traditionally have steered away from vendor presentations, although combining a vendor and a practitioner works out okay.
EDITOR: Why is that?
KEENAN: We dont want the educational sessions to turn into vendor demos. Its nothing negative toward vendors. But, its the mission of the conference and, I think, whats best for the industry. What we want in a session is what are the practitioners out there doing, how does it apply to their business, and how might I take that home and apply it to my business. I want to see what the loss prevention person is doing with the product, not just see a demo of a product.
EDITOR: For those that can not attend the conference, are there ways for them to get the information thats presented at the conference?
KEENAN: All they have to do is get on the NRF website. You can get audio tapes of the sessions. And were workingon a way to produce a CD that merges in the PowerPoint slides with the audio.
EDITOR: What visions and challenges do you and the council have going forward?
KEENAN: Ultimately, our goal is that the conference continues to become more integrated with everybody in the industry, whether youre a big box or little box, large organization or single director. We want to provide sessions that have value for everyone.
EDITOR: Do you see the NRF working toward pulling together different disciplines?
KEENAN: We already bring in audit, and this year were bringing in risk management and safety. Rather than bringing more into the LP show, I think maybe loss prevention needs to get more involved in some of the other shows, like the annual conference in January or the HR show.
EDITOR: Last question. If there was a Hall of Fame for past directors and VPs, who would you immediately put in and why?
KEENAN: Thats an easy one for meJohn Christman. I worked for John for 12years. In that time, he taught me a lot. He was a man who was extremely well grounded in basic security. While he grew up in the cops and robbers era of loss prevention, he was an individual who saw the future and kept his department on the leading edge. One of the things that I liked about working with John was that even though he was very grounded in his ways, he would listen and wasnt afraid to experiment with new things even when he didnt necessarily agree with them at the inception. That takes a lot of confidence and foresight. He was a critical component in my development as a loss prevention professional.