EDITORS NOTE: Keith L. White is senior vice president of loss preventionand corporate administration for Gap Inc., one of the worlds largestspecialty retailers with three highly recognized apparel brandsGap, BananaRepublic, and Old Navy.
White began his career in 1986 as a loss prevention supervisor with adiscount retailer in Chicago where he grew up. He held a number of positionsin the LP industry before becoming the vice president of loss prevention forGap Inc. in 2000.
White is actively involved in numerous professional and communityorganizations and is recognized for his ongoing commitment to diversity inthe retail security industry. He is a past president and active member in theInternational Organization of Black Security Executives (IOBSE). He alsorepresents Gap Inc. on the National Retail Federation (NRF) LP AdvisoryCouncil and as a member of the editorial board for LossPrevention magazine.
A graduate of Western Illinois University where he received his BA in lawenforcement administration, White also earned his masters in criminologydegree from Chicago State University in 1990.
EDITOR: You were recently promoted to senior vice president. Tell us how thathappened and how your responsibilities have changed.
WHITE: Id like to think it happened because as I evolved as a loss preventionexecutive, people noticed that the lens I looked through was much broader thanjust LP. For example, when I worked on corporate initiatives like pre-employmentscreening, I would sell the program based on improved service, reduced turnover,and…oh, by the way…it will impact shortage. I believe senior managementrecognized the fact that I had a global perspective and that I was working toimprove the business overall, not just selfishly pursuing loss prevention-relatedgoals and objectives.
EDITOR: Have you taken on functions other than what would be described astraditional loss prevention?
WHITE: Yes, as senior vice president of loss prevention and corporateadministration, I have responsibility for property management, facilities, travel,food service, business continuation planning, corporate security, and special events.
EDITOR: You have an organization where you have loss prevention directorsreporting to each of the brands. Have their roles changed as a result of youraccepting more responsibility?
WHITE: Absolutely. It has really required them to step up and bemuch more strategic, much more of a business owner. When youhave a supervisor who has committed to be singularly focusedon your area, its easier to spend more time on executingstrategy rather than developing strategy. You can participate instrategy, you can challenge strategy, but a bigger part of your jobis execution. So, as a result, Ive had to ask my team, and theyveanswered in kind, to be more strategic, to own more of thedirection, and to guide the ship of LP more actively. I absolutelycould not engage at the level I was before. Almost half of mytime is spent evaluating and looking at the other areas.
EDITOR: So your view of loss prevention is broader than justsecurity and loss prevention. It is more a business perspective.
WHITE: Thats been a perspective Ive asked them to own fromday one, even without the recent responsibilities. Ive really beenchallenging in that sense. I think if you are working on a teamas an LP executive at the director level, and your focus is strictlyon loss prevention, your days are numbered. We just dont havethat luxury anymore. Companies are looking for contributionsfar beyond that. My team knows that I expect them to have theretail acumen down, so that as they engage with their businesspartners, they are also talking about margin, sales, payroll, andultimately how it affects shortage.
EDITOR: Describe Gap Inc. What brands do you have and howhave you organized your company to provide LP services tothose brands?
WHITE: In the specialty world, when you are operating anorganization as big as ours, theres a push to have your regionalmanagers service multiple brands because there are some naturaleconomies that you pick up. Ive taken the opposite approachto a point. I believe it is important to have dedicated LP teamsinside our brands, so that when a regional manager or a zone VPlooks across the conference table, they know that LP person is ahundred percent committed to them and is not going to bale outon a conference call because they have an investigation at theother brand. They know that person is their business partner.
More important for me is it allows them to go deeper interms of really understanding the business. I think when youremanaging multiple brands, theres only so far you can go interms of really understanding the merchandise assortment, whatmakes the business tick, the stores layout. Youre forced to dealwith more surface-level issues, rather than becoming an expertin that particular brand.
Now, as you go further back into the organization, all theback-end functions service all brands. So theres one operationsunit, one group that manages alarms for all brands, et cetera.
EDITOR: Your organization has a complete array of LP positions,meaning you have hourly investigators, district, regional, andcorporate executives. So much of the magazines readership is atthe mid-level. Describe the role of a district LP manager at Gap.
WHITE: The district loss prevention manager for us plays a keyrole in terms of executing the strategy. Just like the regional,its literally where the wheels touch the ground. The role isdefinitely more tactical, focused on executing our strategy. Itsabsolutely around building relationships and managing anddeveloping the LP teams they have reporting to them.
But we also try to give them room to be creative, to say,Okay in your district, if theres a way to spin it so that it makesmore sense for you in Florida or Atlanta, show us what you cando. I can remember when I was in that role. Literally everyminute of my day, of my week was programmed. Not that it wasbad programming, but I felt stunted. I felt like I couldnt grow if Icouldnt be creative.
EDITOR: You are an executive who believes very strongly inpromoting from within. What experience or qualities do youtell your young people that they need to move ahead in yourorganization?
WHITE: I start by telling them that they own 51percentof their development, which means that they can really directand steer their career path. We will work hard to develop you,but development starts at home. What is it that you need thatyoure not getting? Can you identify those items and challengeyour supervisor on them? Were going to work to give you adevelopmental plan, but if youre not driving it, were both goingto lose. You need to drive a stake in the ground and say, Hereswhat I really think I need. Can we add this to the mix?For example, if you want to ultimately be the director ofinvestigations, should you spend more time on interviewing? Or,should you spend more time learning how our area investigatorswork? Or, should you spend more time on the whole ORCinitiative? Should you adopt a mentor from that particular area?Which of these is a better fit for you to get you ready? Thats whatI mean about owning fifty-one percent of your development.Otherwise, you find people with a lunch-tray mentality. They showup to the cafeteria and stick out their tray, and whatever you puton there is what they take. Then, later on, they blame you becausetheyre still hungry, and they really didnt get what they wanted.Thats not fair to us, and its not fair to them.
My main message is they can control their destiny. Were goingto work hard to make sure the playing ground is fair and that theyhave an opportunity to move up when theres an opening.
EDITOR: Lets talk a little bit about what new and excitinginitiatives are in the works for your team and the company.
WHITE: The biggest initiative that weve been working on for thepast couple of years has been source tagging. I was approachedthree or four years ago by one of our EVPs who came from acompany that had source tagging, albeit his company was more ofa discounter with a lot of hardlines. He asked me what we weredoing and how soon we could implement source tagging. I toldhim that as an apparel retailer, it wasnt an easy task.
After that discussion, my team and I embarked on a longjourney to understand the pros and cons and benefits of sourcetagging. After a great deal of study, we came to the decisionthat this was something we should do. We think we will realizesavings with respect to payroll, increased store efficiency, as wellas incremental increases in our protection of goods because wedbe able to roll out EAS to a hundred percent of our stores. In myopinion, if you do source tagging well, you want to do it for everystore. Im very pleased to say source tagging is going to roll outfor us this summer. Its actually already rolled out in one of ourbrands and so far, so good.
EDITOR: Would you regard what youre doing at Gap to beindustry leading in terms of the source-tagging program?
WHITE: Ive got to give credit to people like Maurice Cloutier atAnn Taylor and Jim Berger, formerly of J. Crew. I think they werecutting edge. I think we were good students in the business,studying what we thought were best practices and moving asmethodically, but as quickly, as we could.
EDITOR: What other initiatives are you and your team proud of interms of your accomplishments at Gap?
WHITE: Youve written about our target store program [TheChallenge of Target-Store Programs in Specialty Retail November/December 2003 ]. It continues to amaze me how much return youcan get by putting in place disciplines around a certain group ofstores. If you really commit the resources into target stores, bothin people and technology, its significant how much you can bringshortage down. Thats definitely been a big program for us.
Weve also done some incredible work in the area oforganized retail crime and continue to focus there [Partneringwith Law Enforcement to Combat Organized Retail CrimeMay/June 2004].
Because we are both a clicks-and-bricks organization, we have put in place an e-commerce investigative unit. Some of whatweve done in this area, I think, is industry leading in terms ofmaking sure we can play in that arena and not be victimized byfraud.
Weve also implemented some significant investigative andauditing tools with our supply-chain LP team that is turningthe distribution system into the equivalent of a register.Weve actually been able to do some exception reporting withdistribution or logistics technology that I think is really smart.
EDITOR: Lets take a step back. Tell us about your beginning inloss prevention.
WHITE: When I think back to my childhood, youre talking tosomeone who was told by his high school counselor, College isnot for you. You should pursue a vocation. Did you ever thinkabout working on cars? He had me all wrong. I ultimately wentto college and earned a masters degree.
Icompletely lucked into the field of loss prevention when afriend told me about an opportunity over Christmas vacation.I went for the interview and was hired as a loss preventionsupervisor by an East Coast-based discounter. I started at $8.17an hour. Even though I was a college graduate making $8.17an hour, I absolutely fell in love with LP. Investigating, dealingwith security issues, having people see me as someone whosresponsible in a crisis, someone who can take charge, someonewho can help them out, someone who had all the answers…I justreally enjoyed that.
That love led to my hunger for increased knowledge. So,very early in my career, not only was I growing and maturingas a young LP professional, I also took ownership of mydevelopment. I was a member of ASIS. I went to every security orinterviewing seminar available. I did Reid as well as Wicklander.I had interviews that I would practice on cassette tapes while Idrove to work. I really worked on my craft and this is what I lookfor when I hirepeople who are more interested in the craft ofloss prevention or management than they are the paycheck.
EDITOR: As a young person moving forward in your career,were there particular challenges you had to overcome?
WHITE: Ill give you an example that I share with my team.Everyone thinks that your resume has to always be moving upto look good. Yet at one point in my career, I actually took ademotion; we call it spider webbing at Gap. The opportunitythat came available was managing distribution centers andoverseeing the building of new DCs. Although it was atwo-grade demotion, it lit such a fire in me that I pursuedit, even though some of the powers that be at the time thoughtit was a bad move. In fact, they told me they didnt think it wasthe best move for me at that point.
Looking back at my career, I counsel young people to makedecisions with their heart and mind first, not their wallet, theirresume, or the glory and the glitter. Make decisions with yourheart in mind, because when you do that, if the opportunity issomething you really want and get fired up about, the rest takescare of itself. That decision to go down a couple of job grades,to take a position that people challenged, turned out to be therocket ship for my becoming a director and ultimately movingforward.
EDITOR: Did you ever have doubts if you were ever going toachieve something significant in your career?
WHITE: The doubts creep in when you run into those situationswhen you have a supervisor or leader who does not value yourcontribution the way you think they should. You feel like yourehitting on all cylinders, making things happen, yet they arelukewarm or even critical. When that happened in my career, itbecame a defining moment.
I had always felt that above all else I could perform. I couldreduce shortage. I could really move the needle. But what Ididnt realize at the time was that the job was defining who I was.If my supervisor thought well of me, I thought well of myself. Ifhe didnt, I thought poorly of myself. Those feelings even spilledover into my personal life. What I had to learn was that theres acertain amount of confidence and security that you have to havein your abilities to be able to move forward and make it throughthose rocky times. As the saying goes, Steel is made in thehottest of fire.
If I had to coach young folks who are not getting theirjust desserts as they think they should, I would say stay inthe batters box, keep swinging away, do not back away. Asa matter of fact, get closer to the plate. You will see thateventually that confidence and that separation of your ownpersonal security in what you do versus what someone elsethinks you can or cannot do will make all the difference inthe world.
EDITOR: Were there others who helped coach you alongthe way and helped you become a better executive?
WHITE: Im not going to be able to name everybody, but Iwill say that I have been open to feedback from people atall levelsfrom senior vice presidents to the little old ladieswho check in employees at the front deskwho have saidthings to me that really made a difference. Everybody reallygives you something. Whether you take it or not is whatmakes the difference.
King Rogers has been a huge influence in my career.Hes been both a friend and mentor, as well as a butt kickerand nose wiper. There have also been a number of otherpeople, both inside and outside of loss prevention. Forexample, Bobby Thomas, who is a vendor from outside ofloss prevention, was an incredible mentor for me. Herewas someone who was thirty years my senior, who had anincredible amount of knowledge and humility. When hefirst got to know me, he said, You know what young man;I predict youre gonna be a star. But the thing I remember,when he said that, of course I didnt believe him, but Iknew he was sincere. I thought to myself, Boy is this a kindman, but hes got the wrong kid. Ten years later, he wasright there when I was promoted to VP, and he remindedme of what he had told me.
If I were to advise young people, I would say thateveryone has something to say that one way or the othercan shape and develop you. The challenge is, will you taketime to listen? Are you willing to take critical feedback toheart? Or would you say to yourself, What in the worldcould a customer service rep tell me of importance? If youtake time and listen, probably a whole lot.
EDITOR: You have been active in several associationsand organizations. Why is playing a leadership role in ourindustry important to you?
WHITE: Ill start by naming the associations. The firstone was ASIS, where I achieved my CPP certification, andwas at one point co-chair of their standing committee onretail. Ive also been involved with NRF, LossPreventionmagazine, and a pet organization of mine, the InternationalOrganization of Black Security Executives.
I feel that you get what you give. If you walk into anyorganization and youre only looking for something for yourself,you lose immediately. But if youre looking for a way tocontribute to the betterment of our industry, to support howwe are informed, how we educate our people, you get back tentimes more than you give. I think some people understand thatand, unfortunately, some dont.
I like to tell people who are really interested in making adifference, Its not about you. If it was about you, it would havebeen over a long time ago. I really enjoy this industry and what Ido. This is one of the ways to share this opportunity with others.
EDITOR: As a minority who has successfully climbed thecorporate ladder and has become a strong proponent ofdiversity, what is your message to the industry about diversity inloss prevention?
WHITE: The diversity question is always a tough one. I do realizethat there are minorities out there who see me as a lighteningrod on this topic. They see me as someone who is pushing theenvelope, who has a voice at the table. So they look to me forsupport. Im okay with that role. But heres what I would say tothe industry:
First of all, to those executives who are recruiting minoritycandidates so that they can say they have one or two on theirteam, the pioneering days are over. People dont want to bepioneers anymore. Im speaking for minority candidates, myselfincluded. I do not want to go where I am the first. Thatstired. Thats old. That takes a lot of energy out of you. I wantto go where I know I will be accepted as I am. Where I will besupported, developed, and given a fair shake.
Secondly, if you are managing a program that is not one thatpromotes inclusion, is not one thats diverse, is not one thatsa fair place for everybody to compete for opportunities, shameon you because youre going to have real trouble competingin the global marketplace. In my mind, having a diverse team…and I dont just mean ethnically…gives you an advantage andflexibility to maneuver in markets, to gain access to informationthat you wouldnt already have. Its a very strong business-relatedadvantage that some people take light of or treat as somethingthats simply politically correct. My advice to my counterparts outthere is, be serious about diversity. If youre not serious aboutit, dont do it. Its only going to cause more damage than good.Paul Jones at Limited Brands is a good example of someone whotakes diversity seriously, and the success of his organization isproof of the advantage of diversity and strong leadership.
EDITOR: What would you say to the minority individual at thestore or district level? Is there a different message to them thanto your executive counterparts?
WHITE: Ive said this before in your magazine, nothing speakslike performance [The Many Faces of Loss Prevention May/June 2002]. It is critically important for the young minorityprofessional to stay as focused as they can on the work athand, to perform to the best of their abilities, and to take thosedeveloping assignments as opportunities to contribute. You candeny people for a number of reasons, but if the performance isexcellent, people notice. Were in a business environment wherehaving people deliver and perform well is a premium. Everybodywants it. I know I do. They can be yellow, green, or pink, ifthey can reduce shortage by twenty percent, theyll be on myleadership team in a second.
I think its important for minorities to know that they canachieve anything they want if they take the responsibilitythemselves, to work through those challenging times, to workon performing well, and to not be distracted by the negative stuffthat they may encounter as they progress in this industry. Im notgoing to sit here and say that they wont be a victim of certainbiases. But if they get caught up on focusing more on that thanon their own performance and what they can deliver, then it cancompletely derail them.
Let me give you an analogy. I absolutely loved playingracquetball. The better you are and the harder you play, prettysoon your opponent has no idea what you look like. All he orshe knows is that theres a blue ball hitting the wall at speedsthat they cant deal with. Believe me, if you are focused on beingbetter, being sharper, being a contributor, theres no questionthat people will notice. It may not be the manager in yourpyramid. It may be someone outside your pyramid who noticesand recruits you. But if you stay focused on execution and dontfall into the excuse trap, you will be just fine.