EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael Grady, LPC, is executive vice president at Vector Security, where he’s worked for thirty-eight years. He is also on the board of the Loss Prevention Foundation.
EDITOR: You are one of the most respected and highly regarded individuals in our industry, and it is indeed a pleasure to congratulate you on your upcoming retirement and to congratulate you on all you’ve done for this industry.
GRADY: I appreciate that very much. I’m speechless. In a lot of regards, I’ve had the opportunity to experience a great career with an absolutely unbelievable team of professionals.
EDITOR: Let’s go all the way back to the beginning of Mike Grady. Where did you grow up?
GRADY: I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, known as the Steel City. You can take the boy out of the city, but you can’t take the “Burgh” out of the boy. That seems to be consistent among Pittsburgh natives.
EDITOR: When you were growing up with all that smoke coming out of those steel mills, what was your ambition in life at that point?
GRADY: You’ve painted a good picture of Pittsburgh at that time. I think my ambition was to graduate high school and then get into college, which I did. My undergraduate degree was in criminology, and my graduate degree was in public and international affairs.
After I graduated from college, I realized that I was blessed with the gift of gab, so I was pretty confident that I could be successful in business. But I needed to get a better understanding of where I could plant myself. I ended up working with the H. J. Heinz company right out of college. If you would have asked me back in high school if that’s where I would have been, I would have probably said no.
I don’t want to paint too bleak of a picture of the city of Pittsburgh and the economy at the time, but think back to the late seventies—high interest rates and gas lines and a lot of other economic challenges. So getting into college around that time and being able to graduate and get my first job at H. J. Heinz —I consider myself very fortunate.
EDITOR: Did you go into sales and marketing at Heinz?
GRADY: No, my job was to conduct safety audits throughout the plant, not only at H. J. Heinz but also at StarKist in Torrance, California, or Ore-Ida in Boise, Idaho. A team of safety specialists would bring me along, and we would go in and do inspections on the facilities and the plants, to assure proper safety and security compliance. Obviously, at that age I was a rookie and learned the business through the team leaders that I reported through, but I only worked there for a couple of years.
Going back to my comment about the gift of gab, it kind of paid off because one of my jobs was to purchase annunciating equipment for devices in the factory. So I met a gentleman from Honeywell who sold security annunciating devices. One day he said to me, “You know, Mike, I’m probably cutting my legs out from under me, but you really should consider getting into sales at some point in your life. You just seem like that type of individual. Would you be interested in coming over to our group?” And I thought, “Boy, that’s odd.” At the time, working at H. J. Heinz out of college, you had to know somebody to get there, and you never expected to leave. You had to stay there for the rest of your life and retire there.
But as fate would have it, I decided to explore some other opportunities, and lo and behold, I ended up being a burglar alarm salesman two years after college. My dad said, “What are you going to do Michael?” And I said, “Well, I’m going to sell electronic security devices.” Then the first time he introduced me to one of his business colleagues, he said, “This is my son. He sells burglar alarms.” He told me, “Never try to sugar coat it, Michael. You sell burglar alarms.”
EDITOR: And is that how you got to Vector Security?
GRADY: I did. It was called Westec Security at the time. In late 1982, I met the gentlemen who ran it, and he hired me as a commercial account manager. Didn’t know a thing about sales or a thing about burglar alarms, but I figured if you can treat people right, and you can treat them with respect, and you can build relationships, then you might be able to make some money. It wasn’t that easy, but I started that way.
EDITOR: Give our readership an idea of how Vector started, what it is today, and what is your current role?
GRADY: I started with the company back in, I guess, early ’83. At the time, we were a small regional three-office security company. We didn’t have any visibility into geographic areas outside of Pittsburgh; Youngstown, Ohio; and Rochester, New York.
As we continued to grow, we saw a need to get into the commercial side of the business—hospitals, commercial buildings, industrial, educational, institutional, and so forth. It didn’t happen quickly, but there was really a need at that time to explore and advance from residential security into commercial security. And we began to grow.
We had a fair amount of organic growth, and then we began to grow through mergers and acquisitions outside of the Pittsburgh area. That need for commercial security and commercial fire alarms grew quite rapidly, so we decided to build a team around that side of electronic security. They put me in charge of it, and I went from sales manager to a general manager to senior management.
EDITOR: Does Vector remain privately held today?
GRADY: Absolutely. The Philadelphia Contributionship, founded in 1752 by Ben Franklin and his fellow firefighters, acquired Vector in 1982 and still own us to this day.
EDITOR: When did Vector make the move into retail?
GRADY: We made the move into retail in 1992. We had accumulated probably seven branches throughout the tristate—Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia—and New York. We saw some common retail customers in those areas. We were getting them in pockets of the other branches and looked at it with a little bit more clarity. We decided that if we went after retail, we might be able to link all these branches together and be a comparable service provider for retail. So we did, and our first big hit was Toys“R”Us. We got the Toys“R”Us in Pittsburgh, then we got the Toys“R”Us in Youngstown, Ohio, and then we got the Toys“R”Us in Buffalo, New York, and we kicked it off.
EDITOR: Was the predominant product to begin with in retail burglary and fire?
GRADY: Yes, that was our area of specialization. We weren’t as involved with the video or EAS sides of the business at that time. It was burglary and fire, and that is what we built our foundation on.
EDITOR: Are you responsible for other industries besides retail today?
GRADY: Absolutely. We are involved with health care, which we’re doing a nice job of developing at this point, and we also concentrate on transportation and logistics where we’re beginning to see a great deal of progress.
EDITOR: How has your product line expanded out from burglary and fire?
GRADY: The product line has evolved quite rapidly over the years. Our offerings encompass a list of products and services that center on video, fire and fire alarm inspections, and a cloud-based access-control system integration. All the aspects and solutions center around premise and people protection.
EDITOR: In terms of the retail industry, please call out some of the LP executives who may have helped you understand retail loss prevention, and why your relationship with them may have been special.
GRADY: I’ve had such an incredible opportunity to be coached by some of the most knowledgeable and dedicated executives in the industry. You, Jim, are one of those individuals who created a platform for me and coached me along the way, to the point where you have also been involved with addressing my entire team. Profiling LP executives on the do’s and don’ts and what to be prepared for when you go into the office of a loss prevention executive—you were extremely helpful and instrumental in my career.
It’s imperative that I call out Bob Oberosler, who was the Lowe’s executive at the time. It’s probably an overused statement, but he took a chance on a guy and a company that he knew nothing about. It was based on character. It was based on assumptions. But it was intuition. He thought, “I’m going to give this guy a break.” And, boy, he just carried me on his back for many years while Lowe’s converted a lot of business over to us. I can’t say enough about him. He’s just an absolutely spectacular loss prevention executive.
Enter Paul Jones, who took up carrying me where Bob left off. We met at a RILA conference when he was with Sunglass Hut. I don’t want to sound corny with this, but he really looked into the soul of a company and the soul of the individual and said, “I feel comfortable with this company. I’m going to give them a shot.” And, my gosh, we were competing with some of the largest service providers in the world, and there we were, this little mom-and-pop company. We ended up converting all the Sunglass Hut business over to Vector Security.
Last, but certainly not least, was a guy that I got to know very well in the last ten years. Unfortunately, he’s since gone, but that’s Bob MacLea, formerly with TJX. I don’t think that there was ever one time when I needed Bob’s advice that he didn’t say, “Mike, come on in,” and I would, and that guy didn’t see too many people. If you were a service provider and were able to get a seat with Bob MacLea, you considered yourself very fortunate.
EDITOR: What moments are you especially proud of from a business standpoint in your time at Vector?
GRADY: I think the one of the proudest moments continues to be when our team felt that we made a difference in retail and then continued to produce and build the team to support the industry’s need. By nature, we are a very conservative company. We are very diligent about decisions we make and mitigating risk. We’re very thorough about who we do business with, including our customers. I was concerned that if we carried that culture forward, it might stunt our progress as we continued to penetrate the retail environment.
But we saw that relationship with retail beginning to grow, and we challenged some of the largest competitors in the industry, national competitors and conglomerates that were competing against us. We all felt it, we all worked together for it, and it was very emotional. And then it became kind of a theme that was on automatic pilot. The men and women of Vector Security in its entirety all got together and said, “You know what? We can compete. We can develop, and we can be a major player.” I couldn’t be more proud to be associated with a group of people and a company like this.
EDITOR: What particular challenges have you seen over the years in working with retail LP executives? Do you have any advice that you might give to other solution providers in how they approach and deal with retail asset protection?
GRADY: What would once have been a typical service offering or solution that we would engage with a loss prevention executive to reach an agreement—those days don’t exist anymore. Several areas or levels within retail need to buy into a solution and agree to a contract. We have to be able to migrate from the loss prevention executive to the chief financial officer to the chief information officer to the chief technical officer, and I think that is a challenge as it relates to all service providers.
We have to be fully prepared to provide solutions to multiple levels of large corporate organizations, whereas in the past we’ve been able to seal the deal with the executive directors and vice presidents of loss prevention. We’re are forever working to develop and improve diversity in our product and service offerings and diversity throughout our relationships within corporate retail.
EDITOR: Through the years and certainly under your leadership, Vector has established quite a brand in the industry where they work with various associations. Speak a little bit about the NRF and RILA if you would and what your involvement has been in branding Vector as a leader.
GRADY: I’m involved with a lot of organizations throughout many industries in North America, but I think that retail offers some of the most relevant and strongest associations with NRF (National Retail Federation) and RILA (Retail Industry Leaders Association).
We cut our teeth with RILA. Promoting us as a viable member and introducing us to the conferences created a great deal of brand acknowledgment for us. They were just pivotal in our growth and success at the time. We couldn’t have done it without them.
We got into RILA first and thought, “Boy, we better put our best on before we join the National Retail Federation. This is a big show, right?” We finally got the gumption and the confidence to join them as well. My loyalty at the time—I have to be honest with you—was always to RILA because they were the ones that brought us to the dance. But once we got in with NRF, there was an equal amount of support, of contribution, and of providing brand acknowledgment for us and brand exposure for us in the industry.
I did accept a position on the steering committee at RILA. I served there for probably close to ten years under a number of leaders who ran that board, and I felt it very worthwhile. It provided me exposure to some of the largest loss prevention retailers and exposure to some of the most impressive loss prevention executives.
EDITOR: You are a founding board member of the Loss Prevention Foundation and remain a director of the board. How did that relationship start?
GRADY: It started with a conversation I had with Gene Smith. The foundation was looking to create a board of directors. I think he spent quite a bit of time drawing from loss prevention retail executives, and as I recall, his comment to me was, “We want to diversify the board. We want to start with a couple of solutions providers. Would you be interested?” And I said, “Absolutely.” Our culture at Vector is centered around development by education. The foundation was consistent with what we wanted to do in retail loss prevention. So I was all in.
I remember asking him how many other solutions providers were going to be there. He said two. I later found out that it was Tyco. But that wasn’t important to me. The only thing that was important to me was one of my best buddies in the industry was going to be representing this company on the other side of the tracks. So it was me and Kevin Lynch who were walking in there, proud as peacocks, beating our chests saying, “We did this. We were the two guys that went for it.”
Little did we know the amount of work that we’d have to put in to make it work. We were hand in hand with the other executives from the foundation and the board to make this thing real, to validate it, and to announce it throughout the industry. Kevin and I, our job at the time, was to spread the word through whatever means we had to drive the interest level and need for loss prevention certification. So we did, and it’s been one of the most unbelievable and worthwhile experiences I’ve ever had in my life.
It’s just been absolutely spectacular to see these hundreds of loss prevention professionals create even more of a profound impact on retail through education and certification. It’s really cool, and Kevin and I still can high five each other over a pint of Guinness.
EDITOR: You and Vector had a profound effect on the foundation in leading the effort for the scholarship program. Could you speak a little bit about what the scholarship program has been to the foundation and to the industry and the support that Vector has given it?
GRADY: The executive committee wanted to figure out a way to award scholarships. So we had to figure out a way to promote scholarships, to create a higher level of importance. How were we going to do that? How were we going to make this something that loss prevention professionals would consider a real honor to achieve?
Vector promoted the scholarship awards as a member of the board of directors and a foundation sponsor. We created campaigns around awarding these scholarships to up-and-coming retail loss prevention professionals. However, as opposed to us just providing them with the scholarship and saying, “You’re awarded a scholarship,” I wanted them to work for it. I wanted them to feel the need and have a sense of achievement and accomplishment. So we developed an application process. We weren’t shy about letting them know the study time involved, the expense of the scholarship, and the benefits from being LPQ and LPC certified.
We built the entire campaign around, “This is what you need to do. If you want to be successful in loss prevention, you need to be certified. And instead of you paying for it, we’ll award it to you if you qualify.” So it was a national campaign, and that same campaign continues to this day. It was important to all of us that we very carefully selected those individuals that we felt met the qualifications to be awarded a scholarship.
Interestingly enough, the applications started to pile on. It was incredible. Over 100, then 150, then 180, then we hit 200. The LP community was responding. We graded every single application, and still do today. Then we celebrated when the applicant was chosen. All of a sudden, we started getting letters and emails and phone calls and repeat applicants that received LPQ and then applied for LPC. It became a program that was acknowledged and sought-after by loss prevention professionals throughout the industry.
I am very proud of the efforts that my team put forth to generate excitement to promote loss prevention scholarships. I see other service providers doing the same, and it makes me even happier. As much as we can get out there and award loss prevention professionals to be able to expand and extend their educations and further themselves up the ladder of loss prevention, the better off it is. We’ve award 286 scholarships awarded to date.
EDITOR: That is terrific. Vector is also the premier sponsor of the foundation’s Swing for Certification golf event. The foundation is so blessed to have Vector and your support. Anything else that you might want to comment about the golf event?
GRADY: The gentleman who is running the foundation right now—Terry Sullivan—talk about getting people excited around an event like the Swing for Certification. He’s been the driver behind this effort. Vector just jumped on the bandwagon with him. Everybody’s been involved with it—loss prevention professionals, executives, service providers. It’s just really taken off. We’re looking forward to this year. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get together in October.
EDITOR: On the personal side, do you have any particular plans for the future after retirement? Do you have some things on your bucket list?
GRADY: I’ve been on the road traveling for many years. My family is safe and healthy, and everybody’s in check, thank God. Spending more time with family and a lot more time on the golf course is my immediate mission in retirement. If I can get that accomplished in the first year, I will consider myself very fortunate. So that’s about it—just to relax a little bit, spend family time, and maybe a little bit more time on the golf course and a little bit more time in the stream. I love fly fishing and do quite a bit of fly fishing in the mountains.
EDITOR: You mentioned that you travel a lot. You have constantly been on the road servicing your customers and your clients. What are some of your favorite cities that you’ve been to?
GRADY: I think my favorite city of them all, I happen to be sitting in right now. Pittsburgh is where I was born and raised. It’s my home and will always be my favorite city. But the two that follow would be Boston and San Francisco. There are some great people in those cities that I enjoy professionally and personally visiting, and that said, I just love those two cities quite a bit.
EDITOR: Do you have a favorite golf course?
GRADY: I want to preface this by saying that I don’t mean to boast, but I’ve had the opportunity through Vector to play in courses all over North America, the Caribbean, and Ireland. If I wasn’t employed by Vector, I never would have been able to play a lot of them. But my belief, really, is it’s the people that you’re playing with that create the most memorable experience. I would have to say, based on that, Pebble Beach is number one. It might not be the best track, but every time I play Pebble with my business associates or personal friends, we just have a blast.
EDITOR: It’s been a delight to have this interview with you this morning, and it’s been very special for me over the years to have a relationship with you. So I thank you on part of the magazine and those in the industry who know and have been supportive and trusting of Mike Grady.
GRADY: I appreciate that, and I appreciate the time that you spent. I’m honored that you selected me. God bless and good health and safety to you.