From Store Detective to the ASIS Board of Directors

From Store Detective to the ASIS Board of Directors

EDITORS NOTE: Linda Florence, CPP, is currently assistant director of security and investigations at The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino in Las Vegas, rated one of the top ten most luxurious resorts in the world. She manages a staff ofover 200 with responsibility for uniformed and plain-clothes officers, internal investigations, vendor due diligence, pre-employment backgrounds, medical and emergency response, special event planning and security, and VIP protection.

Florence began her career as a store detective for Woodard & Lothrop Department Store in Washington, DC, while attending George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. Prior to moving into the gaming and hospitality industry, she spent a number of years in the banking and financial services industry, including holding director of security positions at AmeriBank and Citizens Financial Group.

Florence is extremely active in the industry as a speaker and trainer. She is currently president of the National Professional Certification Board for the American Society for Industrial Security (ASIS) as well as member-elect of the 2002-2004 ASIS Board of Directors. This past year, she earned the Presidents Award of Merit for her fifteen years of leadership in ASIS as well as received the third annual Minot Dodson Award for excellence in the security industry.

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EDITOR: You had a very early start in security. How did you first get interested in security?

FLORENCE: It started, actually, in high school when I interned with the prosecutors office because I thought I wanted to get into law. Then I took my first job in retail security with Woodard & Lothrop Department Store while I was in college. I started working on the floor as a detective and found out I had a real knack for internal investigations. When I started going to court and putting bad guys in jail, I decided Id rather do that than be an attorney. I enjoyed the legal side, but I really loved security work.

EDITOR: What did you think of your experience in retail?

FLORENCE: I would recommend starting out in retail for anyone getting into security. Its such a great training ground. You learn internal investigations, shipping and receiving, cash office, pre-employment screening, physical security. I literally cut my teeth on cameras, splicing wires. I was always the one that went through ceilings to install covert cameras because I was the smallest.

I was also lucky to have the opportunity to work with our corporate investigators a lot because I had so many internal cases. I worked full time in college and was promoted to the flagship store as soon as I graduated.

That was their most difficult store. It was located right downtown DC just three blocks from the White House. Thats where I learned a lot about warehousing and control room operations.

EDITOR: As a young person, what excited you about retail security?

FLORENCE: It was always a challenge. Every day was different. Something was always going on. You worked with the prosecutors office, with law enforcement, the FBI on large cases, the Secret Service on credit card cases. You learn so much because you’re involved in everything.

EDITOR: So, why did you get out of retail?

FLORENCE: I would have loved to have stayed in retail. If Woodies was still there, I would probably still be there. But, Woodies and John Wannamaker Stores merged. The Wannamaker corporate staff was coming in at the same time I had an opportunity to go into the government contracting side. So I left and earned my certification to be a facility security officer, which means I was managing federal government clearances. I was also studying for my CPP exam. Then, luckily, I was offered the director of corporate security position for AmeriBank, a community bank in Virginia.

EDITOR: What differences did you find between the retail and financial industries?

FLORENCE: I really think security is security. You still applied all the basic security and loss prevention concepts. What I did have to learn were the banking laws.

That was really how I talked my way through the interview. I had never worked in a bank. But here I was corporate security director because I knew security. I dont think you have to know banking to know security. You can learn banking. Its like coming to the casino. You can learn the casino and gaming regulations relatively quickly. You cant learn security overnight.

EDITOR: How did you get from banking to the casino industry?

FLORENCE: Through a series of mergers and acquisitions, actually. AmeriBank was bought by First Union. I closed down AmeriBank and took First Unions offer to relocate to their headquarters in Charlotte, NC. There I was doing contingency planning for the corporation, including business continuity. While I was there I spent a year and a half working on executive protection and emergency procedures surrounding the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Then, I received an offer I couldnt refuse to go to Fidelity Investments in Boston to start up what they called their Executive Support Services, or executive protection. I was later recruited by a headhunter for the vice president of security position at Citizens Financial Group in Providence, RI. While I was there, working on the Y2K conversion,my position was eliminated. Thats when we decided to move to Las Vegas, so my husband could take the director of surveillance position at The Mirage.

EDITOR: Its interesting that your husband is also in security.

FLORENCE: Thats right. Douglas and I have similar backgrounds. We both started in retail. Were both members of ASIS. Thats how we met, in fact, at an ASIS conference. He was chairman of the standing committee on gaming and I was on the banking and finance committee at the time. Were both CPPs. So, we get to do a lot of ASIS activities and public speaking together. In fact, we just returned from two weeks in Australia where we both spoke at several security conferences.

Douglas is now working for ADT/Tyco as the gaming and hospitality business development manager. Hes their gaming guy. He really knows the equipment, the laws, all the compliance requirements.

EDITOR: It must be difficult with both of you having significant careers.

From Store Detective to the ASIS Board of DirectorsFLORENCE:Fortunately, in security, you can live almost anywhere. When I got the job offer from Fidelity, he gave up his job as director of surveillance at The Rio in Las Vegas to go to Boston. After Citizens, I was really close to another job in Boston, but he really wanted to come home to Las Vegas. (Douglas is a native of Las Vegas and his family is here.) So, I figured, it was his turn to move for his career.

EDITOR: You mentioned your involvement in ASIS. How did you first get involved in ASIS and why?

FLORENCE: One of my co-workers at Woodies took me to a local meeting at the DC chapter, and I was hooked. I really enjoyed the networking. The professional development. The ability to have challenging professional conversations.The peer groups that you can bounce things off of and not worry about who you work for. Ive found the networking to be absolutely invaluable. I cant tell you the number of times Ive called somebody that maybe I had met one time who I knew had a similar situation. You call him up to say Help me out. Then, you look like a hero simply because you knew who to call. Its especially helpful when youre in a top job. Youre expected to know. Ive never claimed to know everything, but I do know to call somebody. People in ASIS are so willing to help you, especially in the CPP environment. Im sure the same is true in the NRF, IMRA, or FMI.

EDITOR: You’ve been involved in ASIS leadership positions for 15 years, how do you handle the time and expense commitment?

FLORENCE:Thats simply part of who I am. Sometimes you can negotiate into a new job certain commitments to allow you the time and expenses. But over the years, I would guess that my employers have picked up less than half of the expenses due, travel, conference fees. I’ve done it mostly on my own. Ive had to take vacation to go to conferences and pay out of my own pocket. But I really think its worthwhile. Its one of those things that you get out of it what you put into it. My feeling is that even though my employer may not support it, I dont think thats an excuse for me to let my professionalism drop. I hear a lot, My boss wont pay for it. So what, if its important to you, youll pay for it.

EDITOR: Self-education and professionalism are obviously very important to you. How does that relate to young people moving up in their career?

FLORENCE: You’ve got to be willing to do just about anything. Thats why retail LP is such a great training ground. Learn as much as you can at work.

But also get involved in security-related activities outside of work. Go to presentations. I was a $6 an hour store detective, but I went to ASIS meetings. You dont have to be a director to go. I also studied for the CPP. My company didnt make me do it. I even earned my PI license and became a compliance agent for the state of Virginia. You have to do things like that on your own.

Take advantage of all the free opportunities you can. There are so many great publications you can read like LossPrevention. Trade shows come to town and the exhibits are free. As I tell my staff now, youre a fool if you dont go.

You can learn so much by talking to vendors and others in the industry. Learn as much of the different aspects of security as you can. Its a broad industry.

But at the same time, you have to learn the business side management and leadership skills. You have to have the whole package to earn to top jobs. Finally, but maybe the most important, you have to have unwavering ethics and integrity. That has to be at your core. Its such a huge part of being a security professional.

EDITOR: What about your advice to women in the security and loss prevention profession?

FLORENCE:I think you have to do the same thing, only better. The worst thing you can do is pull the Im a woman card, because you don’t want to get where you are because youre female. The last thing I would want to think is that I was made president of the certification board because they had never had a woman. I want to know that I earned the job, even though Im the first. Understand that its a male-dominated industry. It has been for a long time, and it may never change completely simply because of the nature of the business. But you cant let that deter you.

Also, issues of ethics and character are even more important, because now you get into issues of morality. You have to be absolutely above reproach.
As a manager, use your feminine traits to your advantage. Its our nature to be a little more nurturing, a little more conciliatory, a little more facilitating, more intuitive in our management style.

EDITOR: It must be somewhat of a challenge being both young and female as a security director.

From Store Detective to the ASIS Board of DirectorsFLORENCE: Every job interview Ive ever had that issue has come up. How are you going to do this job as a woman?How are you going to manage guys who have twenty-five years experience in law enforcement?

You have to prove you know what youre doing. You have to earn their respect. At the same time, you cant allow someone to be condescending. You have to call them on it right away. However, being forceful as a woman comes across differently than being forceful as a man. Women have to be a little more careful about how they go about asserting themselves. You have to be a little more explanatory. You should take the opportunity to teach somebody why youre doing it the way youre doing it. By explaining your position, you can help prove you know what youre talking about when you make that first unpopular decision.

EDITOR: Thats very sage advice. Have you had mentors along the way that have given you advice?

FLORENCE: Two come to mind. The first one was the person who first told me, You can do this job. That was Lee Offenbacher, the vice president of loss prevention at Woodies. He told me not to let the fact that I was young and female bother me. He was a total professional. That was the attitude he instilled in his staff.

He also provided me opportunities to get experience that I might otherwise not get. For example, if I started an investigation, instead of taking it away from me, he gave me somebody to help me so I could learn.

EDITOR: And the second mentor?

FLORENCE: That would be John Cholewa, CPP. Hes the manager of global security for Amazon.com. I met him through ASIS. He was on the certification board when I was first appointed. We worked very closely together on the board. I learned so much from him. We might be working on a CPP test question, for example, and he would educate me on something I had never heard of before. It may have had nothing to do with security, but it was valuable. Hes one of those rare people in your lifetime who make a huge impact on you.

Thats another thing I would tell young people, you have to reach out to people. Thats how you find a mentor. You cant sit back and wait for someone to mentor you. If you reach out, people will reciprocate. And you’ll both be better off for it.

EDITOR: We very much appreciate you taking the time to talk to us. One last thing: Whats next for Linda Florence?

FLORENCE: Im continuing my education. Im working on a masters degree in industrial and organizational psychology with a focus in workplace violence prevention. I plan to continue on to earn my Ph.D. in philosophy. Down the road I would like to do more teaching and perhaps some consulting.

But right now, I cant think of anywhere better to be than here at The Venetian. Both my immediate boss and our senior vice president have been so supportive of me personally and my ongoing professional development. It makes such a difference in the level of job satisfaction to have such great support and encouragement.

In the future, The Venetian will be building onto the existing facility to where well one day be the largest resort hotel casino in the world and I want to be part of the expansion. So, Im sure the challenges of this organization will keep me busy for a long time to come.

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