EDITOR’S NOTE: David Johnston is vice president of asset protection and retail operations for the NRF where he is focused on initiatives and member programs, facilitating engagement across the industry, and promoting best practices and policy initiatives related to crime, violence, loss, and issues challenging the profitability of retail store operations.
With over three decades of global loss prevention and corporate security expertise, he spent the last eight years as the senior global security executive for Inspire Brands, an international restaurant company representing 32,000 restaurants across sixty-five countries. Prior to that, Johnston worked as a practitioner for Dunkin’ Brands, J. Baker, and Jordan Marsh. He also spent half of his career as a solution provider and consultant supporting hundreds of retailers across various segments with LP Innovations and Datavantage/micros.
Christian Beckner is NRF’s vice president of retail technology and cybersecurity where he works with policy and industry stakeholders on critical technology issues that affect the retail sector, including cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, payments technologies, and cloud services. He leads NRF’s CIO Council, Technology Leadership Council, IT Security Council, and cybersecurity program, including the Cyber Risk Exchange. He also supports the development of technology and cybersecurity-related content at NRF’s conferences and events.
Prior to NRF, Beckner spent five years as deputy director of George Washington University’s Center for Cyber and Homeland Security, a think tank where he focused on cybersecurity, counterterrorism, and homeland security. He was previously an associate staff director at the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where he was responsible for coordination of oversight and legislation on a broad range of homeland security and intelligence issues. He has worked on cybersecurity and homeland security issues for close to twenty years, including positions at IBM, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the O’Gara Company.
STEFANIE HOOVER: Help us understand the makeup of the NRF team and your roles?
DAVID JOHNSTON: Even though NRF is one of the world’s largest retail associations, we strive to be a lean organization and focus on how best to serve our membership. Some core functions include government relations, member relations, conferences, content and education, research, and the NRF Foundation. There are additional teams involved in membership support, marketing, public relations, special programs and more. Our role is to support all departments and initiatives as subject-matter experts within each of our disciplines. This includes leading member councils of senior executives who help to define initiatives and benchmark the industry, serving as spokespersons, helping develop content to support our conferences, and assisting government relations to help bring expertise to legislative efforts.
STEFANIE: Tell us about your career path that led you to the NRF. And do you still wake up saying “time to make the doughnuts?”
DAVID: I have been in the retail industry for thirty-five years now, with about half of my years as a practitioner and half as a solution provider. Starting out in department store and specialty retail LP, I transitioned to a consultant and business development role with LP Innovations and Datavantage. In 2014, I transitioned back to a practitioner role leading the global security, loss prevention, and fraud teams with Dunkin’ Brands, and then Inspire Brands when they acquired Dunkin’ in 2020.
When my position with NRF was announced last year, those who were familiar with my career were not surprised. I have always been involved with associations, serving as a board member and president of RLPSA, and a member and committee chair with the NRF LP Advisory Council. I am a constant learner, interested in what is new and next in our industry, and I enjoy building relationships. I see this role with NRF as an opportunity for me to utilize my skills and learnings by giving back to the industry and helping us to continue the evolution, growth, and value of asset protection.
Although the free doughnuts in the office at Dunkin’ were always tempting (so was the free ice cream), I do not wake up wondering about doughnuts anymore. My former team is in great hands with their new leadership. The doughnuts are safe.
STEFANIE: Christian, tell us about your career path and role at NRF?
CHRISTIAN BECKNER: I joined NRF in 2018 after working in a variety of cybersecurity and homeland security policy roles over the prior fifteen years, including as a Senate committee staffer and a leader at a cybersecurity-focused think tank. At NRF I spend part of my timing working on cybersecurity and technology policy issues but a greater part of my time working with the technology and cybersecurity leaders at our member companies on best practices, thought leadership, and information sharing. By working on both policy and member engagement activities, I try to make sure that our policy recommendations are informed by the insights of the technology practitioners in our member companies.
STEFANIE: How do the two of you work together?
DAVID: We both have our individual disciplines, leading member councils, identifying opportunities for industry growth, and acting as subject-matter experts for NRF initiatives. Where we collaborate are areas where cyber, physical, and digital matters converge. Retailers are being threatened and attacked across all aspects of the enterprise. Security professionals, regardless of individual discipline, must collaborate to establish an enterprise security risk management approach to their organizations. Christian and I help to do that through content, engagement, and collaborative efforts like NRF PROTECT, joint exercises, webinars, and benchmarking.
STEFANIE: What are your larger goals for NRF?
CHRISTIAN: Our larger goals always go back to the core principle of providing direct value to our retail members and elevating the industry within the broader public dialogue. David and I both do this through our day-to-day efforts to bring our members together and help them to address challenges that they can’t always address on their own. Retail crime and cybersecurity are definitely two areas where industry-wide collaboration is necessary, and we can provide this type of value.
STEFANIE: Trade shows were severely impacted by COVID-19. Many shuttered their doors and still struggle to regain the foot traffic and solution provider participation of years past. What is NRF doing to attract new visitors to NRF PROTECT?
DAVID: Having been on both sides of the trade show floor during my career, I remember the conversations and decision process about which conferences to attend. NRF PROTECT was always a conference that brought together a diverse group of retailers and one of the largest expos of innovative retail technologies and solutions.
Today, we need to double our efforts to help make that decision easy for those wanting to attend. Focus on what’s next, through collaborative and forward-thinking discussions. Highlight the importance of engaging with solution providers, and bring forth the latest technologies and most trusted solutions. Provide everyone with an individual experience that allows them to bring back to their organization ideas and valuable content for a greater return. This must be our focus in today’s environment.
STEFANIE: Speaking at a trade show might be on a lot of bucket lists for AP professionals. NRF has many breakout sessions during every PROTECT conference. What advice would you give to someone who wants to get involved in a session? What sort of topics are you looking for? What’s the process?
DAVID: Speaking is a great development opportunity. It can be both rewarding and challenging. My advice would be to choose a topic familiar to you and relevant to today. Do not try to speak on a topic just to speak; rather, choose one where you are most knowledgeable and have successful results. Speak to someone with experience presenting at industry conferences. Get their thoughts on your presentation and learn how they went about preparing to speak. I also recommend a book or two about presenting and speaking to get a good foundation on how to prepare, present, and develop presence.
With NRF, you can submit a presentation proposal online each year from our PROTECT website. Once submitted, our content team will discuss with you your topic, discussion points, where your presentation may fit in the planned agenda, and, if chosen, work with you through the process of preparation and presentation.
STEFANIE: Christian, share your thoughts on the value of attending NRF PROTECT.
CHRISTIAN: I think one of the strong value propositions of NRF is that we are bringing together loss prevention, cybersecurity, and fraud prevention professionals at a single event. While we are providing some unique content for each group, the real value here is in the cross-pollination of the three disciplines through discussions about how critical risks to the retail sector require a cross-disciplinary team approach. I also think there is value for attendees to learn more about the related disciplines. For example, I think there is value in LP professionals attending many of the cybersecurity and fraud sessions at the show.
STEFANIE: David when you were a practitioner—many days ago—how did you approach attending NRF PROTECT? Any tips for folks new to this experience?
DAVID: I have always attended NRF PROTECT from a learning perspective. Attend a session or two outside of your direct responsibility or comfort zone. Identify a few solution providers you are not familiar with and spend time learning about their solutions. Find several people you want to meet in the industry and seek out an opportunity to do so at the conference. Meet someone outside of your retail sector or discipline and talk to them about their issues, challenges, and how they solve programs. You may learn something that you can use in your organization—I know I have. The value you receive is very dependent upon the efforts you make at conferences.
STEFANIE: Anything else about NRF PROTECT you want to say?
DAVID: Christian and I look forward to seeing many of your readers at NRF PROTECT. Please be sure to say hello if you see us in the convention halls or at an event. Let’s have a conversation and get to know each other.
STEFANIE: While this article is focused on NRF PROTECT, talk briefly about the other conferences NRF hosts that our readers may be interested in.
CHRISTIAN: NRF has various conferences throughout the year, both virtual and in-person. The largest is Retail’s Big Show, held annually in New York City in January. Retail’s Big Show is the retail industry’s premier event, bringing together attendees from around the globe for three days of great content spanning all retail channels and segments, one of the largest retail expos featuring innovative technologies, and a week of special programs and events celebrating the industry. Other conferences include the NRF Retail Law Summit, NRF Supply Chain 360, and NRF Nexus. You can view all our conferences online at nrf.com.