The retail asset protection industry lost one of its most interesting and popular people with the recent passing of Larry R. Yeager after a long and painful fight against a non-malignant brain tumor. He had retired in late 2012 after a distinguished 20-year career as the general manager of Alpha Security Products, which was acquired by Checkpoint Systems a number of years ago. Under his indomitable leadership, the terms “keeper,” “spider wrap,” and “3-alarm” became an integral part of the item-level security arsenal used by retailers all over the world. He was often referred to by his coworkers as “the Mayor of Alpha.”
In the fifteen years prior to his tenure at Alpha, Larry had founded CheckMate, an EAS manufacturer, and Trident, a manufacturer of security fixtures for apparel and other retail merchandise. After Protex acquired his company, Larry continued on as the vice president of marketing for a few years before moving to Alpha.
Larry’s real legacy is the impressive array of positive character traits he possessed, and the larger-than-life way that he impacted the people around him.
Fiercely patriotic, he served in Vietnam with the US Navy. In fact, his leadership style favored many of the team-building principles and tactics used by the military. If you were one of his people, he had your back, no matter what. He demanded excellence and integrity. “Larry instilled in each of us that if we always do the right thing, we would never regret it.” wrote Gus Kratzer, a long-time Alpha sales manager. “My favorite line from him is ‘don’t confuse arrogance for confidence.’”
Carlos Perez, Alpha’s former vice president of marketing, reminded us that “Larry was well known within the LP fraternity as an innovator with several of the Alpha patents bearing his name. He was a problem solver and an ethical solutions provider whose word was his bond.”
Larry was not politically correct—a trait that I particularly like. He was direct, and sometimes blunt, but he called everything exactly how he saw it, providing praise as well as constructive criticism. Jennifer Cairns, Larry’s long-time assistant, summed up Larry’s business character perfectly: “He was a mentor, leader, friend who taught, provided guidance, direction, and instilled confidence in you when you thought you didn’t have any. He empowered you to make decisions on your own—even if it wasn’t the right one—and encouraged you to dream and strive for the impossible. He was loyal, full of integrity, charismatic, and most of all, he gave and forgave.”
He worked and played really hard. He liked his steaks “black and blue” accompanied by vodka martinis. “Whenever Larry would go to a party or out to dinner, he would pack four olives stuffed with blue cheese for his Absolute,” recalled Lance Weeden, Alpha’s head of international sales. He also liked hot peppers and carried a mini-bottle of Tabasco in his pocket that he sprinkled on everything—including breakfast.
Larry never shied away from a spicy challenge, or any other challenge, for that matter. Brad Cheslock, a long-tenured Alpha account manager recalled, “One year Larry, August Polito, and I were having lunch at a new diner near the Alpha office. Larry ordered and asked the waiter to have the cook ‘tune it up a bit.’ When our food arrived, Larry took one bite and began to sweat and choke. August and I looked at each other and said neither of us know the Heimlich maneuver, as the waiter and cook came to assist us. Once Larry regained his composure, the chef asked him if it was hot enough? Larry was still unable to speak as the chef said, ‘I will take that as a yes.’”
Larry was generous, without calling attention to himself. “The year after Alpha changed ownership,” Brad Cheslock recalled, “corporate stopped Alpha’s long-held tradition of providing Thanksgiving turkeys for all of the employees. After unsuccessfully trying to get the decision changed, Larry purchased the turkeys himself. Not many people are aware of this.”
Larry was compassionate, caring, and always ready to be of help. Mark Stinde, working for Circuit City at the time remembered this: “I joined Circuit City in 2007, and Alpha was doing a lot of business with our company. In early 2009, Circuit City closed all 600-plus stores. I am sure that Larry’s company was significantly impacted by the bankruptcy filing. But upon hearing the news, Larry called me to see how my team was doing and how I was doing. He told me that he would do whatever he could do to help me.”
My most memorable encounter with Larry’s kindness took place in 1991. I was meeting with him at Protex headquarters on Long Island, NY, when I was interrupted by a phone call from one of my brothers. Our mother had just suffered a stroke and was in a coma at a hospital about 100 miles away. Hearing the situation, Larry took immediate charge by giving me a hug and comforting me. He then dropped everything he was doing and arranged for a rental car for me. Over the next couple of days, he was in constant contact to make sure that I was okay and to see if he could help. From then on, we became fast and close friends.
Larry Yeager will be mourned and missed by many people. But to his family, friends, teammates, customers, and competitors, he will never be forgotten. Mark Stinde offered a poignant final message: “I pray for long golden roads and pristine Corvettes for your eternity. I will miss you my friend.”
AUTHOR’S NOTE: I knew Larry for almost 40 years. We worked, shared cocktails, and socialized together on countless occasions, and he was one of my very best friends. I reached out to a small number of Larry Yeager’s coworkers, friends, customers, and competitors for their thoughts and observations. The written comments exceed 2,000 words. Reading them in their entirety during a single sitting gives me the feeling that we are having a celebration of Larry’s life, like he would have wanted had there been an organized service. I can’t speak for the others, but thinking and writing about his life, and reading the reflections of others has lessened my sadness at his passing.