Dan Provost, LPC, is vice president of global loss prevention for Staples. His retail career began more than 25 years ago as a store manager in a small-box retailer. Provost has served in various roles since that time with ToysRUs and is currently approaching his sixteenth year of service at Staples. He is a charter member of The Loss Prevention Foundation, where he serves on the board of directors, and a member of the editorial board for LP Magazine. This 2013 interview details the reorganization of the retail loss prevention and asset protection team at Staples.
EDITOR: How did you get started in loss prevention at Staples?
PROVOST: I started off here in 1999 running store operations, and not too long after, I was asked to lead the retail loss prevention team. To be honest, until they approached me about it, I had never considered working in LP. But once I got into it, I realized that for an operator like me it was a natural fit. I think the Staples leadership took a bold chance giving me loss prevention, and I will always be grateful for that. They obviously saw something that I didnt. Since then, Ive moved back and forth a few times between operations, store systems, and LP, but I always come back to LP. Its hard for me to believe this, but Ive been with Staples for almost fifteen years now, so I guess you can say that I bleed Staples red.
EDITOR: How have your jobs and functions outside of LP prepared you for your current role?
PROVOST: I actually have a pretty diverse background outside of LP. Ive been in merchandising, supply chain, logistics, distribution, store systems, and, of course, store operations. That may seem strange, but the truth is that each one of these experiences prepared me to be an LP professional in some way. Because I had an understanding of a number of different retail disciplines, it was easier for me to understand the LP aspects of each. I always recommend that people explore different parts of the business for career opportunities. You can always come back to LP if thats really your calling, but the knowledge you pick up along the way can set you apart from other LP professionals.
EDITOR: What do you like about working in retail loss prevention thats different from some of the other functions youve experienced?
PROVOST: The thing that I love the most about LP is the ability to be strategic. In store operations, it can be really difficult to plan a five-year strategy and see it through, but in LP, you can create a solid five-year plan, execute it, and witness the results. Its very rewarding. Weve had a lot of success over the years as an organization. I know some LP industry professionals may disagree with me, but my belief is that our success has been a result of one simple principle: Control what we can control, and contain what we cant control. In practice, this means we end up focusing primarily on internal loss prevention. We keep tabs on external theft, but weve got programs to contain that. My teams focus is and always will be all about controlling internal loss. Remember, its all about need and opportunity. Our job is to make people believe that the opportunity to commit internal theft just isnt there.
EDITOR: When did you take the helm as VP of global loss prevention?
PROVOST: It was December 2012 when I took on the responsibility for all of the various LP teams as part of our overall company reinvention strategy. Since then weve worked very hard to find synergies among the teams, and weve done some intense cross-training of our associates. Prior to assuming the global role, I was responsible for LP for all Staples U.S. retail stores and distribution centers, which was in itself a pretty big job. We put up some amazing results in those years, and Im extremely proud of the things we accomplished.
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EDITOR: What changes did you make from the global perspective?
PROVOST: From day one, we had some big decisions to make with regards to our team structure. I was fortunate to be working with high-performing teams that had achieved terrific results over the years. As I mentioned previously, Staples kicked off the reinvention of the entire company back in the fall of 2012, and at that time we had a retail loss prevention team and an asset protection team focused on different parts of the business. The skill bases of these teams were similar, so the big question was, Should we leave things as they are, or should we create one integrated team made up of multi-talented LP professionals? Ultimately we decided that we could support our companys growth initiatives far better if we were able to create one integrated team, so thats what weve been working on since February of this year. Creating the plan to restructure this team would not have been possible without the guidance and support of Steve Bacica [see sidebar] and my business partners Lynn Shibley, Hank Tarbi, and Todd Fischer. They were instrumental in helping us think about structure, roles and responsibilities, and, probably most importantly, leading and living through change. We started by creating a set of guiding principles for the reorganization, and then we used that as a foundation to structure the department in a way that we think will have the most payoff long-term.
EDITOR: What were your guiding principles?
PROVOST: We followed five guiding principles. One, no sacred-cow programs. Two, protect every LP critical function, and dovetail with the reinvention of Staples. Three, create a career path for every single LP associate. Four, provide cross-training and development for all team members. And five, assume innocence. While these might seem simplistic, in reality theyre hard to do in a massive restructuring like this.
EDITOR: How did you restructure the organization?
PROVOST: We could have organized the group in a number of different ways and done just fine, but we chose to structure the team completely in a way that would support the future business needs. We looked at everything. Every program, every policy and procedure, literally everything we spent money on. There was quite a bit of nervousness when it was announced that we would combine the teams, and thats to be expected, but Steve and I really went out of our way to assure everyone that our true goal was to combine great teams. In the end we eliminated a ton of duplicity and a significant amount of extraneous cost. During reorgs like this, its not uncommon for people to let their fears get the best of them and seek alternate employment. We didnt want that to happen with this group, and I guess our message was compelling. Im very pleased that everyone trusted us enough to work through it.
EDITOR: What do the changes mean for the people in the field?
PROVOST: Under the old structure, a field LP manager would have had responsibility for stores or distribution centers or fulfillment centers, and they were mutually exclusive. In the new structure, a field LP manager has responsibility for a geographic area. If there are stores in that area, they own them. If there are distribution centers or fulfillment centers, they own those as well. Its a cool way to structure the team because everyone has an opportunity to grow and learn new things. The team will continue to become more multi-talented. Short-term, this was definitely the hard way, but long-term, this structure will pay huge dividends for the business.
EDITOR: What are you responsible for outside of the field?
PROVOST: Ive got a number of great teams based here in Framingham, including inventory and shortage control, claims and recovery, e-commerce fraud, internal fraud and investigations, wireless fraud, physical security, LP operations, and environmental health, safety, and regulatory. Sounds like a much bigger group than it really is. In reality, its a pretty small team made up of extremely high-performing leaders and associates.
EDITOR: Do you have any special programs or initiatives at Staples to enhance the retail loss prevention function?
PROVOST: Every year, we host an in-house conference to exchange ideas, make sure everyones on the same page, and define the focus of our strategy for the next year. Its far less of a traditional LP conference than you might imagine. Its more of a business meeting. My goal with every conference over the past 10+ years has always been the same. The business presents their strategies, needs, goals, and objectives to us. We determine how best to support those strategies, needs, goals, and objectives. And we deliver training and personal and professional development to the team to enable them to achieve those goals. I cannot emphasize strongly enough just how important our annual conference has been over the years in terms of getting the team on the same page and in making sure that were completely aligned with the business needs. We even have a day dedicated to suppliers showcasing new technologies.
EDITOR: So, within the annual conference, you have a mini-expo dedicated to technology?
PROVOST: Dedicated to technology, yes, but also dedicated to our suppliers. Without our suppliers wed be far less successful. Thats simply a fact. Thats why we make such a big deal out of our supplier day at every conference. We dedicate a full day to our supplier hall and relationship building. We also bring as many of our non-LP senior executives to the event as possible. We ask our suppliers to showcase not just what we currently buy from them, but also products and services they offer that we dont buy, or havent yet. Its always amazing to see the reactions of the non-LP senior execs when we show them the cutting-edge technology that is available to support their goals. As a result, every year they launch new product pilots, tests, and proofs of concept after the supplier show.
On a separate note, Im also extremely proud to say that our Staples LP associates and our suppliers raised almost $4,000 for charity at the 2013 conference, including $1,500 for the LP Foundation benevolence hardship fund.
EDITOR: What is a typical day in the life of Dan Provost like?
PROVOST: Im an early riser, so my day generally starts around 4:30 a.m. My wife Leslie and I hang out and have coffee, watch the news, and chat. I get to work between 7:00 and 7:30. From there the fun begins, and I have meetings and numerous phone calls with my team. I have always seen my role as the person that ensures that the team gets what they need to do the job and succeed. I am adamant that we have a seat at the table on every initiative and decision that the organization makes. We advise and consult, but we never say No. Our job is to present the risks and offer alternatives to the business, not to mandate the outcome.
EDITOR: How do you ensure a good balance between work and a quality of life outside of work?
PROVOST: One of the best answers Ive ever heard to that question was thisI think that my first wife would tell you that I wasnt very good at balancing. Its a great answer because its honest. Getting ahead and climbing the corporate ladder is all well and good, but at the end of the day its about spending time with the people you love. Ive gotten far better at that in the last five years, and Im pretty sure that getting it right, striking the right balance, has made me a better leader.
EDITOR: You are a member of the board of directors of the LP Foundation. What do you think of the Foundation and other industry organizations and educational initiatives?
PROVOST: To be honest, for many years, I was unaffiliated with any of the industry organizations. It wasnt because they arent all great groups with great people; I just never felt a compelling reason to join. Then I was introduced to Gene Smith and the LP Foundation. Its hard not to get inspired when you listen to Gene, but it was his message that resonated with me. The LP Foundation is the only industry organization that focuses solely on the personal and professional development of the individual. Once I understood that, I was hooked. I am a true believer in the mission and goals of the Foundation. I am extremely proud to be a member of the board of directors, and I preach the word everywhere I go. We actually were the first retailer in the history of the Foundation to offer tuition reimbursement to our associates.
EDITOR: When did you start doing that?
PROVOST: We started in 2009. It became apparent when I was pitching certification internally that people didnt always have the cash necessary for a LPC or LPQ certificate just lying around, so I organized for the company to reimburse tuition for people who wanted to take the courses and get certified. Im proud that we were the first retailer on the planet to do it.
EDITOR: Obviously, you take pride in developing your people. Along your career, were there mentors who helped push you along?
PROVOST: When I first took over the Staples retail loss prevention team back in 2001, I was getting lots of advice from just about everyone, and quite honestly, it was a bit overwhelming. Then I was introduced to Dave Gorman. Dave had recently retired from Walmart after 20 or more years and was starting a consulting business. To this day, I will never know exactly why Dave took me under his wing, made me his project, but he did. He helped me to hone the focus and the strategy for the Staples LP team. As I said earlier, our strategy remains the same to this day. I cant tell you how many times Dave came out to visit with me, walk stores, and just generally make sure that everything was working as planned. We had weekly, sometimes daily, calls, and we developed a strong friendship. Even though Dave was consulting for a living by this time, he would never take a dime from me. Everything that Dave Gorman did to launch my LP career, he did at his own expense. Thats the kind of guy Dave was; just an amazing, true gentleman in every sense of the word. I miss him very much. [Editors Note: Dave Gorman died in May 2012.]
SIDEBAR: The View of Retail Loss Prevention from the Corporate Controller
Stephen Bacica was the senior vice president and corporate controller for Staples until June 2014. This 2013 interview illuminates the nuances of his role in overseeing the retail loss prevention department at Staples.
EDITOR: What did you do before you came to Staples?
BACICA: Before Staples, I was the EVP, CFO, and treasurer of MCG Capital Corporation, a business development company (BDC) based out of Arlington, Virginia. A BDC functions similarly to a private equity firm. We had investments across 30 different industries, which gave me both an investors perspective and an operators perspective when taking on new challenges and looking at business opportunities. Prior to MCG, I was with Marriott International in corporate accounting and transaction support roles, and I started my career in accounting with PricewaterhouseCoopers. I also spent three years with the Securities and Exchange Commission as a financial regulator.
EDITOR: How do you like your first adventure in overseeing retail loss prevention function?
BACICA: I really enjoy overseeing loss prevention. It gets me closer to the core operations of the company, and it has accelerated my on-boarding into the industry. It is incredibly exciting being part of the LP team during the reinvention of Staples.
EDITOR: What LP-relevant assets does a financial background bring to the table?
BACICA: A financial background provides a great analytical backdrop when tackling LP challenges. I spent four years evaluating scores of business plans during the financial crisis and recession with MCGs middle-market investments. I saw what worked and what didnt work. That broad background really helped me to be a quick study on operating models.
EDITOR: What do you find most difficult about the new role?
BACICA: I think the toughest part of the role is getting ahead of e-commerce challenges in the dot-com world. Although I was responsible for information technology at MCG, the scale related to LP is much greater at Staples, and there are many more moving parts.
EDITOR: What are your views on the people youve met in LP?
BACICA: I greatly admire my LP team. They are incredibly engaged with their work, theyre loyal to each other, and theres a special bond across the LP team. Its similar to the bonds that you see with first responders and other close, disciplined groups. The Staples team is amazing: a very tight-knit group of professionals. I think our group is successful because they are viewed as business partners on the broader operational front. The Staples LP team is well respected throughout the global Staples organization.
EDITOR: How do you, as the corporate controller, contribute to the LP function?
BACICA: The financial backdrop of the controllership function helps to highlight the business equation when deciding on resources to employ in the LP mission. Also, risk mitigation and the performance emphasis in the control environment are key principles both in LP and with the controllership function. There are more similarities than first meet the eye.
This article was originally published in 2013 and was updated January 12, 2016.