EDITOR’S NOTE: A career in retail loss prevention was never in her sights. Jennifer Schaefer’s childhood desire to be an oceanographer has been turned on its head. Instead of plunging to new depths, she’s managed to conquer new heights in the loss prevention industry. This article first appeared in the Spring 2021 edition of LP Magazine Europe. For more articles from the Europe magazine, visit their website.
As a teenager, I looked at being an oceanographer or marine biologist. There are definitely many degrees of separation from my initial interests to my expansive career in loss prevention and asset protection. Did I ever believe I’d be working for Fortune 100 and 500 companies in my past and current roles? No. Looking back at the overarching picture of my life, however, I can see the individual stepping-stones and opportunities that presented themselves and led me here.
I see my career as a kaleidoscope. When you hold up the eyepiece and look within, you can see vibrant colors layered in facets. One small turn to the left or right changes the colors and shapes, and a new picture forms. In my career, I have made both small and large turns. Each turn has displayed a fascinating array of vibrant colors and opportunities. The various shapes and colors illustrate all the changes made and roads taken towards the next adventure. These turns were based on portfolio management and overall leadership development.
My Career Path
My professional picture began taking shape when I worked for a judge as a judicial law clerk in the criminal court system. I reviewed additional opportunities in the field, which led to a brief tenure in city work, and finally set my roots within the retail industry at Target Corporation. I progressed forward in the retail arena managing a multitude of teams focused on safety, theft, and fraud in a variety of bricks-and-mortar locations.
I left that role to pursue an opportunity with Caribou Coffee Company. I assisted in building the loss prevention department, which grew to incorporate managing the activity for more than 410 company and licensed locations. The role encompassed employee relations, investigations, program development, safety, theft and fraud education, quality assurance, brand and logo infringement, and other legal areas. The role at Caribou afforded enormous growth and development in a company heavily engaged in creating a positive, diverse corporate culture. Building a department from the ground-up was not only inspiring but also allowed for an opportunity to imprint upon the brand.
Eight years later, I moved on to the US security team for McDonald’s Corporation. I was afforded the opportunity to oversee brand protection, life safety, and security for six regions, which included approximately 2,100 company and franchise locations. In addition to field work, I helped to manage projects such as mobile order and pay, loyalty card programs, gift card fraud, and global mobile app abuse, as well as leading the communication and training team, workplace-violence initiative, and life safety for all employees. I worked and travelled with restaurant personnel, field service support, and regional business partners protecting the brand, restaurants, and employees. The time spent with McDonald’s serving millions of people across the globe increased my exposure to and elevated my standards for global safety and security.
While staying within the criminal justice portfolio, I recently took a leap of faith and landed on both feet as part of the wireless industry working for T-Mobile as a field asset protection manager supporting multi-state corporate locations. My role allows for engagement at all levels in the business ensuring the protection of people, brand, and profitability. I absolutely love engaging with my teams in support of our consumer markets. I have the opportunity and pleasure of partnering with our multi-faceted customer and employee base, including internal and external business plans. I feel fortunate being able to support teams, consult cross-functional department peers, and lead initiatives, including mentoring others through company programming.
My career span has afforded me the ability to build departments, relocate across the country, oversee existing initiatives, and implement change. I’ve enjoyed both industry recognition and personal accomplishments throughout the years. Each of my varied experiences has been an intrinsic piece of my overall development in the industry.
I have found it interesting to reflect upon feedback from peers and colleagues over the years. Some sound bites include “a rolling stone which gathers no moss,” “runs on high-octane jet fuel,” and “passion is contagious.” Running off high-octane jet fuel is a drive I have possessed all my life. I pride myself on being a premier contributor and conduit of communication, engaged in all levels of business, and focused upon employee and customer needs, while ensuring brands are protected. I am blessed to have brought my passion for people, operational discipline, and protection to a variety of teams, making an exponential difference in lives touched.
The Women of Loss Prevention
In any industry, a level of myth surrounds gender-equality issues, including salary disparity, promotability, titles, positions, roles, and responsibilities. In several of my past positions, I was the only female in the department and/or the only individual who had certain educational attainments and certifications in my peer group. I felt fortunate and humbled to have those opportunities and to bring my passion and extroversion to the department or company. And even though I am well educated and in possession of a competitive portfolio, I am mindful of past roles where male peers have been paid significantly more for the same job or the defined desired qualifications. All but one of my past leaders have been men, and the one woman came from operations, which was unprecedented at the time.
Being an independent, confident woman in a leadership role in the loss prevention industry can be perceived in various ways. I’ve been fortunate in my career to work with fantastic women and men who not only shared in the success of colleagues but also shared promotion opportunities, partnered on team-driven initiatives, and embraced being stronger together. The support has been amazing as well as refreshing. During those interactions, it is always critical to share knowledge, stretch boundaries, and expand upon the gender limitations intrinsically found in a male-dominated industry.
It is also critical to maintain a competitive edge through continued professional and academic development and industry certifications that fit your individual needs, wants, and desires as experiences evolve. I have my master’s in criminal justice leadership and my Loss Prevention Certification (LPC) from the Loss Prevention Foundation (LPF), which is flexible and always evolving based on the industry.
I’ve also found, as a woman in the industry, that it’s imperative to maintain a network of peers, partners, and mentors across various categories and to maintain a sense of subject-matter expertise. While specialization helps, it’s just as important to diversify and maintain a high level of general knowledge to successfully evolve and transition with the changes in the LP industry. Also, become active in various industry organizations and seek leadership positions. For example, I am an active member sitting on the Loss Prevention Foundation Advisory Council.
The Pandemic Workspace
As loss prevention professionals, we continually lead and protect against loss in all environments, including a pandemic workspace. Ensuring our teams are safe through consistent communication, empathetic understandings, and endless protection resources has been top priority. Frequently touching base to confirm all voices are heard through various channels is critical to meet the needs and challenges faced daily. It is imperative to identify immediate needs and then shift, massage, and reprioritize individual and team workloads.
During the past year, the T-Mobile company culture and executive leadership have been nothing but world-class and exemplary. Collaboration and creative mindsets have been critical, as was learning to utilize technology for creative interaction with our employees and customers in remote environments. And remaining open to feedback during these unprecedented times has built upon the company’s already strong foundation and filled previously unidentified gaps.
We each make decisions daily regarding when or where to focus our drive. Most importantly, we must each decide to bring our individual best to work. I think it is critical to reflect upon our impact and to look forward strategically. What legacy do you want to live versus leave behind? What shoes do you want to walk in? We should always dig deep within and determine our leadership mantra. What makes each of us different than the next? If it’s a small glimmer or spark, allow it to shine and share it with others.
As you continue to grow, develop, and shape your career path, a multitude of opportunities will arise internally and externally. Never turn a blind eye on what could be. Remove any limited visibility and keep your head on a swivel to continually evaluate your needs and wants for development and self-enhancement.
All paths taken truly prepare you for the next step in life and become part of your personal brand. Never devalue yourself or your experience. Continue to invent and reinvest in yourself as you move forward through life’s chapters. Remember that it’s alright to pick a different lane from your peers, and while there may be speed traps and potholes, enjoy the ride.
Challenge yourself daily as it is critical to your growth. And take pride in your work, from the planning and implementation to the finished product.
One last bit of advice: the ability to show empathy and sympathy and to work with teams is invaluable. Truly connect with the human dynamic and take care of your team, always ensuring to leave no one behind. Celebrate team wins and reflect upon moments when you were able to teach, train, or coach a colleague. Remember that no company or department defines who you are. Your inner self and how it permeates outward to whomever you come in contact with is what defines you.
Loss Prevention Mentorship
Every day, I partner with colleagues to provide resources, tools, education, and expertise for the business, operations, and customers. In doing so, it is critical to maintain relationships focused on all levels of continuous development and growth through succession and talent management.
I have been provided the luxury not only to mentor different individuals across companies but also to be mentored. My first mentorship started when I was at Target. My mentor asked a few questions: What do you want from the mentorship? What do you look to gain? What do you hope can come from the relationship? In all honesty, I wasn’t prepared for such questions. I wasn’t prepared to be interviewed and didn’t truly have any answers. I thought it was enough that I enjoyed learning from the person I had picked to be my mentor, but that was not enough when it came to a mentorship.
Mentorship is a two-way street. It is about sharing not only leadership skills and abilities but also the larger picture and scope of what a person can do. A mentoring relationship should provide a foundation, a trusted haven, and an environment for growth to take place—for both parties. It should provide a foundation to share learnings and reflections from both people on a multitude of things.
Being a mentee is really about putting the onus on oneself to continue development, check in with the mentor, and set up the relationship as a symbiotic partnership. The partnership can be built over time and imparted to the next stage in any career path. Having someone in a confidential position to share your goals, dreams, and wants—without any judgement and true objectivity—is a treasure to find.
We each have an epicenter surrounded by many layers, each representing a circle of influence. Each layer sees a different radiance of passion, energy, and support. It is imperative that these circles are filled with the right people and that your epicenter is reserved for those who are a critical part of your playbook. Their roles and responsibilities or the vision and objectives you want from each relationship should be clear. Time is of the essence and invaluable to your career path, so make sure each person clearly understands their role in building your foundational structure.
I have learnt by fortunate experiences, hard work, and perseverance. Every career move I have taken has been a next step in growth and responsibility. When looking to make your next move or to add individuals to your circles of influence, make timely changes that reflect your evolving needs and validate your individual accountability.
Many times during my loss prevention career, I have had moments of feeling uncomfortable, scared, or nervous. It can feel very isolating at times when you want to take the next step and advantageous approach. Unfortunately, it’s hard to know if it’s the best move until you make it, putting one foot in front of the other. And it is okay to say, “I don’t know. I’m unsure.” But hold your head high anyway and feel a sense of confidence laced with the individual knowledge you bring to the table. Never second guess what you can bring nor what is learnt in each place, adventure, and road taken, which can truly provide another layer in your foundational development.
Have fun. Don’t be afraid. Know that the road will take time and that trials and tribulations can happen, but always learn from the adventure. Look around every corner for opportunities. Put yourself out there knowing time is of the essence, and embrace life’s moments by making them happen!
About the Author
Jennifer Schaefer, MA, LPC, is a field asset protection manager for T-Mobile US, supporting the corporate retail store channel overseeing Minnesota, Wisconsin, North and South Dakota, and parts of Illinois. Her role focuses on protecting people, profit, and profitability through identification and review of counterproductive behaviors internally and externally. She responds to major events, provides education and awareness through training channels, and consults and works closely with law enforcement partners. She takes great pride in public speaking, teaching criminal justice coursework, and being part of local and state crime prevention associations.