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A Look Back at Twenty Years of Interviews

In this, our twenty-year anniversary, it’s appropriate to look back over the years at the many retail professionals and other interesting individuals we have interviewed for the magazine. The vast majority of those interviewed, of course, are loss prevention and asset protection executives, given the nature of this publication. There are others, however, who are on the periphery of loss prevention or outside the industry totally who have made interesting interviews. Here is a sample of some of them with quotes from the interviews shown in blue. To read the entire interview articles, use the links below.

“Powered by Walmart: Building Continuity and Strong Local Retail Businesses Around the World”

Jay Mealing interviewIn this interview from September–October 2019, Jay Mealing, senior director of global security for Walmart International, gave us an inside look at how Walmart manages technology and operations around the world. His international perspective focuses on developing local teams to manage the business without outside support while still actively integrating into corporate systems and processes. Here are some quotes from the article.

Our overall Walmart International strategy is to utilize our buying power, tools, technology, and subject-matter expertise with the idea of supporting “strong local retail businesses.” …

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I don’t want to assume that I know the India market better than my Indian counterparts, for example. Our goal is to give them tools that are effective, efficient, and reliable, so they can do it themselves. As we roll out those tools, we also get more consistency. …

You know, I was a country boy from South Carolina, but Walmart allowed me to make mistakes. They allowed me to try the things that may not work. They’ve given me the flexibility and the trust to go build programs when sometimes we didn’t know what we needed to do. And that says a lot about this company. It says a lot about the leadership and the fact that they allowed me to take risks and grow by learning along the way. I didn’t step in with a government security background or expertise. It was Walmart seeing the capacity, seeing the ability, seeing what we could do as a team, that allowed us to get to the level we are today.

“Forty Years of Researching Retail Loss Prevention”

Dick Hollinger interviewIn May–June 2016 we sat down with Dr. Dick Hollinger as he neared retirement as professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville who studied employee dishonesty and managed the annual National Retail Security Survey that has been an important tool for our industry for the past several decades. A keen observer of the loss prevention industry, he was never shy about stating his opinion on issues important to our profession.

- Digital Partner -

The main trend that I’ve seen over the years—leveraging technology, moving away from people catching people toward technology catching people—has been geared primarily toward the shoplifter. I think employee theft is the hardest of the pieces of the pie to have a direct impact on because of that. …

When retailers have a highly ethical management team, pay a living wage, give sick leave, provide daycare, provide their employees with the kinds of expectations that one gets in a genuine career, then shrinkage is under control, and profitability goes up. …

C-level executives oftentimes tend to look at “what have you done for me lately” or maybe “what have you done for me in the last hour” as opposed to “what is the overall trend” and looking at the bigger picture of how to reduce shrinkage.

- Digital Partner -

“Loss Prevention Consulting”

Bob DiLonardo interviewAnother observer of the loss prevention industry we interviewed in September–October 2015 also as he prepared for retirement was Bob DiLonardo who was an industry consultant and well-known authority on the electronic article surveillance business, cost justification of security products and services, and retail accounting. DiLonardo also wrote a column on industry news for the magazine as well as several feature articles over our first fifteen years.

Hiring a consultant is a good investment. I hear people say, “I don’t want to spend money on a consultant.” I think that’s a mistake because it’s my job to know twice as much as you would need to know and to help you add value to your organization. The right consultant is worth his weight in gold when you’re looking at making multi-million dollar procurements.

When asked about what technologies have been significantly impactful in our industry, he said:

In my opinion, the most important enhancements have been solid-state electronics, microprocessor controls, recording devices, and John Coutta’s tremendous invention of camera rotation along its longitudinal axis. Solid-state electronics allowed for smaller cameras. Microprocessors added “brains” and controlled switching, PTZ, and data collection. Recorders assisted in investigations and evidence keeping. And longitudinal rotation coupled with mirrors made domes the standard housing in the industry.

Superimposing a POS transaction onto video really jump-started the data mining industry because we needed some type of software to help us identify transaction anomalies, instead of staring at videotape. Now the data mining industry is very sophisticated and has provided information that is essential to properly running all aspects of the business, including loss prevention.

“The First Person You Must Lead Is You”

Becky Halstead interviewSomeone we interviewed who had absolutely nothing to do with our industry was (retired) US Army Brigadier General Rebecca “Becky” Halstead. She was the first female graduate of West Point to become a general officer and the first woman in the history of the US military to serve as a commanding general in combat. We not only interviewed her for our September–October 2014 magazine, but also had her as the keynote speaker at the magazine’s 2014 annual editorial board meeting where her presentation was a huge hit. Here are some of her thoughts on leadership.

Most surveys say that the number one thing that people want to see in their leaders is integrity. That’s true, but the only way to have integrity is to be disciplined, because it’s too easy to not have integrity. It’s too easy to take a shortcut. It’s too easy to not quite tell the whole truth. Integrity can be inconvenient. It can be uncomfortable. But choosing this harder right is what we’re supposed to do as leaders. You don’t have to go all the way to Iraq or Afghanistan to find combat. Combat can be found right in our own families, in our own communities, in our own businesses, and it’s called lack of integrity. Maybe it’s not as obvious or grievous as a mortar or an IED or a bullet, but people lose their occupations, businesses fail, and economies crash when leaders lack integrity. …

I think that more of us should think about the legacy that we want to leave, and the legacy that we are leaving. Because I think what happens is it makes you start to think about your values, and whether your behaviors are reflecting those values. Because if they are, you’re going to touch lives. And when you touch lives, you’re going to make a difference. That brings purpose to your life, and what greater position is there to be in than to have purpose?

“The Current and Future Role of Risk Management”

Libby Christman interviewThe vice president of risk management for Ahold USA, Libby Christman, was the subject of our interview in the January–February 2012 edition. In her role, she was responsible for claims and insurance management, safety, property protection, corporate and operational crisis management, and business continuity. Hers was and still is a big job that had a lot of impact on her corporation.

My goal at Ahold USA is to expand the assumed definition of risk management. As a support function, we can get pigeonholed into just focusing on safety or claims, but I believe we have a lot of expertise that can add value to many areas of the business. We’ve been meeting with other departments and business areas to help them understand not only what our function is, but also what our function can be; how we can add additional insight on risk factors to the things other departments are doing.

Apart from working with the asset protection department as we discussed earlier, we’ve also been working closely with our maintenance department on proactive measures in stores. We’ve been working with our human resources group on some conceptual training ideas. We’ve been working with store operations to a greater degree not only on tactical things, but also more strategic solutions for risk factors. We’ve been taking a look at construction to provide input on particular design elements that have caused problems. We’ve been working with our purchasing department on ergonomic issues with certain equipment. So we’re trying to insert ourselves into different business areas that weren’t accustomed to seeing somebody in risk management have any input or opinion before. …

One thing that we’ve certainly become more aware of is the whole idea of business continuity. September 11th showed us that an event can occur to disrupt the core functions of your business. You need to be prepared and have a plan in order to keep your business viable. We’ve placed a significant amount of focus on how we continue to run our business in the event a catastrophe takes out a warehouse, an office building, or somehow takes out our systems. We are making sure that we have documented plans and roadmaps as well as alternative worksites in place to ensure we can continue business.

“From Store-Level LP Associate to EVP of Stores”

Marvin Ellison interviewMarvin Ellison started his career in loss prevention, but he had been elevated to executive vice president of US stores at The Home Depot when we interviewed him for our March–April 2009 magazine. It is not unheard of for loss prevention executives to move into other roles, but Ellison is one whose career could be termed “meteoric” given he is now CEO of Lowe’s. In our conversation, we wanted to look at how his loss prevention career influenced his career.

There are fundamental things that have been invaluable in the different roles I’ve taken on outside of asset protection. The first one is making sure that you are very thorough and detail oriented. I learned as a young investigator in assets protection the value of being detailed and thorough. That habit of disciplined attention to detail pays huge dividends for me right now.

The second important thing is to understand people. In order to be an effective assets protection leader, you must have very effective people skills. These people skills will assist in your ability to influence. As I have been blessed to climb the corporate ladder, the ability to influence has played a major role in my success.

The third thing that’s helped me is the ability to understand the entire retail operation. As an effective asset protection leader, it’s important to understand how the front end works, how the back end works, how the sales floor works from a price change and a markdown standpoint, and how the supply chain works.

I spent my entire asset protection career trying to find ways to reduce inventory shrink. The only way I could figure that out was to continue to get deeper and deeper into the understanding of how the retail operation worked. Today, as an operator responsible for generating revenue, I take the technical knowledge I learned in asset protection and put a different spin on it. …

My best advice for anyone who is looking to redefine his or her career or looking for a place to get started again is to go to a company that is committed to your function, whether that function is loss prevention, risk management, or safety. It is important that the company is committed to your craft and understands the value of what you do. It is also important that you sharpen your skill set so that you have a broader range of skills. It is important not to be one dimensional.

“Researching Loss in the Worldwide Retail Market”

Adrian Beck interviewWe reached across the Atlantic for our September–October 2008 interview with Adrian Beck, one of the major research scholars in the field of loss prevention. Since the mid-1980s Beck has conducted research on retail crime and shrinkage, including measuring the scale and extent of the problem, understanding the role of process in securing best practice, evaluating security equipment, staff dishonesty, and shop theft.

The definition of shrinkage varies depending on which surveys you look at. You could be talking about shrinkage when I’m talking about process failure. Someone else will say, “I have known loss and don’t worry about it. I’m only interested in unknown loss.” These are completely different subjects. So there is a definitional issue that needs to be resolved about what we mean by shrinkage. Then we can make genuine comparisons. …

ORC is one issue that is quite perplexing to me. I recently looked at some of the numbers on ORC, and they don’t add up. You’ll hear some people suggest that ORC accounts for something like 80 percent of all shrinkage. However, the statistics from [Dr. Richard] Hollinger’s study [National Retail Security Survey] would suggest that this cannot be true. And yet there’s so much energy being expended on this subject. …

I’ve been doing deep dives in particular areas to understand how different factors can influence our understanding of the causes of loss. There is a sense that we have been overly obsessed with the problem of external theft. There’s a danger it’s been turned into the bogeyman of loss prevention—that is, if in doubt, let’s blame the outsider for our losses. I’ve been trying to show that we should not be afraid of looking within the organization, measure and understand what is going on, and determine how we can have an impact on it.

“Managing Change at The World’s Most Admired Specialty Retailer”

Leonard Schlesinger interviewAnother C-level executive we interviewed for our May–June 2003 magazine was Leonard Schlesinger who was the vice chairman and chief operating officer of Limited Brands. Schlesinger holds a doctorate in organization behavior from Harvard Business School and is a prolific author or coauthor of numerous business topics. At the time of this interview, he was transforming the company across the board, including the loss prevention function. Here are some of his thoughts about the changes taking place.

We had a loss prevention model that was largely rooted in the traditional security model of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. Over the last several months we have attempted to update that model and to shift its focus to one that is much more rooted in education, training, and support of our operating brands. This has required a fairly large talent shift and a substantive organizational shift from a brand-based loss prevention activity to one that is now enterprise-based. …

Asked about his expectations for the loss prevention organization, he said:

It’s really pretty simple. Number one, I expect to have a level of partnership between the loss prevention function and the stores function primarily, that’s significantly better than we’ve had in the past. This partnership must develop the capacity to not only self-diagnose their loss prevention situations but be actively involved in developing and managing their environments, including both safety and loss prevention.

Number two, I expect the organization to have dramatically enhanced processes and procedures to track and manage inventory and assets. I think we have the basics down as well as anybody, but the disciplines have to be defined in a systematic way across all of our brands simultaneously. Throughout all this, I expect to see the perception of our loss prevention organization rise to among the most responsive support functions that exist in the company. Further, I expect to be able to tie their support of the respective line functions and the efforts of their work directly to the P&L and be held accountable for investments in that function against the returns that they drive.

Finally, which in some respects is first, I expect them to be major contributors to developing and managing the environment where everybody who works here feels safe and secure. As we find ourselves in very uncertain times now with war and threats from all over the place, I need to know that we have crisis preparedness activities inside the organization that are allied with loss prevention and safety services in a seamless way. This is necessary so that people feel comfortable, the business assets are protected in a significant way, and we are generating economic returns.

“The View from the Top: How the CEO of Wal-Mart Views the Industry”

Tom Coughlin interviewThis last one may be a bit controversial, not because of the interview at the time, but because of his subsequent personal failings. However, at the time, it was an important coup for our fledgling magazine when we were able to sit down with Walmart’s CEO Thomas Coughlin in his Bentonville office for this March–April 2002 interview. What was supposed to be a thirty-minute visit turned into ninety minutes. Coughlin was another loss prevention professional who rose through the ranks to the top of the corporate pyramid.

I want [LP people] to be business people. I want them to be seen as a vital member of the team … a cog … a spoke of the wheel … that helps us be to our customers what we are—the everyday low-price leader. The only way the everyday low price works is if you’re the everyday low cost. Loss prevention is an essential piece of driving the everyday low cost. They are a competitive advantage. They are not a profit drain or burden when they are operating correctly. …

I think the biggest challenge loss prevention has is the same that the corporation as a whole has. And that is to be this large organization, but act like a small one. I really mean that. I believe so firmly that to be grounded in this community and in every community we operate is extremely important. That same priority needs to be on Dave Gorman’s agenda in our loss prevention division, with our audit division, with our merchandise division. Everybody needs to understand, to effectively run this huge company, we have to act small. …

It’s necessary for me to talk about [loss prevention] issues. It’s necessary for the guys in charge of merchandising to talk about them. The chief operating officer, it’s a critical role for him, as it is for the people working for him in other areas. Just like it is for the regional operating vice presidents and district managers. When everyone’s on the same page, the entire organization sees it as a priority.

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