Reflections on a Generation of Leaders

This space of the magazine is usually occupied by an interview with one of the premier executives in loss prevention and asset protection. I thought we might step back and ask what has happened to many of these executives? In the past couple of years, many have begun retiring.

This is a generation of executives who reached vice president status in their companies and VIP status in the industry. Most started at the lowest level in what was then called “security” or retail audit or finance. Each had a hand in moving security positions to LP or AP status—from the basement to a seat at the table and from director level to senior vice president.

I have the privilege of knowing each of these executives personally. These are some of my recollections of each of them. Our industry owes this group a big “thank you.” Let’s begin and in no particular order.

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Fritz Hirchert

Fritz Hirchert
Fritz Hirchert

Fritz recently retired from the Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM). These are essentially retail stores provided worldwide for Navy personnel. I first met Fritz many years ago at Montgomery Ward. We worked together and partnered on many internal investigations. He was a good interviewer. But he was a far better golfer. Over the years I never played golf with an LP person better than Fritz. He was equally adept at loss prevention. He kept a low profile in the industry; therefore, many did not have the opportunity to get to know him. Too bad as people would have found him to be confident, direct, and an expert in the business. He was very loyal to his people, and they were loyal to him, resulting in low turnover and the development of a very mature and strong team. I think this Michigan State alum is retired in the Virginia Beach area and playing golf four times a week. Envious? [See “Managing a Truly Worldwide LP Organization” July–August 2002 page 22.]

Bob Vranek

Bob Vranek
Bob Vranek

Bob retired a couple of years ago as vice president of Belk stores based in Charlotte. I had the pleasure of having lunch with him every other month. Our conversations were about what he was doing at Belk and what was going on in retail. I learned a lot from those lunches. Over his twenty-something years at Belk, others chased him to accept another retail position, but he remained solid for Belk. Bob had a real knack for evaluating solution providers. He could tell who was going to make it in retail LP. If asked to describe Bob in a few words, I would say this: straight shooter and smart guy. Bob is retired in Fort Mill, South Carolina, and has become an avid walker and a better golfer. [See “The Need to Reinvent Loss Prevention” September–October 2012 page 29.]

Joe Hardman

Joe Hardman
Joe Hardman

Joe finally retired from Cracker Barrel. For three or four years, Joe was always telling me he was going to retire. He had a distinguished career in retail that included stops at Books-A-Million and Parisians. He actually started as a security manager at Rich’s and worked with the woman who later became my wife. In fact, when she was dating me, she called Joe for a reference. He mostly gave me a good one, and my wife and I were subsequently married. I attended a couple of his team meetings, and you could tell that Joe was in charge. His people were very comfortable with his low-key leadership style and respected him immensely. After his retirement I would see him pop up at National Retail Federation conferences with his buddies Mike Smith, Johnny Turner, and Bob Vranek. A lot of stories and bragging between those four. [See “Made from Scratch” January–February 2005 page 52.]

Mike Smith

Mike Smith
Mike Smith

Speaking of Mike, what a quality person he is. He began his career at Montgomery Ward and later worked under the leadership of Bob Vranek at Maison Blanche. He completed his career as a senior vice president at Finish Line and was part of the “shoe dogs” who often got together to recreate the world. Mike has done some consulting since his retirement, and his expertise is really valued by the retail C-suite, including his advice on managing key people in the industry. He’s one of those guys whom everyone likes and can only say good things about. Whenever I would see him walking toward me, he always had a big smile—just a very positive person who always makes you feel good. He’s also an avid jogger, including marathons. I wouldn’t drive as far as he’s jogged.

Johnny Turner

Johnny Turner
Johnny Turner

Johnny is the last of the shoe dogs I will speak about. I mentioned earlier that he and Mike and Joe would visit NRF after their retirements and walk around with a look on their faces that said, “If you pay your dues and work hard, you too could retire someday.” I would often see Johnny at the Greensboro airport. While both of us were based out of Charlotte, we could save money by flying out of Greensboro. He always had time to talk. And he almost always had a new pair of loafers and either some wild socks or no socks. If you asked the vendors who called on him or knew him, they would all say, “Tough guy,” and that he was. With Johnny, it was his way or the highway. And his way was almost surely the right way. A man with new loafers, a corvette, and a home on the beach—that is my recollection of Johnny.

Dennis Wamsley, LPC

Dennis Wamsley
Dennis Wamsley

Dennis is one of those guys who came out of the finance/audit area of retail. He spent a lot of years at Kmart before heading south to Publix as the vice president of asset protection. A low-key and quiet person, he was a strong advocate of the Loss Prevention Research Council (LPRC) and a member of the board of directors of the Loss Prevention Foundation. I am told he lives half the time in Montana somewhere and back in Florida the other half. I visited him a couple of times, and he always had his team as a part of the discussion. My impression of Dennis is that he was a very inclusive leader—really a good guy and asset to this profession. [See “Managing LP and Safety in a Customer-Service Culture” January–February 2013 page 29.]

Dan Provost, LPC

Dan Provost
Dan Provost

Since we are speaking about finance people who made the transition to loss prevention, try this one—Dan Provost of Staples. He brought real stability to Staples when it needed it and developed a strong team of LP leaders, as strong a team as existed in the business. Dan always had time for others—at least he did for me. He was a strong counsel to others, and others in retail management called on him for advice. Not many know that he turned down several big opportunities and stayed at Staples. He was also a member of the Loss Prevention Foundation board of directors. In fact, he was the first to set up a company-paid LPF certification tuition program—a real gentleman. [See “Reorganizing the LP and AP Teams At Staples” July–August 2013 page 27.]

Chad McIntosh

Chad McIntosh
Chad McIntosh

Here’s another guy on this list who lives in Fort Mill, South Carolina. He moved to the Charlotte metro area from his job in New York City at Bloomingdales to be near his family (mostly the grand kids). He enjoyed a long and distinguished career in companies such as Polo, Neiman’s, The Home Depot, Macy’s, and Bloomies. Chad always seemed so serious about things. He was a leader for many years with the LPRC. He knew the business and was always willing to share his knowledge with others. I wonder if Vranek and McIntosh live in Fort Mill because there is a world class hamburger joint right downtown, and they can sit there and tell stories. [See “A Lifetime of Learning” September–October 2018 page 27.]

Kevin Valentine, CFI, LPC

Kevin Valentine
Kevin Valentine

Kevin had a very distinguished and long career with Signet Jewelers. He was the senior executive for LP, audit, and risk. He always put his family first and then the company. He never wanted any fanfare for himself, but he had a lot to be proud of for his accomplishments within Signet. He is still a member of the Loss Prevention Foundation and headed up the very important position as lead on the audit committee. No one is better to oversee the audit processes of the not-for-profit foundation. He may still do some consulting under the banner of Valentine Solutions and also owns a cigar store near his home in Ohio. I visited the store, but he was out fishing. [See “From LP to Internal Audit to Enterprise Risk Management” January–February 2018 page 23.]

Steven May, CFI

Steve May
Steve May

Steve is one of those few people who had success as a retail LP executive and then also as a solution provider. He worked for J Baker, Inc. and then founded LP Innovations. LPI was the first real LP outsourcing option for retail. They provide LP, audit, and risk services. He is a first-class gentleman who is retired in Florida and Boston—good choices. Like any entrepreneur would tell you, it is a hard road to make things work and achieve your objectives and stay in business. Steve did that and was fortunate to sell his interests to another company. For years, I had only heard of Steve and never really had much of a relationship. I had heard he did not care for me, and he had heard I disliked him. This went on and on until Steve reached out to me and asked to have dinner for two. It was a long dinner, and we shared our stories. Wow, instant respect for the man, and we have maintained an open and friendly relationship ever since. Taught me a good lesson.

Bill Turner, LPC

Bill Turner
Bill Turner

I first met Bill in Cincinnati at one of those LP/security meetings of division heads. He walked into the board room with a great tan and an expensive suit. California boy you know. I didn’t know if I could handle the arrogance I perceived, but I listened to him and valued his expertise. We have remained friends all these years. Bill had a career with Bullocks, Disney World (where he ran operations and LP), Nike, and Cole Hahn. He was always more than just LP. He was a businessman first and foremost. He has been a member of the Loss Prevention Foundation board from the beginning and still serves as the treasurer. He always says you can tell the makeup of a person if they shine their shoes and keep a clean car. Bill is spot on with both. [See “Retail First, LP Second, Cops and Robbers Never” November–December 2007 page 34.]

Mike Grady, LPC

Mike Grady
Mike Grady

Mike recently retired from Vector Security as the top executive in the company. I first met Mike in the offices of Marshall’s. He was chasing burglar and fire systems with them and trying to put Vector on the minds of other retailers. He achieved that over the years. You cannot find anyone who doesn’t have the highest level of respect and praise for Mike. What a gentleman. He was member of the original Loss Prevention Foundation board of directors. He was always reaching out trying to better understand the mindset of the retail LP executive. When you think of Vector, you think of Mike Grady. [See “From Burglar Alarm Salesmen to Executive Vice President” July–August 2020 page 29.]

Gene Smith, LPC

Gene Smith
Gene Smith

Gene retired a couple of years ago as the president of the Loss Prevention Foundation. Gene is responsible for putting the foundation on the retail LP map. He started a career in LP at Montgomery Ward, then went on to Lazarus (Macy’s), consumers and executive recruiting, before landing at the foundation. Perhaps Gene’s greatest achievement was and is the counseling and mentoring he gave to others. He never violated the privacy of any discussion. That’s why others valued his counsel. He is a Ring of Excellence recipient from the National Retail Federation, and no one deserves it more. He is a family man first and foremost. [See “Constructing a Foundation for the LP Profession” July–August 2009 page 30.]

Claude Verville, LPC

Claude Verville
Claude Verville

Speaking of family men, here is the jewel of the Nile. And I bet you didn’t know that or would not have guessed it. Claude is a sports guy, and his son and daughter were premier high school players in baseball and basketball. Claude put in a half-court basketball gym in his house, and his daughter became an ace shooter. He had a great career at Lowe’s and built a first-class organization that overachieved on goals for LP and safety. He is an original member of the Loss Prevention Foundation. For many years, most regarded Lowe’s as the premier retail LP department. I agree with that, and if you want to know why—discipline. No one had a more disciplined approach than Claude. I bet all those who worked for him would agree. [See “Aligning Loss Prevention with the Customer Experience” March–April 2014 p. 27.]

Mike Lamb, LPC

Mike Lamb
Mike Lamb

Mike just recently announced his retirement as senior vice president of AP at Kroger. He will remain as an operations consultant for a few months, and Kroger is the winner for that. If you want to go out on top of the world and be viewed as the best, put together this resume: Federated Stores, The Home Depot, Walmart, and then Kroger. You get those positions because you are smart, professional, and a results achiever. He is a Loss Prevention Foundation board member and an advisor to this magazine, the LPRC, and the National Association of Safety Professionals. When you speak with Mike, you might think you are speaking to the CEO of Kroger—that is his demeanor. [See “The Importance of Managing Shrink and Waste” March–April 2020 page 29.]

Well, there you have it. I know I missed some of the recent retirements, but I have personally known each of these featured and have been blessed for that. Many of them have been featured in this space with one-on-one, in-depth interviews. I’ve noted the articles that appeared in print. Many are also available on our website at LossPreventionMedia.com.

If you made a list of the most-mentioned qualities for these recent retirees, I think these words would appear—family, low key, big heart, leader, and expert. Put those qualities in your character bag, and you become special.

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