EDITOR’S NOTE: James “Jim” Lee, LPC, is the executive editor and cofounder of LP Magazine. Lee has over thirty years of practical experience as a retail security and loss prevention executive, including senior positions with Montgomery Ward, Lazarus, The Broadway, and Marshalls. He is also cofounder of Contact, Inc., a consulting and training company that supports retailers with internal awareness programs, and LPjobs, the largest e-recruiting platform for LP professionals. In 2010 Lee was inducted into the National Retail Federation’s Ring of Excellence.
TRLICA: It’s been fifteen years since the magazine was introduced. How did that happen and what did you hope to accomplish by publishing a magazine for the loss prevention industry?
LEE: It started because you had an idea for a magazine and came to me and my business partner at the time, Walter Palmer. We had several discussions about how it might work and agreed to take a shot at putting one together. And that meant developing content, getting support from retailers, and finding support from vendors who would advertise in the magazine, all of which we did. What we hoped to accomplish was create a vehicle that would provide educational value for LP professionals that had not been there before in our industry.
TRLICA: Did you have a long-term goal?
LEE: Frankly, my long-term goal was to still be in business a year down the road. It would have been very easy for the magazine not to succeed. It would have been very easy not to get support from the advertising community who provided funding for it. It could have been that retailers wouldn’t support it. It wasn’t a given that all that was going to happen.
TRLICA: But the vision was to create a vehicle for educating the industry. Do you think the magazine has accomplished that?
LEE: Absolutely. Without a question it has. And the magazine has spawned several other educational sources, such as a certification program with the Loss Prevention Foundation. There have been various educational sources that have been birthed because of the magazine. So yes, it did accomplish that.
TRLICA: The magazine has obviously flourished over the past fifteen years while it has evolved. Talk a little bit about that evolution, both in print and in digital.
LEE: The evolution is basically this. In the beginning it was you, Fabi Preslar our designer, Walter, and me. And then we got an ad rep about the time we lost Walter. So in the beginning there were only four of us putting out the magazine. So the most obvious evolution was going from four people to about fifteen.
Looking at print, when we first started most of the articles were written for the most part by the practitioner, in some cases with a lot of editing. Now we are at a point where we get information from the practitioners, but the articles are written by freelancers or someone on staff. We still have very close contact with the practitioners, who help us develop article ideas, but for the most part, they don’t have to do the writing anymore.
From a digital standpoint, in the last three or so years, we’ve been able to hire some really talented people and now have a true digital publishing capability, not just sending out a newsletter and calling ourselves a digital publisher. We spent a great deal of time and money to build a robust digital publishing technology platform with the help of an outside firm that is built on proven methods, integrated technology, and strong analytics. That combination of an exceptional digital platform and a very talented team has allowed us to provide the industry much, much more in the digital world that has ever been available before.
TRLICA: You mentioned earlier certification. What is the value of certification that the LP Foundation brings to this industry?
LEE: The value of the foundation is that it is a not-for-profit association that is pure in its inception and pure in the development of an institutional program for the loss prevention professional. It is an association that is run by LP executives and supported by the broad LP community, both the solutions providers and the practitioners. It’s not a product-driven organization trying to be just another company. It clearly is an educational program. When I look around my office, I have one certificate and one diploma, although over the years I’ve received lots of certificates for various things. One is my diploma from Indiana University, and the other is a certificate that says I have my LPC certification. It’s not that either my certificate or my diploma ever really got me a job. But it developed, I think, an awareness and educational value within myself to help further my career, as certification does with everyone who goes through it. And the magazine has been a big part of the development of the Foundation and it continues to be as it supports the Foundation with its marketing expertise and operational support.
TRLICA: Before the magazine, you had a successful career as an LP executive. For those who don’t know, talk about how you started in the industry.
LEE: I started in the industry because Montgomery Ward paid significantly more than the federal law enforcement agencies did. And when you’re twenty-two years old, money matters. I started with Montgomery Ward after college and spent the first twelve years in retail with them, where I rose to the number two person in the security department before moving on to three different retailers after that and had a twenty-five year career as a senior LP executive.
TRLICA: What three companies?
LEE: I went from Montgomery Ward to Lazarus, which became part of Macy’s. Then I went to The Broadway in Southern California, which also became part of Macy’s. And then from there I went to Marshalls, which is now a part of the TJX corporation.
TRLICA: A lot of executives in loss prevention like you started at Montgomery Ward. What about Wards produced so many successful LP professionals?
LEE: There were a couple of individuals there in what was then called the personnel department or human resources who had training dollars available. The regional personal director was a former security manager with Sears named Bill Horrell. He decided to carve out some training dollars for security managers on the given that Montgomery Ward would go to college campuses and recruit criminal justice, criminology, or police science majors, which they did. They started the program in the early ‘70s, and over the next decade, there were probably a couple of hundred people who were recruited from the Midwest who went to work for Wards. Because of that commitment, a lot of people in this industry grew up working for Montgomery Ward.
TRLICA: You’re a huge proponent of education and mentoring. Who are some of the people who worked for you that went on to run their own organizations?
LEE: There’s a lot of them, and if I were to start naming them, I’m going to leave somebody out. So all those that have worked for me know who you are, and I was blessed to have you. But there two that I would mention that I had special relationships with. One is Jay Fogg who recently retired as senior vice president of operations for Bloomingdale’s. He’s a workaholic, if anything was broken he could get it fixed, and he had great vision for what needed to be accomplished in an organization. Literally the best executive I ever worked with.
The second is Bob MacLea who is a great person with a big heart. He is someone who has a great high level of trust within the organization and genuinely listens to his people. He is just fun to work with.
TRLICA: What are your observations of the qualities that help make someone successful as an LP executive?
LEE: I think success is measured in a lot of different ways, so I would answer that question this way. An LP executive who is successful understands why, not just what. Knowing what to do is completely different than knowing why we do something. I think LP executives who understand why you do something are successful. I think the second part of the answer is those that have the ability to be leaders, not just in the LP organization, but also with the executives they’re working for and influence other parts of the company. I think the leadership quality is the strongest quality, and it has to be present for somebody to be successful in LP.
TRLICA: Today you continue to consult and mentor many people in the industry. In fact, it’s common for you to get calls day, night, even weekends from both retail and vendor executives seeking your counsel. Why is that?
LEE: When you work twenty-five years as a practitioner and something just short of that on the private side, you win, lose, and tie a lot. I have a lot of experience in all three of those, and people who seek and ask my guidance know that I have that. Just as important, I think I’m a good listener to those people who call and ask for my help. And sometimes just listening to somebody talk about what they think they have as issues or problems can help them solve them.
TRLICA: Are there any important bits of advice that you offer executives or even young people starting out?
LEE: When asked I give the same advice in terms of what I try to do. Read as much as you possibly can. Ask as many questions as you can, not only of your bosses and peers, but also of those people within other organizations and companies. Sit down periodically and make a list of where you want to go and what you want to be a year down the road, three, five years down the road. You have to have an objective roadmap.
TRLICA: Some people may not know that the magazine has a custom-publishing arm that continues to provide communication programs for retailers. Tell our readers about LPM Media Group.
LEE: We have a group of very talented, creative people with analytical skills, design skills, and who understand retail. We have just short of two dozen companies that we put together training and awareness programs for, whether they be conventional or whether they be digital and online. We have some very well-known retailers who we work with because of the talented people within our company who can do that.
TRLICA: You also played a part in launching LPjobs. How did that come about?
LEE: LPjobs came about because Paul Jones was sitting at Sunglass Hut as the VP staring up at the ceiling when I visited him. He said, “You ought to start a company called LPjobs.” So it was Paul Jones who had the idea that we do an e-recruiting company. Walter Palmer and I helped develop and launch LPjobs with the help of Paul back in 2000. LPjobs is still in existence today helping young people find good jobs and helping retailers find good people. LPjobs was one of the initial advertisers with the magazine and continues to be an advertiser with the magazine to this day.
TRLICA: You moved from the retail side to the vendor side, and that’s something that many LP executives have tried but not always successfully. What are the common failures, and what are some of the keys to success in moving to the provider role?
LEE: The common failure is not to have a job in LP and decide that you can be a consultant—that you can just put your shingle up and you’ll be able to advise and counsel retail companies and make money. That just doesn’t happen like that. That’s a recipe for failure. In order to go out on your own in this business, you need to have a product, hopefully one that is recurring. But you need to have a product or an ongoing service that you can provide because you cannot be consulting, which occupies all of your time, and at the same time develop a product. You can’t do both at the same time. I think the other piece is that oftentimes when someone decides to go to the vendor side, they go to work for a vendor company. It clearly is a lot easier to establish themselves with a base salary and bonus opportunity, but they’re working for somebody else. The pitfall in that situation is having an expectation that the relationships you had over the years, that those people are going to be anxious to speak with you. But they’re all busy and often don’t answer your calls. It’s one of the biggest disappointments I hear from people who make that switch: “Why don’t people call me back.” It’s just the nature of the business.
TRLICA: You typically byline the executive interview in each issue of the magazine. What are some of the more memorable interviews that you conducted and recurring themes that you see in these interviews?
LEE: We’re close to having ninety of those interviews now. I think every one of them had something of interest to me. There are some that I have special memories of. The first was Tom Coughlin, who at the time was the CEO of stores at Walmart. We sent the premiere issue of the magazine to Tom Coughlin’s office asking if he would be the subject of an interview for the magazine. Shortly thereafter, his administrative assistant called you and said he would do an interview and gave several dates that Tom had available. Coughlin was the real first director of security for Walmart, so he had experience in our profession. Even though he had risen to a very high level with Walmart, he has not forgotten where he came from. We were told he had forty-five minutes for us and to pick a date. We picked the very first date that was available, January 2, 2002. You and I showed up a half hour early for the interview, and the admin led us into his conference room. Tom came in and sat literally for three-and-a-half hours with us. Here was the CEO of Walmart sitting with us for three-and-a-half hours. That is a wonderful memory for us at the magazine.
A couple of other interviews we did were unique and worthy of mention. One is the Paul Jones interview, and one is the Mark Stinde interview. Both of them transformed their companies’ LP programs. Paul at Limited Brands transformed the LP program and hired a terrific, spectacular staff and put a lot of programs, initiatives, and strategies in place that, in my opinion, probably at that time made them the best LP program in retail.
Mark also totally transformed 7-Eleven into a professional asset protection, profit-driven program. I’m sure the company didn’t believe that loss prevention could have so much value within an organization. Those two are very memorable to me.
The other two that are memorable are two individuals who worked together early on in their careers. That was Bob Oberosler and Claude Verville. Anytime you talk with Bob Oberosler, it’s always interesting because Bob’s thought process is usually about six to twelve months out in terms of trying to invent or create something new. Bob’s the type of person you can ask a question and literally get up and leave and go have lunch and come back and he’ll still be answering that question. He has an amazing mind for this business, and if you go back and read the interview that we did with him, you see that come through loud and clear.
We actually did two interviews with Claude Verville at Lowe’s. The second we did, you and I sat with Claude at a restaurant, and we talked for over an hour and a half. He probably spent thirty seconds talking apprehending someone. He spent the rest of the time talking about the customer experience and how the LP team can support the objectives of the company from a profit and customer service standpoint. It was truly remarkable to hear how Claude and the rest of his team had evolved to that level of understanding for their true value within Lowe’s.
TRLICA: Is there anyone that you’d like to interview that you’ve not?
LEE: There are some people that we’ve not been allowed to interview because of the company moratorium on publications like ours having access to the top executives. The first who comes to mind is Bob MacLea at TJX. He has a lifetime story that others should hear. Perhaps we will interview him after he retires. There are a few like that who we’ve not been able to get approval to interview.
TRLICA: Another thing that you do in the magazine is your Parting Words column at the back of the magazine. In that column, you offer your observations on a variety of topics, some light-hearted, some serious. In one last year you commented about C-level executives who make emotional decisions that sometime lead to change at the head of the LP organization. What about that topic bothers you?
LEE: I think being the top LP executive in any retail company is a hard job, and I think clearly it is often an underappreciated job and often misunderstood by the C-suite. It’s primarily misunderstood because most of the C-level folks don’t take time to get to know their LP executive and understand the strategy behind running an LP program. And as a result, sometimes C-level people change their LP executive out of an arrogance or out of a self-serving motivation on their part because maybe the results aren’t as good as they would like. But it clearly is out of a lack of understanding the LP executive. And sometimes they make a change that gets them no further ahead. They were just as well off having the previous regime in power.
The best two presidents I worked for both asked me the same question time and time again: “What can I do to make you succeed?” If the senior LP executive is not hearing this from the C-suite, then that arrogance and ignorance will restrict everyone’s success.
TRLICA: You are also passionate about LP organizations that sometimes lose their focus on reducing shrink. What’s your opinion on that?
LEE: There’s a long list of items that have to be put in place to handle the shrinkage program that every LP executive knows. Unfortunately, sometimes C-level people would rather ask their LP executive about all the big cases you had last week as opposed to giving the LP executive the opportunity to talk about all the things their organization did to help create profit outside of catching people. Creating profit means reducing shrink. So top-level organizations in retail that are run by top-level, forward-thinking LP executives stay focused on shrinkage and profit, understanding that you have to catch people, and knowing that has a place in the business but not an overpowering place in the business.
TRLICA: On the personal side, one of the things you’re most well-known for is your love of golf. When did you first pick up the game and why does it play such an important part in your life?
LEE: I didn’t start playing golf until my mid- to late-twenties, mostly because I didn’t have any money to spend on golf earlier. Having been involved in sports all my life and not being able to continue to play sports because of various injuries, I looked for something that I could enjoy doing and gravitated to golf. And loved the game of golf, and loved playing with people in the business. You find out an awful lot of things about a person when you play golf with them. One, what kind of person they are. Two, whether or not they understand the value of rules because golf’s a very easy sport to cheat in. Just like having a job in business is very easy to see that. And golf gets you some of those answers. And golf is a sport that allows you to play for a long period of time. Granted, maybe not as well as you played when you were younger, but still allows you to play for a long period of time.
TRLICA: When you mentioned college earlier, you failed to mention that you were an All Big Ten baseball player at Indiana. What lessons did you learn from your career in baseball?
LEE: I’d say clearly in baseball you learn how to accept failure. Hitting a baseball thrown at ninety miles an hour is one of the hardest things to do in any athletic endeavor. The Baseball Hall of Fame is full of individuals who only achieved success 30 percent of the time. So you learn in baseball the ability to accept failure in life. Striking out four times in one day is a very humiliating experience. You learn to celebrate your successes because you know they won’t last very long. It’s kind of like hitting your shrink results in January. The results are great. By March, everyone in the company has forgotten about it, and you’re on a new year. The same in baseball. You get four hits in one game, and the next game, you start right back at zero.
Another lesson you learn that can be applied to LP involves making personnel changes. Often in business you simply fire the unsuccessful person. The easy way out is to get rid of a person. It requires no work on your part to make that type of change. It does require work if you decide you see something in that person that is worth keeping. So the better thing to do is try to figure out what position, what role can they play within the company where they can be successful and still make use of the experience that they’ve gained over the years. I believe that most everybody, unless there’s a character or ethics issue, can provide a great service to the company and doesn’t need to be fired. I always maintained that somebody who wasn’t doing a great job in one position didn’t need to just be fired. You need to accept responsibility in finding another role that they can play and be successful. I experienced that and saw a lot of people succeed as a result of it.
I related that back to watching two individuals I played against in college. One was Ted Sizemore from the University of Michigan who was a catcher and went on to start his professional baseball career. He would never have made it unless one of the coaches saw that he might be better served as a second baseman. They moved him to second base and he played fourteen or fifteen years for the Dodgers and the St. Louis Cardinals. He was very successful because someone saw that they needed not to cut him and stop his professional career, but change positions. The other was Steve Garvey, who played third base for Michigan State. But if he was able to field the ground ball, he never could throw it over to the first baseman without throwing it in the stands. So he’s a person that probably should not have had much of a career in baseball, but somebody saw that they needed to find a position for him because he could hit a little bit. They moved him to first base, and he had a wonderful, magnificent, long career because they made the decision that he shouldn’t be fired, that they should find a better role for him to play on the team or in the company.
TRLICA: There’s something else that maybe only a few people know about you is your knowledge of history and your unbelievable memory for trivia. So where does all that come from?
LEE: Most of my knowledge of history relates to just a large appetite for reading military history. And some of it relates to the fact that I was with my mother and stepfather who was in the military for a few years in Germany during the Cold War period and developed a great appetite for understanding World War II and generals and battles that were fought. From the sports trivia standpoint, I’m a product of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Because I played sports and knew a lot of the people who played, I tend to remember and relate dates and events and games, whether it’s football, basketball, or baseball. I had favorite players. Growing up, I thought Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle were just it. Little did I know when I got to college I was going to be coached by a guy who actually played with Ted Williams and probably against Mickey Mantle and all my heroes. So it’s easier for me to remember some of those days because of my personal experiences.
TRLICA: We’re sitting in your office doing this interview, and you have lots of memorabilia here. What are some of the things that mean the most to you that are sitting on the shelves or on the wall?
LEE: The things that are here are in two different categories. One shelf is full of family items. I think probably the picture of my wife and my two daughters probably is my most favorite, although I still cherish the pictures of my mother and Native American Cherokee grandmother. Another bookcase holds items that relate back to being an athlete, playing baseball, and some are people who I played with or admired in sports.
TRLICA: Many of your industry friends believe you will never retire. Is that true, or are you planning on moving to Hilton Head for good one of these days?
LEE: Well, my wife pretty much has moved there full time, and I certainly enjoy my time there. But, seriously, I don’t know the answer to that. I’m not sure I understand what retirement is. While I love to play golf, I wouldn’t want to play golf every day. I do know that as long as I’m healthy and it’s enjoyable to talk with those in the industry and continue to be a part of this industry, I don’t have a date in mind to retire. It’s almost the month of September when we have our annual magazine meeting. There will be 120 or so retailers and solution providers and their spouses all together at Sanibel Island, Florida. It’s a truly spectacular event, and it’ll be fun to be around those people. So as long as those types of things happen and it makes me feel good, I don’t have a date in mind.
TRLICA: Speaking of personal items, I notice that you’re wearing a watch for the first time that I’ve ever seen. Why after all these years are you wearing a watch?
LEE: I bought a watch and started wearing it about two months ago, and you’re the first person who has noticed. I stopped wearing a watch fifty years ago when my grandfather passed away with a sudden heart attack, six months from his retirement. I was angry that my grandfather was taken so suddenly. I guess getting rid of my watch was my way of saying that time wasn’t that important. I figured fifty years is long enough. So I bought a watch.
TRLICA: Here’s my last question. What’s next for the magazine?
LEE: The magazine is in really good hands because we’ve been able to hire some pretty smart people who will continue to make the magazine different and better, regardless of what we do to help them. That means the magazine will continue to evolve and improve to provide even better service and partnership to this great industry of loss prevention.