Walking the Talk with RILA’s Khris Hamlin

Khristopher Hamlin, LPC, is the vice president of asset protection at the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA). Prior to joining RILA, Hamlin served as the senior vice president of asset protection, inventory control, and DC/logistics operations for Saks OFF 5th. He started his retail career with 20-plus years at Macy’s in various roles and then moved on to work for Belk, after which he took on the regional asset protection manager position for Nordstrom, Inc. A busy entrepreneur as well, Khris started The Khris Hamlin Company, a leadership coaching and consulting company, back in 2021. Outside of his professional pursuits, Khris is active with his family and church. He’s a proud dad within a blended family: a 21-year-old, 15-year-old, twin 10-year-olds, and the newest addition, a 3-month-old, all daughters.

STEFANIE HOOVER: Where did you grow up? Tell us about your family life, and how they influenced who you are today.

KHRIS HAMLIN: Growing up in a military family, I had the privilege of having parents who were dedicated US government employees. My leadership lessons and development began early in my childhood. Living in different states across the US and outside of the country taught me the importance of being agile and adaptable. My parents always challenged my sister and me to break away from the norm and never let excuses or setbacks hinder our focus and determination to achieve success. These invaluable lessons have stayed with me to this day.

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In addition, my parents instilled in me the values of always showing up, leaving a positive impact, giving back, and never forgetting where I came from. These values have become a part of who I am and have set the foundation for the person I am today.

HOOVER: During your presentation at the Chicago LP Magazine Regional Town Hall in 2023, you provided an excellent overview of your career path. Can you highlight some of that here? Your career path took some interesting turns.

HAMLIN: During my final years of college, I was lucky enough to secure a position in the fire services. It was a true blessing to start my career journey as a firefighter/paramedic, but it wasn’t exactly where my passion lay. You see, I enjoyed helping people, but I wanted to make a bigger impact in that field. I later learned a lot about my desire to always seek a greater impact.

After completing college, I was presented with another fantastic opportunity. I was chosen to attend the arson academy and after finishing that, I attended the police academy.  This started my career within the arson investigation division.  Just as things were starting to align in my life my first major setback occurred.  I suffered an injury on the job that took me out of commission for almost a year.  During that time, I had to do some real soul-searching.  The role that I thought was my dream assignment started to look more and more like it was a mistake or misplacement.  I made the tough decision to leave my beloved agency and pursue a career with one of the most prestigious law enforcement organizations, the New York City Police Department.

After undergoing months of the recruitment process, I received the exciting news: I had been accepted into the NYPD Academy! I received acceptance into the upcoming recruiting class that fall, which marked the beginning of my plan to move from Maryland to New York City. As I had the entire summer ahead of me, I decided to browse through the “help wanted” section of the newspaper. While doing so, I stumbled upon a job posting that immediately caught my attention. It read something like this, “We are hiring plain-clothed security personnel to work undercover within a retail department store.”  The idea of not having to carry a weapon and getting on-the-job training intrigued me. I thought this role could be a temporary job for me until I moved to New York City. After applying and being hired, I started my first job in the retail industry as a loss prevention detective at Hecht’s Department Stores. Initially, I thought my job at Hecht’s would be temporary. However, it turned out to be a long-term career spanning twenty-five years with Macy’s after they acquired Hecht’s.

Throughout my career, I have held various positions, starting as a loss prevention detective, then progressing to become a district director of asset protection, the manager of the special investigation unit, regional director of investigations, regional vice president of asset protection, regional vice president of operations and asset protection, and finally, the vice president store manager. I have taken a few detours on my career journey in AP.

Even as I climbed up the career ladder, I continued to feel the need to make a bigger impact. Initially, I tackled local challenges and then looked at opportunities across the United States where I could relocate. During my tenure with Macy’s, I relocated about seven times. I started in Maryland and then moved around the state a few times before moving to upstate New York. After that, I moved to downstate New York, then Florida, and finally California. Over my career, I have learned that your career journey will require you to be agile and pivot. You will have to take calculated risks and, at times, be comfortable being uncomfortable. Success is not an easy journey, but you can have some amazing rewards, and impact along the way.

HOOVER: What led you to RILA?

HAMLIN: A professional connection shared the opportunity with me and thought I could make a larger impact within the retail space in this role. After learning more about the role, purpose, and mission of RILA, I realized that our perspectives on the retail industry were aligned. A few weeks later, I began talking with members of the RILA team. As I learned more about each one of them, I became even more convinced that I should pursue this role vigorously. Their passion, determination, and focus to elevate this dynamic industry while helping to transform the environment in which retailers operate aligned perfectly with my current professional goals.

HOOVER: What are you passionate about?

HAMLIN: I am deeply committed to driving change and making a lasting impact. As part of my role, I constantly seek ways to keep the mission and focus of our AP leaders at the forefront of decision-makers, public officials, and the media. These professionals work tirelessly to address shrinkage concerns and ensure a safer shopping and working environment. I am passionate about promoting a positive narrative about those working in this industry. AP leaders are often the first to come under scrutiny when expenses need to be cut, but their work is essential for the sustainability of the retail space. Their progress, leadership, and contributions should be better understood both within organizations and by the public.

HOOVER: It’s clear that servant leadership is important to you. Was there something or someone in your career that influenced this mindset?

HAMLIN: Yes, it was my dad who taught me the importance of selflessness and serving others. He dedicated his life to always having a positive influence and a different perspective. He instilled in me the belief that servant leaders prioritize serving the greater good—they put their team, organization, and families first and don’t prioritize their own objectives. Being in a servant leadership environment makes a significant impact on employees; they feel heard and are more likely to strive for success. I looked up to my dad for the way he led his team, his community, our religious community, and our family. I was inspired to follow his example and made a personal commitment to myself to always show up and never leave a situation, employer, or team until I have made a sustainable and lasting impact.

HOOVER: It is also clear that you want to give back to the industry. We see only a handful of folks willing to put themselves out there like that. What do you suggest others do to get more involved in the industry?

HAMLIN: I suggest taking action rather than just talking about it and “DO IT.” Giving back has always been a significant initiative in my career. When I started in retail, I had no relevant experience in the industry. Though I had some transferable skills, they were not directly related to retail. However, someone took a leap of faith in me and decided to invest in my growth and development. I am grateful for that opportunity and never take it for granted.  Later, I started noticing that very few people of color held positions similar to mine or the ones I was aspiring to attain. This concerned me, as it is challenging to grow and make an impact without people who share similar struggles and experiences. My father taught me to admire those whom I want to be like and adopt them as my mentors for growth. So, I interacted, connected, and got closer to these leaders to learn and witness how they grew in their careers. I was bold and assertive, ensuring that every connection added value and drove me to develop faster and more intentionally. Before I knew it, these leaders were endorsing me and sponsoring me across the industry, and I was learning from their leadership.

This is the same level of impact and give-back I strive for today. I mentor those who think it’s impossible and show them that it is possible. I work to show early and mid-level professionals the struggles I faced, hoping that they would be able to avoid the areas where I stumbled. I spend time weekly meeting with those who have adopted me as their mentor to exchange ideas and give guidance as they strive for success. I not only talk but also take action to develop future industry leaders.

HOOVER: Can you provide an overview of your role at RILA?

HAMLIN: RILA is the trade association in the US representing leading retailers. Our goal is to elevate this dynamic industry by transforming the environment in which retailers operate.

As the vice president of asset protection at RILA, I am responsible for supporting three key asset protection communities. The first community is our Asset Protection Leaders Council, which consists of the highest-level AP leaders within our member organizations. These leaders come together to address and drive industry-level impact in the AP space.

The second community is our Crime Against Business Committee, which comprises corporate investigators and organized retail crime professionals. This committee works to stay up-to-date with the latest trends and techniques used in attacks on businesses. Additionally, this group collaborates with solution providers on emerging technology to keep AP professionals agile and effective at combating threats.

Last, we have the Workplace Safety Committee, which includes industry leaders within occupational health and safety, along with AP leaders within the workplace violence space. This committee partners with the nation’s leading OSHA defense counsel, along with some of the industry‑leading solution providers, to help retailers maximize their effectiveness in keeping the workplace safe for both customers and employees.

HOOVER: Understanding that you are still new in your position, are you developing a vision for your role? What are some milestones that you have set for yourself?

HAMLIN: I think it’s a great question! Setting goals and challenges for myself is something I always do. When I started in this role, my first goal was to get used to the association space. While this might not sound like a big deal, it’s quite different from my previous work. In the past, I focused on delivering results and driving profitability, but now my focus is on building relationships and creating an environment where leaders can maximize their impact.

Building relationships is something that comes naturally to me, and I really enjoy doing it. I’ve also been working on connecting with people in the industry whom I didn’t know before. In retail, it’s easy to stay within your own area of expertise, but I’ve challenged myself to build connections with people in grocery, home improvement, and pharmacy. It’s an ongoing challenge, but one that I’m enjoying.

Khris Hamlin

HOOVER: Tell us about Vibrant Communities and the concept RILA has developed—give us the elevator pitch.

HAMLIN: The purpose of Vibrant Communities is to address safety concerns for employees and consumers by forming a partnership among relevant public and private stakeholders. The goal is to identify and tackle issues that contribute to the increase in crime, violence, vagrancy, and blight in and around retail environments, business districts, and communities across the country.

The retail community has successfully advocated for new laws at the state and federal levels to make selling stolen products more difficult and to increase funding for organized retail crime task forces. These are notable achievements, but they alone will not address many of the underlying socioeconomic factors that threaten the vibrancy of retail spaces and business districts.

Vibrant Communities is an initiative to promote actions that reduce unlawful activity in and around retail environments, which threatens the vibrancy of these areas and surrounding communities. We’ve partnered with the National District Attorneys Association to launch this first-of-its-kind endeavor to combat retail crime.

Efforts will seek to substantially reduce recidivism among high-impact habitual offenders by increased prosecution and deterrence of ORC. The increased risk of arrest and prosecution of ORC criminals and limiting their easy access to unsuspecting buyers through online marketplaces will reduce the reward and further deter these actors.

We are piloting this initiative in two communities, King County, Washington, and Yolo County, California, to test, study, and promote actions to address underlying issues driving unlawful activity with the goal of developing programs that address addiction, mental illness, and other drivers of criminal recidivism.

HOOVER: The ORC and retail crime problem has grown exponentially since you and I were catching shoplifters. Do you think this is a problem that can be solved or are retailers fighting a fight that can’t be won? What will it take to swing the pendulum back the other way?

HAMLIN: The landscape of shoplifting has undergone a significant transformation over the years, prompting the need for a comprehensive approach to tackle this pervasive issue. The evolving nature of shoplifting, from opportunistic individuals to more organized and potentially dangerous offenders, is what we have witnessed since you and I caught shoplifters.  In the past, shoplifting primarily involved opportunistic individuals and a small number of habitual offenders. Today’s scenario encompasses a broader spectrum of actors, including career criminals, the unhoused, drug users, and violent offenders. This shift underscores the complexity of the problem at hand.

Back in my early career, many jurisdictions set felony thresholds at $500, with some states even lower at $300. Now, these thresholds have generally increased to $1,000 or more. Unfortunately, this adjustment has not only failed to deter bad actors, but it has also promoted the now well-known and highly profitable low-risk, high‑reward business model for criminals.

Retailers face a challenging dilemma. The escalating nature of violence associated with shoplifting has led many to adopt a hands-off approach. Meanwhile, law enforcement, already stretched thin, is allocating fewer resources to address shoplifting incidents, relegating them to a lower priority for calls of service.  Traditionally, organized retail crime teams and habitual offenders would steal items for local resale at flea markets or direct face-to-face transactions. However, the effectiveness of online marketplaces in facilitating anonymous sales added significantly to the problem. It is imperative for prosecutors, public officials, law enforcement, retailers, and the public to unite in a collective effort to combat retail theft. Restoring the safety and vibrancy of our communities hinges on this collaborative approach. The repercussions of inaction are felt keenly within our communities. Retailers are forced to close their doors due to unsafe conditions or an inability to remain profitable amid a surge in theft events. This loss of local shopping options deprives families of a crucial resource, while also leading to a decline in local employment opportunities.

So, what can we do? We must elevate our collaboration to a new level. Prosecutors and public officials must take a stand against theft events, changing the narrative from low-risk and high-reward to high‑risk and no-reward. This paradigm shift is essential to curbing the alarming trends and reclaiming the once‑vibrant environments we consider our communities.

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