In 1996 the Navy Exchange Service Command (NEXCOM) hired Fritz Hirchert as the new director of loss prevention and safety. Many of you in traditional retail likely know Fritz from his many years with Home Quarters, Payless Cashways, and other retailers, including Montgomery Ward where he started as a store detective.
I transferred from the European region and was the first person to report directly to him. During my first week of transition, Fritz set me down and we reviewed my resume. During our conversation, Fritz said to me, "I see you have a wealth of security, loss prevention, and safety experience, but I noticed you didn't indicate any academic background? Did you go to college? Why don't you tell me your story?"
I told Fritz of my academic debacle going to a division III school in Wisconsin on an athletic scholarship, and what happens when your focus is on sports versus academics. My academics suffered so much, I had to leave school, but had always "planned" on going back to school one day to get my degree. At that point, Fritz asked me to "define a plan."
I didn't really have a plan, but saying it sounded good. I didn't really expect he was going to focus on that, but he did. Fritz said, "I tell you what, pick a school, any school in Virginia and register for a class. I will approve your tuition to be paid through the company's tuition assistance program, but first show me where you registered, for which class, and the date it starts." I was stunned that someone outside of my family was willing to invest in my academic career.
I researched various colleges and universities that offered a criminal justice or criminology program. I began by taking one class at a time since I had not been in school for years and was unsure of the academic expectation and workload on top of my corporate LP responsibilities. My goal at the time was to obtain an associate's degree, which I ultimately completed in two years.
While I was happy to meet my goal, I was not satisfied with an associate's degree. I knew at that point, I wanted to keep going and work on my bachelor's degree. Deep down I knew that most of my counterparts in the retail loss prevention industry had their degrees, and I wanted to complete mine in order to move up the career ladder. So, pure motivation, sacrifice, and drive led to me to complete my bachelor's degree in criminology.
Life Gets Complicated Sometimes
I should have realized then that getting my bachelor's degree was the easy part because my life was about to get more complicated. Right before graduation, my wife and I found out we were expecting our first child. I took a two-year hiatus from school before beginning the search for a university that would accommodate my needs based on a demanding travel schedule, now two young children, and a wife who worked full time as well.
I focused on a master of business administration (MBA) program that encouraged students to expand their professional competencies within and beyond the classroom. I chose a MBA program because I felt it would provide a wider, deeper understanding of the key functional areas of business with courses that focus on managing complex interactions while defining and solving real-world business challenges. In addition to mastering analytical tools and technology necessary to solve complex management problems, the MBA program emphasized leadership, communications, teamwork, ethics, and skills for managing diversity.
I did not want to stay focused strictly on loss prevention and safety, but wanted more in-depth knowledge and understanding of business across all levels of a matrix organization. I think too many times loss prevention, asset protection, safety, and security people (depending on how one looks at their role) are stereotyped or stove-piped into a single niche versus being broad, business-oriented professionals. Loss prevention and safety deal with every facet of protecting the bottom-line of business profitability and is not a single niche position.
I am a life-long learner and will continue to learn everything I can about business, whether it's through benchmarking or keeping abreast of the latest technological advances. Everyone looks at his or her competition in business to maintain the advantage, and it's no different when managing oneself. I believe in making the time for self-improvement, although I did not realize the importance of this until later in my career. It's never too late to maintain your own competitive advantage through academic pursuit or some type of certification, such as LPQ, LPC, CFI, CPP, CFE, or whatever makes sense in your situation.
An Individual Development Plan
I encourage anyone reading this to sit down and develop an annual individual development plan. Ask yourself the following questions:
• What are your priorities for at this particular time in my life and for the foreseeable future?
• What are your vision, dreams, desires, goals, strategies, and action steps in each area?
• How much "time" will you set aside to achieve your goals?
• What specifically is calling you in this area?
• What are your priorities for growth in the coming year?
• What is your vision or calling for your vocational life or career, and what specific goals do you need to work toward to accomplish this?
• What are the specific steps and tasks involved in actually implementing the strategies above?
• How do you schedule these into your calendar? Remember, "I don't have the time" is not an excuse.
For the young professionals out there, seek out the strategic leaders who will teach, coach, mentor, and invest their time with you and help guide you to your career goals. These are the leaders who will allow growth and succession planning within their organization. Leadership development is the most important aspect of knowledge, education, and training for growing yourself within an organization. One of the major weaknesses of any organization is the failure to spend sufficient time developing our leaders and subordinates at the strategic level.
One last thing, I could not have completed my MBA without the strong support of my wife, family, manager, friends, and peers. I had a lot of assistance along the way, and without their support I could not have accomplished my goals.
I know many of you can give reasons for not going to school—job, travel, family—but if you set your mind to it and start taking one class at a time, you can persevere and do it. So, when you start down your path, make sure it's clear to everyone where you want to go. After all, they want you to succeed...just as I do.