Gap's Keith White: A career in loss prevention is "everything I like to do"
Earlier this month, we introduced our series on the evolving careers of retail loss prevention leaders, asking Dan Faketty of Winn-Dixie to share his career story. To get another perspective for our second installment, we asked the same of another stand-out leader from our LP Advisory Council, Keith White.
White is the senior vice president of loss prevention at Gap Inc., vice chairman of the LP Advisory Council, and a speaker at our upcoming Loss Prevention Conference & EXPO. Read on to find out how he views the profession, how growing up in inner city Chicago gave him an edge in the industry, and what the LP profession needs today.
When were you first exposed to the loss prevention profession? What made you decide to pursue a career in loss prevention/asset protection?
Like a number of people in the field, I discovered it by accident. After finishing college, I was looking at law enforcement opportunities. A friend told me about an loss prevention job interview he had and asked if I wanted to interview in his place. I said, “what’s loss prevention?” I knew about corporate security, but I wasn’t impressed with being limited to a uniformed guard. I had no idea that loss prevention would be so vast and sophisticated. For me it was the perfect intersection between the investigative training and business acumen I had developed at the collegiate level. I could carry a briefcase, manage a team, oversee a budget and manage business objectives, but I would also have the opportunity to testify in court and manage complex, interesting investigations — everything I like to do.
How has your unique personal background helped you succeed in your LP career?
When you live in the inner city, you have to be extremely perceptive and aware of your surroundings. You have to be able to sense when there is a change in the atmosphere, whether it’s in the personal relationships of those around you or the physical environment. If someone has to tell you something’s not right, then it’s too late—you’re robbed or worse. I think that being perceptive, understanding how to read people, understanding body language and being able to evaluate all kinds of situations has given me a distinct advantage in this role and in all my LP roles.
Tell us about a particular moment, challenge or success that made you certain this was the right profession for you.
I started my career in a distribution center environment, and I got a confidential tip that a receiving dock worker and truck driver were colluding to steal a truckload of swimming pools and fans. I connected with the local PD and we set up an elaborate sting operation to catch them in the act. I learned a lot from that. First, that people always think people steal things like electronics, but that was one of the hottest summers on record and pools and fans were selling like hotcakes, so you have to understand the full context of the environment you’re engaged in.
And second, in setting up that sting with the police, I gave up some control over the investigation. And because union members were involved, it was a political disaster that some of my superiors didn’t want me to pursue. But I told them that the sting is going down, and I’m going to be there – if I’m not here tomorrow, that’s on you. Well, the sting went down like in a textbook. The apprehensions went down perfectly. And then, my boss said, “look what Keith and I did.” It was a laughable moment, but I knew that I was in this career for the long-haul. I stand for what’s right, not what’s politically correct. Being an authority figure, we sometimes get involved in situations that don’t win popularity contests, but I knew I’d be OK doing that.
The role of LP is continuing to expand and grow. When it comes to hiring and promoting team members, what kind of talent and skill sets are you looking for to be successful now and in the future?
In the old days, there were two ways to look at LP. If you’re looking for a management candidate, you were looking for someone who had a law enforcement background with investigative experience. And for an hourly level employee, you were looking for physical presence, what we called the big dude in the door.
Now, for management candidates, I’m looking for someone who has an academic background in criminal justice or law and even an M.B.A. or business background because I want someone who can apply concepts and strategies within a business framework. For those hourly associates, physical presence is not what it used to be. I look for people who can outthink a shoplifter or a criminal, not out-wrestle them or outrun them. If there’s a 5’1” woman who can educate the staff, build awareness, create a shrink-reduction strategy for the store and understand all the technical tools at her disposal, she’ll do 20 times more than the big dude at the door ever could. So we’re looking for people with those ambitions and qualifications.
Stay tuned for the last post in our series, where Gary Johnson, vice president for loss prevention at The Vitamin Shoppe Inc., will share his story.
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