Q. As a retired law enforcement officer who would like to continue working for 15 more years, I am considering whether a career in corporate security would be a good option. What steps do I need take to determine if there are enough opportunities in security to make this a good decision? Can you offer some advice on a career path for me?
A. This is "THE" question posed from law enforcement, military, intelligence and other public sector leaders to senior security leaders in the private sector and business. The opportunities for hard-working and dedicated law enforcement professionals to excel in corporate security are everywhere around the globe. As a start here are four key questions you can ask yourself:
1. Are you flexible enough for such a career?
2. Do you want to manage or do you want to lead?
3. Do you have the stamina to meet the needs of a large or global corporation?
4. Are you a life-long learner? What is your personal work ethic and are you smart enough to know what you don't know?
Before addressing these four questions there are a few other things you need to consider and take time to ponder. First, the most important action to take is to start your quest well before any possible or expected date of departure from your current position. I consistently recommend everyone start 24 to 36 months (or earlier if you can) to learn everything you can about business. A significant shortfall when moving from the public to private sector is not having a clear understanding of the cultural and organizational dynamics of the environment in which they hope to succeed. A good way to start is to join security organizations, such as:
• ASIS International (formerly American Society for Industrial Security)
• ACFE (Association of Certified Fraud Examiners)
• CSI (Computer Security Institute)
• SEC (Security Executive Council)
You will enhance your business acumen by becoming professionally certified with credentials like a CPP (Certified Protection Professional), CFE (Certified Fraud Examiner) or CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional). This is what I refer to as the academic side of a security career and is similar to going though a good law enforcement academy. When any of us came out of our basic training or academy we knew it was simply a starting platform; our real learning was going to be on the street. Real success in corporate or private security goes well beyond finding leading organizations and having the right credentials.
The key component to becoming a really successful corporate security leader comes by finding industry security mentors with proven security management, operational know-how and skills that have been honed in the business world. Finding this person, or persons, is the equivalent of having a great FTO (field training officer), supervisor and experienced "rabbi" all rolled into one. Having worked with and helped several "rookies" to enter corporate security and go on to grow into global security leaders themselves is really something special. Some of them have themselves built great security teams that deliver real results to the business bottom line. That said here are a few comments on our four questions.
1. Are you flexible enough for such a career? Just like other aspects of business the security function may contract or expand. Everyone looks forward to the expansion, but what about the contractions? In the past five to ten years there has been a switch from hiring those with "backgrounds" in law enforcement and the military to hiring those with proven security skills and business know-how. There are exceptions, but today most businesses are not likely to hire someone right out of a law enforcement agency to be their senior security leader. In most cases you need to be willing to start off as a supervisor or manager on a corporate security team.
2. Do you want to manage or do you want to lead? Although strong management skills are necessary to be an effective public sector leader, this does not necessarily translate to success in corporate security. It is essential to determine if a business is looking for a security manager to maintain the status quo -- if that is the case be sure to ask the question: What does managing the security function look like and what are the business’ expectations? Security leadership takes a lot of creativity and thinking outside of its traditional roles for today’s business environment; that is, are you going to help deliver positive bottom line business results? Most organizations will say they want leadership – don't be foolish and take that at face value. Have the business leaders give you examples of what they visualize as security leadership. Dig behind both their questions and, more importantly, their answers to get a better sense of the direction they foresee security being operationally productive across their enterprise.
3. Do you have the stamina to meet the needs of a large or global corporation? If you are coming from a big department or agency where you have lots of manpower and resources to attack a problem you are likely in for a surprise, if not a shock. You have to be prepared to work 10-14 hour days and sometimes seven days a week. Starting over you will likely be dealing with lots of tactical issues (at times its like herding cats) and almost always without the manpower and resources you have come to expect. This is very wearing if you did not anticipate and prepare for this in advance.
4. Are you a life-long learner? What is your personal work ethic and are you smart enough to know what you don't know? Highly successful leaders in today's businesses are constantly learning. To stay current in today’s fast moving business environments security leaders have to be learning new material at about 20 to 25% each year or they will find themselves literally obsolete in four to five years. As a senior security manager or leader are you willing to meet that learning expectation or hopefully exceed it? Every aspect of what a security professional delivers to the business needs to be right on target. In building my teams I have always hired people smarter than me, with different skill sets than mine and all had to have a primary focus on being a business partner (not a security geek or security “expert.”) They all knew they had to be self-starters, pushing themselves intellectually and creatively to foresee and anticipate the legitimate security needs of the business. As I often say: in business it's not about security, it's about business!
The great thing is you are in control of where you spend your resources and time as you ponder the above. You have to decide what kind of position you are seeking. It is essential you find a level of support that is meaningful well before you begin to think about interviewing for opportunities you are seriously considering. To cross the business world threshold without significant preparation is akin to beginning a journey to places unknown.
The business world offers wonderful opportunities for those seeking a second career from the public sector. This will require a lot of flexibility on your part as you transform your knowledge, skills and abilities into the marketplace of the entrepreneur.
Answer provided by J. David, Quilter, Security Executive Council Faculty Emeritus. David’s new book, "From One Winning Career to the Next," is available for purchase at https://www.securityexecutivecouncil.com/secstore/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=77_65&products_id=320