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The Good Steward

MICHAEL R. CUMMINGS, CPP, ASIS International’s 2009 president, sees himself as a caretaker. “When I look at the office of president, I see it as a year of stewardship of the organization,” he says. “I think that a one-year presidency is good for our organization. It’s not going be about—and it should never be about—the person. It’s about that person being a good steward of ASIS’s ongoing growth and the continuance of its strategic direction. In the last several years, I’ve been impressed with the single- mindedness of the Management Committee [formerly the Executive Committee] in moving the agenda forward, not based on any one person, but on what is best for the Society.”

CUMMINGS REACHED ASIS’s top position without striking out for it. Although he’d been an avid volunteer leader, he’d never aimed for any national-level office. In fact, Cummings was appointed by ASIS President Raymond F. Humphrey, CPP, to the Board of Directors in 1999 to fill the last year of a term vacated by Board Member Robert Watson, CPP, who had unexpectedly resigned. Following this brief substitution, Cummings ran for an elected board position—and lost. “That was the first time I’d ever run for anything,” he recalls with chagrin.

But Cummings wasn’t off the ASIS Board of Directors for long. When Barbara A. Felker, CPP, resigned in 2001, he replaced her for the remainder of her term at the behest of then-President Bonnie S. Michelman, CPP. At the conclusion of that term, Cummings ran again, and won. “I guess I’d developed some name recognition by then,” he jokes.

Cummings has never been self-aggrandizing. Indeed, he seems to follow what might be described as a Zen path—letting his intuitions dictate his actions. It was in this way that he found his calling in security, a profession he has excelled in for 35 years.

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Cummings attended Marquette University, majoring in history and political science. His security career, he says, began as a fluke just before his senior year. Since matriculating to Marquette, he’d been working to pay for school. The student union job board displayed a listing for a part-time store detective at the Milwaukee location of retail giant Marshall Field and Company. Cummings applied and was hired in October 1973. “I’d intended to graduate and go on to law school,” he explains. “The security manager was looking for someone who was going to be around for a while, but he didn’t have any other good candidates, so he gave me the chance,” he says.

“After I graduated, I took the law school entrance exams, and I did pretty well on them; I don’t think I would have had any problem getting into school, but I didn’t know what kind of law I wanted to practice,” he states. Cummings decided instead to take a year sabbatical to work full-time and save money for his future law school tuition. “As it happened, however, I was promoted. The security job started taking off, and I never looked back. I never did go to law school, although I did go back years later to do my master’s work. I’ve never regretted it, frankly.”

Cummings remained with Marshall Field’s for more than 12 years. After becoming a full-time security employee, he was given increased opportunities. “I wanted to stay busy, so they offered me different projects—one was an assessment of all the alarm systems….I ended up with a 20-page report…and I guess that showed some folks that I was pretty serious and could do a good job.”

Cummings was promoted to assistant security manager and then to manager. In November 1980, the company transferred him to its Water Tower store on the “magnificent mile” in Chicago.

“I learned a lot there. The pace was different. It was a much busier store in a vertical mall, instead of a horizontal mall that emptied into the shopping center, so there were some physical security challenges. I stayed there for four years until March 1985, when I had an opportunity to go back to Milwaukee and join the Mt. Sinai Medical Center as assistant director of security,” says Cummings.

He wanted to return to Milwaukee for personal and professional reasons. But when he first took the healthcare-sector job, he remembers thinking, “There can’t be that much to healthcare security.” Now, he recalls that moment with a laugh, stating: “I had no comprehension.”

At first, Cummings was responsible for operations, while the director of security handled policy. However, after the director’s departure in 1987, Cummings was appointed to serve as his successor. This was only shortly before Mt. Sinai joined with two other hospitals to form Aurora Health Care.

“I was fortunate enough to end up with the top job when we blended the security departments of the three hospitals. I’ve been here ever since,” Cummings notes, adding, “One of the reasons that I left retail was because the job had somewhat stagnated for me. What has maintained my tenure at Aurora for so long is that the job has not gotten stale. I’ve had regular opportunities to grow while on the job—especially in going from delivering healthcare security in a single hospital to 14 hospitals, pharmacies, clinics, visiting nurse services, and more. It has kept me very interested in and enthused about my job.”

Enter ASIS

Searching for knowledge to help him succeed in his new niche, Cummings first joined the Society in 1978. He quickly became a chapter regular. “My attitude was that I’d come to the chapter meetings and help out, but I didn’t want to run against anyone. I’d just be here to help. I ended up being appointed to do just about everything—for example, I was the newsletter editor; I was law enforcement liaison; and I was membership chair for five or six years,” Cummings states.

“In 1987, he went to his first ASIS Seminar and Exhibits. “I was a little overwhelmed. I had always gone to our chapter meetings, but we had about 40 people,” he says. “I had no idea of the number who showed up at the seminar and exhibits…. I marveled at the same things everybody talks about it—the networking, the education, the opportunity to see the vendors.”

Cummings missed the following year’s event but has attended each one since.

“My focus has changed from year to year, depending on where I was in my professional growth and what projects I was working and what my volunteer leadership role was,” he explains, “but I’ve continued to find great value in attending.” To other members, his advice is: “If you only do one thing per year, that’s the thing to do.”

At his first seminar, Cummings attended all the healthcare-related sessions and met Fred Jackson and Ciro J. Cardelli, CPP, who were restarting the healthcare security committee. “They made a pitch during their presentation for anyone interested in joining,” he recalls. “I told them that I was new to healthcare and that I figured they were the guys to learn from. The strategy worked because they let me join.”

Through the committee, Cummings says, he met all the “movers and shakers on that side of the business.” He stayed on the council for almost a decade and chaired it the last three years. “This also allowed me to move up the ASIS volunteer leadership ladder,” he notes.

In addition to chairing the Healthcare Council from 1997 to 1999, Cummings served on the Commission on Committees that formulated the title change from committee to council and created council vice presidents. “All the councils reported to board members; each board member was responsible for five or so councils. Honestly, that didn’t work well and certainly wouldn’t fit in with today’s structure where the board is working on a strategic planning level.”

When he received the call from Humphrey to join the board, Cummings admits, “I was totally flabbergasted. I was only a council chair and I’d never been a regional vice president (RVP) or an assistant RVP. I was blown away by the fact that I was tapped to come onto the Board of Directors.”

One of the early issues that Cummings wrestled with as a board member was to change the name of the organization from the American Society for Industrial Security to ASIS International. “The name change was important to show that we were serious about international members overall,” he states, of what became a sustained push to truly globalize the Society—one that continues today.

Advocacy. Early in his board tenure, the tragedy of 9-11 was “a watershed mark,” Cummings says. “While ASIS continues, and will always continue, to place a strong emphasis on education, I think that 9-11 woke us up about the Society’s advocacy role for our profession—of being out in front and truly the voice of security in the United States and around the world. What we saw after 9-11 was ‘security experts’ coming out of the woodwork and knee-jerk reactions to address the problems that the episode caused, and I think it showed us we had to take on a greater advocacy role.”

Cummings explains that the Society’s advocacy, now spearheaded by Jack Lichtenstein, ASIS vice president of government affairs and public policy, proceeds with the understanding that “regulations and laws can be good, but the devil is in the details.”

ASIS works to make sure that well-intentioned legislation isn’t going to do harm, says Cummings. He adds, “We’ve taken on issues that we would never have done 10 years ago—for example, guns in the workplace. I don’t think that a decade ago we would have had the courage of conviction to do that.”

Standards and guidelines. Cummings was also firmly in support of ASIS standards and guidelines. The Society had previously chosen not to promulgate them, but Cummings believes that 9-11 and other world events brought to the forefront the need for a professional security organization to create security advisory provisions. “This is a piece of our evolution that I can point to with pride,” he states. “Our profession and ASIS has looked over the horizon and seen the challenges that need to be met.”

To those unhappy with the ASIS standards and guidelines initiative, Cummings says, “When you’ve got 36,000 members worldwide, you’re never going to please everybody. But I do believe in the organizational leadership processes we have. The board members with whom I have the honor and privilege of serving are really concerned and have always done things for the right reasons; they’re not driven by self-interest as much as they have been driven by what’s best for the profession, the Society, and our members.”

Strategic planning. Cummings states that ASIS’s strategic planning is “one of the really strong, hardwired things” that guarantees the Society’s success. “It allows for an orderly transition and growth on a year to-year basis without big ups or downs.”

That makes for stable financial health. “Due in large part to the great job that Executive Vice President Michael Stack has done over the years, the Society is in a financial position that serves our members very well,” says Cummings, who saw this first hand as ASIS treasurer and a member of the Budget and Finance Committee for years. The financial and strategic processes “provide the Society with great stability and allow it to continue its mission and serve its members.” he adds.

One of Cummings’ goals as president is to raise awareness of the Society’s strategic planning. “I think that one of the things we need to do is educate all of our volunteer leaders about the 2009 strategic plan,” he states, noting that he will be holding several webinars for volunteer leaders on the plan and the budget and on how the two are mutually supportive.

“When I look back to when I was a council chair, I didn’t grasp what the strategic plan was—I just went out and did what I thought was good for the Healthcare Security Council. Most of the time that dovetailed, but unless we explain to our volunteer leaders what role they have in the plan, we can’t expect them to be supportive of it on the council level, the RVP level, the chapter level, or others.”

What Lies Ahead

Cummings notes that because he was appointed to the board for a few years and then elected for two terms, he has spent more time on the board than most. With that perspective, he sees how the industry has changed and matured and how changes in the world have required the leadership to be nimble.

As an example, Cumming cites the recognition, made early this decade, that cybersecurity and the issue of convergence needed to be heavily addressed by ASIS. Only a little before that time, says Cummings, most security professionals would never have conceived of it. The seeds ASIS planted with IT professional associations, he says, are coming to fruition now.

“I think the next big challenge that we’re going to address as we continue to mature is enterprise security risk management. So, there is the recognition that as our profession matures, there are greater opportunities to look at and expand connections. We’ve also identified communities of interest—the Chief Security Officer Roundtable is a perfect example of ASIS coming up with a structure to deal with and serve that community,” Cummings states.

Another challenge for 2009 is further developing the relationship between the board and headquarters and the volunteer leaders.

The volunteer leaders are “the lifeblood of the organization,” he notes. “We have to continue to tap in and find ways to make those volunteer leadership experiences meaningful and find ways to support the volunteers…. We have to find ways to help good volunteer leaders stay engaged; that is part of our 2009 strategic plan, because we realize that if we are going to continue to be successful, that’s going to be an integral part of that success.”

Giving more of value to the members is another perennial, and important, strategic planning point. He cites the improved Thursday morning programs at the seminar and exhibits as well as the Certified Protection Professional® and CSO sessions as examples of how the Society is continuing to look for ways to serve members better.

“We continue to assess the needs of the membership and not just do the same old, same old. We strike a good balance between maintaining what’s valuable but not being fearful of changes, and so we haven’t become stagnated,” Cummings says.

Support. Cummings has the support of Aurora Healthcare for what will surely be a hectic year. “I’ve been fortunate that my organization has allowed me to do this, but I think it’s seen that there is a benefit for me professionally, as well as what I’ve brought back to Aurora through my contacts,” he says.

“This has been one area where my employer has been absolutely super,” Cummings notes, adding: “I’ve tried to pay that back in kind by making sure that I understand the concurrent responsibilities I have to both organizations this year.

“My department leadership team and their professionalism and support has also allowed me the flexibility to serve ASIS. Without their ability to take care of business in my absence, I would not be in a position to fulfill the requirements of volunteer leadership on this level,” Cummings added.

Cummings also has the support of his wife of 18 years, Rima. “She’s been extremely supportive [in light of the demand on me] and the extra time away from the home,” he states.

“I’m honored to have been given the stewardship of ASIS. I want to achieve one good year of stewardship maintaining what I think the Society is—a high reliability organization with a good consistency of purpose. I don’t think we’ve ever lost focus on serving the members and the profession,” says Cummings, “and if I can do that for one year, I will be very, very happy.”

Ann Longmore-Etheridge is an associate editor of Security Management and editor of ASIS Dynamics.