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Setting a Strategic Course

​“I WON’T HAVE ANY PET ISSUES while I’m president,” states Raymond T. O’Hara, CPP, ASIS International’s new president. Instead, O’Hara will focus on helping to achieve the objectives of the Society’s strategic plan, including increasing the number of women in the security profession, mentoring young professionals, growing the international membership, and increasing the Society’s IT security offerings.

O’Hara will also highlight the value of joining ASIS. “I say it all the time when I’m speaking: The $150 that you pay for your membership is worth 10 times that in the relationships you can build around the world,” he notes.

He cites a firsthand example: “I had a business security issue in Vietnam. I went online and found two ASIS members there. I sent them each an e-mail, and they both responded within a couple hours. And they gave me enough information to point me in the right direction. I did the same thing in Taipei. I went to the Taiwan Chapter chair with a question, and he got right back to me. You have this information at your fingertips around the clock—and if that isn’t value for your membership, I don’t know what is.”

The value of ASIS membership has been apparent to O’Hara for a long time. Currently the executive vice president of consulting and investigations and international operations for Andrews International of Los Angeles, California, he first joined the Society in July 1979 and has risen steadily to become the Society’s leader in 2011.

Gone West

O’Hara was born in New York into an Irish immigrant family. When he was a teenager, he and his family moved to California, the opposite end of the nation, where he attended high school and joined the U.S. Army.

In 1972, he met his wife Christie. They had two children: Jennifer and Michael. “If you are looking for us on the weekend, you’ll find us on the tee box. It’s our time to wind down,” he says.

After his term of enlistment was completed, O’Hara became a law enforcement officer. “I had an older brother who had joined the Los Angeles Police Department, so I thought that might be a good thing for me to do too,” he recalls. “I spent 10 great years in law enforcement, from 1969 to 1979. Today, I tell anyone who will listen that if they want a career in law enforcement, there are plenty of agencies to join, but a good five to 10 years on the street in a major city is good for the soul. It helps ground people.”

O’Hara says he was tempted into private security by friends at the GTE Corporation in Iowa. “They asked me if I wanted to join them, and it seemed like the right thing to do at the time,” he recalls. After joining the company in 1979 as corporate security manager, O’Hara found the switch from a reactive law enforcement mind-set to a proactive security way of thinking took some effort.

“For the most part, law enforcement is black and white—it’s either a violation of the law or it isn’t. But in corporations, there are no rules of engagement like that, and you have to realize that you’re not dealing with bank robbers, you’re dealing with company employees who may have done something wrong, but not always do these wrongs end up being criminal. In fact, oftentimes they don’t, because they’re violations of the work rules only,” he says.

Of the security and loss prevention challenges that telecom giant GTE faced when he worked there, O’Hara remembers, “Those were rotary-dial phones in those days. We used to worry about people stuffing the coin telephones with paper so that they could get the coins out. And it was a big deal if someone had an illegal second line in their house.”

That same year, O’Hara came across ASIS for the first time. His boss told him about the Society’s annual seminar and exhibits being held that year in Detroit. “He said, ‘You have to go to this.’ So I ended up in Detroit trying to figure out who all these people were. But within a few years, ASIS became a big part of Christie’s and my life,” explains O’Hara.

After several years, the O’Haras moved to Chicago, where he oversaw security at a major GTE manufacturing plant. “That was really eye-opening. I learned all there was to know about physical security in that place,” he states. “We had 10,000 employees under one roof. We implemented an external card access system with badges—something that GTE had never had before in a manufacturing plant of that size. We were on the cutting edge of physical security in those days.”

By 1984, O’Hara says he had “had enough of the weather in Chicago,” and decided to take a new position in the Los Angeles area with forest products company Weyerhaeuser. Some of the security challenges there were unique. “We had someone land a hot-air balloon on a piece of the company’s land—and insist that it was okay for him to do it—as well as squatters and trespassers on Weyerhaeuser property. It wasn’t a traditional situation where you have a fence around everything,” he says.

O’Hara remained with Weyerhaeuser for 14 years. He left the company after deciding not to take a promotion that would have required relocation to Seattle. California was his home, he says, and he wanted to stay. After choosing to stay put, O’Hara become a consultant with Pinkerton.

“I went to work…running the western region of Pinkterton’s consulting business. Then I spent a couple of years doing this with Vance International (now Andrews International) and then came over to Andrews International just over two years ago in an expanded role. [Backed by a large team] I run not only the consulting business but also the international business,” O’Hara says.

Calling his job hectic is an understatement. “I normally handle about 20 to 30 different things in different industries and different parts of the globe. It’s not an 8-to-5 job any more. Before I get up on the West Coast, I probably have 50 e-mails waiting from around the world,” O’Hara states.

“We’re a full-service security services company, and we consult for corporate clients and perform due diligence. We’re also involved significantly in protecting executives and others during international travel in high-risk countries…. It’s pretty demanding, but it is also very rewarding,” he says.

Leadership Ladder

As mentioned, O’Hara first learned about ASIS when his employer sent him to the ASIS International Annual Seminar and Exhibits. His interest was piqued in the organization. “It was so interesting to meet people who were doing the same thing I was,” he explains.

O’Hara attended Central Iowa Chapter meetings and began making friends. For example, “I remember meeting Mike Frankovich [Michael S. Frankovich, CPP] in those early days. Mike is a former ASIS Board of Directors member, and we’ve been friends all these years,” he recalls.

When O’Hara’s job took him back to the state of California, he became a member of the San Fernando Valley Chapter. “I was very active, helping build the chapter up. I became the program chair who helped find speakers and arrange programs.”

He is currently a member of the Inland Empire Chapter and has been a member of the San Diego Chapter.

CPP. When O’Hara was hired by Weyerhaeuser in July 1984, he was told by his new boss, former ASIS Board Member Robert Watson, CPP, that “I had until October to get my Certified Protection Professional ® (CPP) designation. So, I had just moved, had a new job, and had only a couple of months to prepare for the examination.” Watson, O’Hara says, was adamant. “He felt it was important for the people who were on his team to have earned the CPP.”

How did O’Hara manage it? “I lugged those Protection of Assets manuals with me as I was traveling. I spent all my spare time preparing, then I took a one-day review course in San Francisco and took the exam right after the review—the next day. I passed on my first attempt—didn’t pass by much,” he jokes, “but I did pass it. It was a good experience, and it has been good for me in my career. In all honesty, anyone who prepares for the CPP exam, whether he or she actually passes it or not, will be better prepared for their daily work. You learn things by studying for the exam that you wouldn’t learn unless you went looking for them, and people are generally too busy for that.”

Now board certified, O’Hara plunged into ASIS’s deeper waters. He joined the Substance Abuse Committee. “This was in the late 1980s, so there was a significant amount of drugs in the workplace,” he says. “I spent several years on that committee, and I enjoyed it.”

O’Hara went on to chair the ASIS Investigations Council in 2001. Then, having received his own CPP, O’Hara decided to become involved in the process. He was appointed to the Professional Certification Board (PCB) and spent six years helping to hone the examination. “We got rid of the optional portions of the exams—in those days, you had the core exam and a dozen or so areas that the test-taker could choose four of. However, we realized that perhaps there should be some specialty exam options…and later on the Professional Certified Investigator® (PCI) and the Physical Security Professional® (PSP) probably came out of those discussions about specialty exams. We also put together the first Spanish CPP exam, which I recall was a disaster because we didn’t translate it too well,” he admits. “It has come a long way since then.”

On the board. In 2003, O’Hara successfully ran for the ASIS Board of Directors. As a candidate, he identified the three most meaningful issues for the Society as the creation of ASIS standards and guidelines, chapter growth and participation, and becoming a truly international organization. “The members throughout the world deserve the same commitment to the profession that we have in the United States,” he wrote at the time. It is a view he has not changed.

“It’s noteworthy—the expansion in Europe and in Asia,” O’Hara says, adding that already one-third of all ASIS chapters are located outside the United States. “There are approximately 150 chapters here and 76 internationally. I predict that the international chapters will continue to grow because of the intense interest around the world.”

At the conclusion of his three-year term, which included serving as ASIS treasurer in 2005, O’Hara ran again for the board, but he was not elected. He ran again in 2007 and was elected, promptly being voted onto the Board Management Committee as the Society’s secretary in 2007. He served as ASIS treasurer in 2009 and as president-elect in 2010.

O’Hara is comfortable that ASIS is on the right course. He says that the Board of Directors “instituted a strategic planning process not all that many years ago that has evolved nicely, and I think it’s ready to grow into more of a three- to five-year plan versus a one-year plan. I’d like to see more of a strategic plan rather than an operational plan, and reduce some of the content in it that’s repetitive every year.”

The world is changing rapidly, O’Hara states, “and ASIS has to change with it. We have to be nimble. We’re not always good at that.”

While he praises the creation of the CSO Roundtable, calling it “a terrific venture,” O’Hara laments the time it took to begin the creation of ASIS standards and guidelines. “If we had only done it 10 or 15 years ago when we first talked about it, we’d be so much further ahead!”

O’Hara recognizes, however, that all of these initiatives require an investment, and he knows that resources—both monetary and volunteer—are finite. “We can’t really task ASIS members with any more than they are already tasked. The environment we’re in today is of 60-hour work weeks, hundreds of e-mails per day, and then volunteering. We’ve got to figure out better ways to do this,” he states.

Latin America. While ASIS has worked hard to enhance the Society’s presence in Europe and Asia, O’Hara feels there is work to be done in Latin, Central, and South America. “We need to jump in and get more active in that part of the world. It’s very important to me that we reach out to our members there and provide them with a forum for ASIS in their nations,” O’Hara states.

“Recently, I’ve visited the Mexico City, Bogatá, and Panama chapters and the interest level of people there was amazing. Yes, it will be a challenge because the languages are different. In Europe, we didn’t face that problem because English is pretty common—as it is in Asia and in the Mideast, where we are venturing now. It’ll be a challenge, but that is good. It’s the right thing to do,” notes O’Hara.

Information anytime. O’Hara recognizes that IT security is increasing in prominence. “This year, there are three CISOs on the ASIS Board of Directors. If we can’t leverage the knowledge base of board members and others to get our membership the information they need to be successful in their careers, we’re making a mistake,” he says.

IT matters not just in terms of security but also in terms of the information sharing capabilities that new technology puts at everyone’s fingertips. “If we want to watch The Godfather at 2 a.m. on a Sunday, we can—or whatever the material happens to be. Whatever that content is, our membership now wants it on demand, whenever they want it,” he says. ASIS, as a provider of information, has to be ready to meet that demand.

O’Hara looks forward to the input of new board member Brian Allen, CPP, senior director of corporate security for Time Warner Cable. “He’s in this every day—content available anywhere, anytime,” he says.

“I think our challenge is in understanding where we are in this particular marketplace, understanding where it’s going to be tomorrow, and the three- to five-year projections. And we can’t just put everything up there. We have to charge for it, but we have smart people on staff and on the board and in other volunteer leadership positions. We’ll figure it out,” he says.

Mentoring. O’Hara is a proponent of diversifying the pool of security professionals. “I say this in public a lot: When you look at a picture of the board, it’s all men and one woman, and that’s ridiculous. I’m not embarrassed to say this. It’s the truth, and I feel strongly about it. Our volunteer leadership needs to step out and find diverse individuals whom they can mentor individually or collectively,” says O’Hara, adding that many men make security their second career after retiring from organizations where there are women who could do the same after mentoring. “We need to reach out to them early on before they make that decision about what their second career will be.”

O’Hara notes that one of ASIS’s volunteer leaders whom he admires is Richard E. Chase, CPP, PCI, chief security officer of General Atomics in San Diego, California, who “did a terrific job in the last couple of years of his career at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives getting involved in ASIS. He ought to be the poster boy for what this is all about. He got involved, got to know people, joined the ASIS Law Enforcement Liaison Council, and ended up as a CPP.

“The Dick Chases of the world can reach out to their old organizations and to others who are coming out and start getting them involved in ASIS a few years before they retire. Same thing with the young professionals—we need to reach out and get information to them in a timely manner. We need to push the value of ASIS membership and what it will do for them in the years going forward,” O’Hara states.

“Whenever I’m asked to speak, one of the things that I frequently say is what [Timothy J. Walsh, CPP] always says: ‘If you volunteer in this organization, you’re going to get back 10 times the effort that you put out.’ I would go on the record saying I’ve gotten much more than 10 times back in help with my career and through the mentoring that others did for me. Now I am doing the same thing for others. What you can leave behind by helping others is what it’s all about, I think.”