Langer Leads by Example
Print Issue: January 2017
Thomas J. Langer, CPP, joined ASIS International in the early 1980s. He started in the Granite State Chapter in New Hampshire, eventually transferring to the National Capital Chapter as his employer of three decades morphed and merged. Langer served in several ASIS council leadership positions before being elected to the Board of Directors. This month, Langer begins his term as president of ASIS International. Security Management spoke to Langer about his security career and his insights on the industry.
Q. How did your career aspirations lead you to the security industry?
A. I wanted to be in law enforcement from the time I was a child. I thought it would be a great profession, and the four years I spent as a police officer were probably the best work experience of my life.
After I completed my degree at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, in 1977, I stayed and became a police officer. I left the force because I was married and had a child and needed a better salary. So, I joined Sanders Associates in New Hampshire as a facility security officer…. Sanders was acquired by Lockheed, which merged into Lockheed Martin. That was the crazy M&A period for businesses in the 1980s and 1990s. When the dust settled we were part of BAE Systems, Inc., but I’ve been with the same company for 36 years.
Q. How has your career trajectory helped you succeed?
A. I started as facility security officer with responsibility for one site. From there I became the head of information security, which at the time was physical document control—primarily classified material and classification management. I managed the security aspects of contracts between my employer and other companies and the government. From there, I went to a special programs assignment, and each of those roles increased the number of people who worked for me. And I went from a broad, does-everything role to much more specific and directed involvement in programs and a large staff of people I was managing.
In 1999, I was promoted to security director for that piece of the company. Two weeks afterward, Lockheed announced it was going to divest us, so any celebration was over. I went through the divestiture process, which professionally was one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had because we were auctioned. A number of companies were looking at us and we had to go through a lot of due diligence, and I took that opportunity to brief the different government agencies that had oversight because of the work we did. And so I went from agency to agency…and that allowed me to establish a relationship with a number of senior people in the government.
Q. What has been the most educational part of your job?
A. After my company was purchased by BAE Systems, a British company, the deal had to be reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, under the auspices of the U.S. Treasury Department. We were given a special security agreement we had to live by. We have a special set of directors for the U.S. piece of the company, and fairly strict oversight by the U.S. Department of Defense.
The great thing was that it gave me an international exposure that I never had before. It’s a unique level of oversight and a unique level of responsibility professionally.
Our biggest challenges are helping customers understand the foreign ownership model and how that operates…. You find that you are also reeducating people on a regular basis because staff at various regulatory agencies and customers naturally change over time. To be successful in my role, I have to not only maintain the business relationships I have, but also spot their successors and build relationships with them.
Q. What does the security function need to focus on?
A. There’s a natural tendency to say “nothing’s happening, why don’t we cut the money we’re putting into security.” We have to find a way to express ourselves in business terms so that the leadership understands what’s happening. I have access to the president’s office if I need it. But I really do not like to exercise that option. I prefer to work with my peers.
As I have formed relationships with peers in other industries, I’ve found that we all share essentially the same problems—for example, making sure that company leaders understand security’s contribution to the business whole, how to motivate the security team, and how to get employees to accept that security is there to help them, not to delay their progress.
Q. What is your personal mission?
A. As I come up to my natural retirement time, I’ve been focused on developing those relationships for the next set of leaders in my company. I want them to extend to at least the next level down, if not further than that, because the people from regulatory and other oversight agencies must understand who we are, not just me, but our bigger organization.
Q. What are the future challenges for the security industry?
A. It’s a great industry for a lot of good reasons and sad reasons—we keep having a lot of challenges from nonnationstate actors from around the world. We are in a very different climate. I see continued growth and continued reliance on us. ASIS needs to raise the level of professionalism and create opportunities for our members. We want people in the industry to come into our membership because they see us as a real value to them and a real help to them. This isn’t about filling the coffers; we are a not for profit. ASIS is committed to creating an environment where people who are in the security industry or who want to be in the industry are going to benefit.
Another issue is the threat posed by emerging technologies—that are for the good of mankind but can be exploited by others. The Internet of Things is a good example. It’s really quite dangerous when someone can stop your car. Remotely. On the highway. Those types of challenges will be faced going forward. ASIS wants to help people see threats and counter them early, and they share that best practice. That is the model and the future of this organization—members helping members.