Bob O. in His Own Words
Mentor. Leader. Maverick. These are the words LP insiders use to describe Bob Oberosler, VP of Loss Prevention at Rite Aid. Bob O., as everyone in the industry knows him, sat down with our editor for a candid interview in which he described his road from a store employee to one of the most respected leaders in our industry.
Bob, it’s safe to say that almost everyone in the LP world knows you. But, for the few who don’t, who is Bob O?
I think the only reason I’m well known in the industry is because I’ve been around so long. I started at age 19, and worked my way up. I’m probably the luckiest guy in the world, to be in this occupation that chose me. I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by top level senior executives with great management skills, great strategic and tactical skills; and very blessed to be surrounded by people who work for me, who I think are brighter than me.
“Now I tell people, if you want to move up, volunteer for everything.”
You did not start as a manager. In fact, one could say you started at the very bottom.
I started as what they used to call a blazer agent, which was basically a security guard in a blazer, at a Hecht’s store that was a part of May Department Stores. I actually started cleaning floors for the company.
What was your early career like?
At that time there were already industry legends, like Jerry Lobe, who eventually went to be the chairman of the entire May Department Stores, and David Ferrell, who is a legend in retail. Jay Warren Harris too. I was working directly for a guy by the name of Bill Landers, who was one of the pioneers of our industry, and then Carl Donnelly. Both were former FBI guys who came into this industry and really started it.
I was also blessed to work directly for a guy by the name of Al Hendrix. He took great interest in me; and I volunteered for everything. (Now I tell people, if you want to move up, volunteer for everything). I was able to move up the ladder pretty quickly within Hecht’s. Even though I never had any safety experience, they made me director of safety and I just had to learn on the fly.
Then I got lucky enough that Ed Mangiafico ended up going to May Company in California, so at a very tender young age of 32 I became the vice president of loss prevention and safety for May Company. That was a huge jump, one I was prepared for technically, but maybe not as prepared mentally. Fortunately, I worked with great guys like Ed Mangiafico and Gerry Sampson—who ended up being president of Neiman Marcus—and each one of them taught me something.
One thing I consistently hear about you, Bob, is that you’ve been a mentor to so many people. When I hear you now talk about people you worked for, it sounds like you had some great mentors in your career, too.
Yeah, and by luck. By God’s blessings I was in position to learn from each one of these people. And I can take every one of those names and point to a big lesson they taught me.
Jay Warren Harris really taught me to not worry about working outside the comfort zone. He said, “You’re young, aggressive, you’re smart, you get things done, you get results. We’re here to back you up and give you the support you need. So go ahead and work outside your comfort zone.”
Bill Landers, who was one of the guys that started this industry, taught me the early beginnings of the loss prevention.
Carl Donnelly, who then took his place, really taught me how to manage people. He’s one of the first guys who said you don’t have to be the in-your-face type of guy. You have to adapt to the person’s capabilities and attitudes, and adjust your style.
Al Hendrix, who I worked directly for, taught me the power of diversity. He was African-American, and what he taught me stuck with me up to now. In three different companies I’ve created these incredibly diverse teams. And they have all excelled – the diverse people I hired or promoted have been absolutely instrumental in every position they’ve held then and ever since. And when I look at some of the things I’m most proud of—my children and the legacy of people I’ve had the pleasure of managing—I say, just look at these diverse backgrounds.
“Once you’re at the level where could be successful at the next level, your job is to groom your successor.”
Ed Mangiafico taught me how to be tough. He was a hard-driving guy, with people skills that probably wouldn’t translate to the 2000’s. But in the late 70’s, early 80’s, he was your typical hard-driving senior manager that challenged people openly. He would bring me in the office and start yelling at me – he was a yeller. I loved the guy. And he would be just screaming at me, and I’d say, “Well you know, that’s not my responsibility.” And he’d say “I know that, but you’re one of the guys that can take it. You have broad enough shoulders, so go do something about it.”
Gerry Sampson had an incredible executive presence. The second you saw the guy, his mannerisms, the way he talked… That’s where I really started learning that to be successful at the vice president level and above you’ve got to have an image. At that time we didn’t call it brand – I call it brand today. No one forces you to be vice president, you opt-in. And when you do, it’s 24/7.
Let’s return briefly to the timeline of your career. In the early 90’s you’ve worked in Los Angeles working at May Department Stores.
Yes, I was very fortunate; I got to Los Angeles and we quickly turned the shrink numbers around. We completely reorganized the staff to where it was the most diverse department within the organization. And when we had the unfortunate incidents known as the Rodney King riots, our people performed magnificently well. This was thanks to what Al Hendrix taught me about the power of diversity. Everyone said, “How did you do what you did in the riots? Everyone got creamed , but you lost very little.” I said, “It was because of the power of diversity.” Look, I had all minority police officers. It’s the officers I hired, who lived in local communities, that heard the buzz before the riots even happened. Because we had done so much work with the minority police officers in Los Angeles, they looked out for us.
And you looked out for them, too.
One of the things I’m very proud of is that I have groomed my successor for every position I’ve ever been in. And one of the rules I make for my people is, “Once you’re at the level where could be successful at the next level, your job is to groom your successor.”