Let’s jump into that topic. A stereotypical view of the corporate world is that it’s cutthroat, that those climbing the corporate ladder don’t always have a lot of regard for others. But your approach is different. You are talking about hiring people that can do the job as well as you do, and you want people who are competent on your level.

No, not just competent. I want people who are better than me. I’ve gotta tell you that every person that has taken my position after I’ve left has made it better than what I left it. And that’s what I’m very proud of.

“I want people who are better than me. Every person that has taken my position after I’ve left has made it better than what I
left it.”

Don’t you feel threatened by that?

Not one bit.

Tell me why.

Because they make me smarter, and they make us better as a company. Even today at Rite Aid, I have on my staff three people who were in vice president roles previously. They could all take my job tomorrow. And that’s okay, because they make me better.

When I was at Lowe’s I had what we call the Core 6, who all went on to be VP’s or higher. I was at dinner with them once, and I said, “One day one of you are going to take my job.” And they all looked at me and said, “What do you mean? Who?” And I said, “Well, I’m not going to be at this job forever; eventually I’m going to move on either at Lowe’s or onto another company. And one of you guys is going to take this to a higher level.”

I said, “Guys, you just pulled off something that’s never been done in the history of retail. You came into a 4 billion dollar company and created a loss prevention program. You went from nothing to one of the best LP programs in the United States. Every single one of you is going to get recruited out of here, except for the one that will take my job.” And that’s exactly what happened. Every one of them was recruited out, and Claude Verville took my job.

This was all happening at Lowe’s on the East Coast, after you left May’s and California?

Yes. It was early 1993 when I was recruited to Lowe’s. One of the top guys there was Michael Rouleau, who had a long and impressive resume. Phenomenal retailer. He was the most disciplined operator I have ever met in my life. He taught me all about process. The accountability, the name on the line, the responsibility, the date to finish. It was process, process, process. He would say, “if success were easy, everybody would be successful.”

I was hired after three interviews. So here I am at 37 years old, I now am the VP of Lowe’s Home Center. And I start my job. Nobody is on my team. I have an empty office with an empty desk. I get to do something that very few people get to do. I get to write the program from scratch.

So what do you do with an opportunity like that?

You embrace it. There were so many things I didn’t like about our industry. I thought we were still holding onto too many things that came from law enforcement, and too many things that really weren’t business driven and P&L driven. So I put together a plan, and went to Michael Rouleau and I said, “I want 6 people to start.” And that’s how we started the Core 6.

“I work with some of the best people in retail who are always ready to take on the challenge. People ask me, ‘why do you smile so much?’ It’s because I love what I do”

I brought in Claude Verville and Leo Anguiano, both from of May Co. California. Also, John Grander who is now the VP at Famous Footwear; Jeff Fulmer who is now VP at Barnes & Noble; Cornel Catuna who is now the president of BJ’s Wholesale Club; and Eric Echols who’s been a president of his own business along with a whole bunch of other roles. Those were among my first 6 external picks. There were a couple of other people that we integrated later on as we took on more responsibility and brought on, but when you talk about those Core 6 they all ended up being vice presidents or higher.

Tell me this, since this interview will be read by other managers and executives, how did you pick those 6 guys – how did you pick winners?

Well, I wish I knew the answer to that. I got a lot of guesses. I don’t ask typical HR questions. I want to know what motivates you, what your aspirations are, and what you will do to get there. Do you have anything holding you back? Do you have a hunger for knowledge, and desire, and flexibility? All these guys, the Core 6, had that. I mean, look at Claude Verville. He is running the best loss prevention department in the United States today.

Will your PR people let you say that publicly, that Lowe’s is the best loss prevention department in the country?

That’s my opinion. And they can prove it by the numbers. Claude Verville has taken what we created, and made it better than when I left it. And you know, what you learn from Claude—and he’s such a close friend of mine—is tenacity. He is a never-quit guy. He’s beaten every single odd because he’s tenacious. The other thing is that he was also the spiritual leader among our group. This guy has never lost his moral compass.

From Lowe’s you moved on to Pathmark, where you spent ten years.

Yes, I started at Pathmark as senior VP of asset protection, but also had the opportunity to work in two other areas. I was as senior VP of store operations for a while, and then Senior VP of supply chain and logistics. Each of these positions helped me become better at loss prevention.

How so?

A lot of times LP guy does not understand what supply guy is going through, or what the operations woman is going through. Having spent time in these departments I know their daily challenges and can relate to them. This allows me to work more efficiently by finding common goals and common projects. We work closer as a team for the benefit of the company.

Supply chain is about making commitments, and then doing everything you can do to deliver on those commitments: time, product, cost. What intrigues me about supply chain is that when you make one small change it can have a significant impact on the bottom line because it’s a function you do hundreds of thousands of times.

I’ll give you an example: I was working with a third party warehouse crew, and wanted to stack a larger cube on a palette for shipping. We were using 68 sq.ft. ones, and I wanted 70 sq.ft. to fit more merchandise in fewer shipments. They told me it won’t work because the cube would be too tall to go through the doors of our stores. So we went and checked out all our stores, and found out that only two had doors that did not have enough clearance. We reconfigured those doors, and were able to start shipping higher cubes. The multiplying effect: we saved something like a million bucks on shipping costs.

You are a VP at Rite Aid now, and you have your old LP hat on.

Yes. This is the perfect job for an adrenaline junky like me. You never do the same thing two days in a row. There’s always a challenge coming at you. When you get the call, most of the time it’s not good. But I work with some of the best people in retail who are always ready to take on the challenge. People ask me, “why do you smile so much?” It’s because I love what I do.