A Conversation With…
Jim Lee: A Lesson in Leadership
November 22nd of 1963 went down in history as the day our nation’s president, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated. Jim Lee, a high school student at the time, watched the events with intrigue as he saw firsthand how the Secret Service agents did their best to protect President Kennedy, the First Lady, and Vice-President Lyndon B. Johnson. Inspired by these events, his dream to one day become a US Secret Service agent was born. Pursuing this dream, he studied police administration/criminology in college and even applied for the Secret Service in his senior year of college. However, Jim’s dream of working in the Secret Service was put on hold when he received an offer from Montgomery Ward for a new security management training program that was looking to attract college graduates. As he moved his way up the ladder in retail loss prevention, his goal of joining the Secret Service faded as his passion grew for the loss prevention and eventually decided to dedicate his career to this field. This decision would lead him to become one of the biggest influences on the retail loss prevention industry in modern times.
With over 30 years in loss prevention, Jim is the founder and owner of LP Magazine, LPjobs.com, and Contact, Inc. He also helped to create the Loss Prevention Foundation (LPF) and serves on the founding Board of Directors. LP Magazine brings relevant topics to loss prevention professionals, while LPjobs is a leading retail loss prevention employment site, and Contact, Inc. specializes in consulting and training in asset protection. Jim’s efforts and collaborations in the industry have earned him the title of “Godfather” of retail loss prevention, though he humbly rejects that honor.
Jim began as Security Trainee at Montgomery Ward and progressed to become a store Security Manager, a District Manager, a Regional Manager, and a Territorial Manager. As he was promoted and his responsibilities grew, so did his interest in loss prevention. He ended his period with Montgomery Ward to take a VP position at another department store, Lazarus in Columbus, OH. He went on to other executive positions at the Broadway Stores in Los Angeles, and Marshall’s, Inc. Jim had a short stint with two vendor communication companies before venturing on to start Contact, Inc., then LPjobs.com, and finally LP Magazine. He contributes to the three while doing what he can to help the Loss Prevention Foundation. Jim is very proud of LP Magazine and the support it has gotten throughout the industry. He added, “As much as anything else, I am proud of being a part of the creation of the LP Foundation, and the educational and certification programs for LP professionals. I think this is most lasting memory to date.”
Jim has held many positions through the years and declares to have liked every job. He had the most fun as a store Security Manager, where he was the only security associate in the store. He was expected to be the expert on everything related to security, safety, risk and all types of fraud. He admits, “The truth is I was no expert yet, but the job gave me time to learn the business from the store retail experts. I took good notes and got better each day.”
Being in the industry so long, Jim has seen many changes in loss prevention. Regardless of the innovations made in LP, he mentions that to be a successful retail LP professional one must be highly inquisitive, almost to a nuisance, and be willing to remain loyal to the cause even when others are critical of LP. Overall retail knowledge is also vital to be a successful LP professional. Jim advises that LP employees have a basic understanding of not just the requirements of the job, but of the LP profession as a whole. This would include learning how operations, merchandising, purchasing, and IT all tie into the business.
“Pretty much everyone in the profession of LP learns what to do; the successful ones learn why,” Jim said. His advice to those just entering retail loss prevention is to ask questions about everything, not just LP. According to him, too many young associates do their job without asking why it is important in the grand scheme of things. Asking non-LP associates how their jobs interface with loss prevention will help to better understand the job. Fully understanding the LP job and why it is necessary to non-loss prevention departments will make for a successful career in loss profession.
Jim is a firm believer that on-going training and education can help loss prevention associates understand the business. He has incorporated these strong beliefs into the LPF and LP Magazine as they both provide education and pertinent information on a wide range of issues in the profession. It is important to stay informed because too many people lose their jobs or are not as successful because they are too much of a specialist, and not enough of a retail generalist. “The more information you have on a variety of issues, topics, technology, the more successful you will be in LP,” he said. “You can’t achieve success without understanding the business, and patience is necessary to teach employees all aspects of the business.”
Like all loss prevention professionals, Jim must be able to envision future challenges. One of his major concerns is whether the next group of leaders will value relationships, mentors and advisors in the same manner as current executive leaders. “Will we become too attached to numbers, analytics and information that we forget this is a people business that constantly requires internally selling to management and non-LP groups, and maintaining their partnerships to achieve success?” he asked. To help maintain partnerships, Jim recommends that future leaders remember where they started. “No matter how high up the ladder you climb, make sure to meet everyone at every level. Show the same concern and respect for everyone,” Jim advises, and he strives to follow his own advice.
Jim is a big fan of golf and Indiana University basketball, where he attended college and played baseball. While most people pick their sports teams by their location or team players, Jim picks his teams based on their coaches, motivators and managers. He compares sports teams to LP teams. “You want to motivate those on your LP team as a coach would motivate his team,” he explained. His strategy seems to be working as he views his teams as a whole and selflessly devotes himself to them. The biggest challenge for Jim is the risk of not keeping his promise to those who depend on him. He makes a constant commitment to follow through with promises.
When asked what he is most proud of in his career, he answered, “Without hesitation, I am most proud of the fact that some in the profession have called me a mentor, advisor, or friend.” His motivation comes from knowing that people count on him to do his job, including his family, friends, those he works with and those that work for him. Jim prides himself in being a good listener, giving others a chance to vent and guiding them in creating a solution plan. This could be why so many in the industry consider him a valued mentor. He has seen many companies and employees progress, and feels honored to have played a role in nurturing them.
Jim has a wife, two daughters, and two grandchildren, of whom he speaks fondly. “She takes my name of Jim and pronounces it in two syllables,” he says of his wife from Charleston, SC. “I am vulnerable to a southern accent.” One daughter is following in his footsteps in loss prevention as current Marketing Director for LP Magazine. “She got her master’s degree in marketing and has eight years of experience in the LP world,” he mentioned. Jim exclaims that the thought of his daughters brightens his day and prays that his grandkids “will inherit the kindness, initiative, courage and ambition their mothers possess.”
Though Jim is not protecting the United States President for a living, he is in fact making an impact in helping to protect assets and retailers nationwide. His humble demeanor has allowed him to mentor many in the business and to create lasting solutions, such as LP Magazine and the Loss Prevention Foundation. Even with many achievements in the last 30 years, he manages to remain grounded and still takes compliments as heartfelt words to him. There is no doubt that Jim’s influence on the retail loss prevention industry will be a lasting impression due to his motivation and industry dedication.