At the Frontline: 2011 ASIS President Ray O'Hara

This month, ASIS International, the leading association of security managers, installed Ray O'Hara, CPP, as their 2011 president. O'Hara has an extensive background in law enforcement, corporate security and third-party security services. He currently serves as executive vice president for international services, consulting and investigations at Andrews International. Other stops in his career include the Los Angeles Police Department, GTE corporate security, Weyerhaeuser corporate security, Pinkerton, Securitas, and Vance. had a chance to speak with Mr. O'Hara for the following "At the Frontline" interview.

SIW: How long have you been an ASIS member?

O'Hara: Oh, that is too many years to remember. It has probably been 25 years.

SIW: Let's talk about your career path. I think a lot of aspiring security managers want to know how to go from private security or law enforcement into the ranks of corporate security and then into investigations and consulting.

O'Hara: I spent 10 years in law enforcement in Los Angeles at the LAPD, then I entered corporate security at [telecom manufacturing company] GTE for a couple years. I also served as corporate security manager for Weyerhaeuser in Seattle.

I did pretty well in the 10 years I was at the Los Angeles Police Department. I received some promotions and had to ask myself what I wanted to do. I had worked closely with some corporate security people working with businesses in Santa Monica. At that time in law enforcement, you either stayed for a lifetime, or you left after about 10 years.

SIW: Do you miss the brotherhood that comes with law enforcement work?

O'Hara: Actually, no, because ASIS has replaced the brotherhood that law enforcement provides, and many of the people that I'm connected with are former law enforcement.

SIW: ASIS is known for its education programs, and you hold the CPP designation. When did you earn your CPP?

O'Hara: It was when I went to work at Weyerhaeuser. My boss in those days reminded me that I had until the end of the year to pass the CPP exam. I did it and haven't looked back at all. That all started in July 1984. I passed the CPP exam on the first try. What it helped me with was to learn some areas of the industry that I didn't know. Studying for the exam is going to make you a better person, and not just because of the knowledge base. You have to be able to work your way through the exam.

SIW: Your career path seems to follow a fairly traditional security path: law enforcement into corporate security. But is that changing as corporate security becomes more and more electronics- and computer-based?

O'Hara: Traditionally, the ASIS member has been a "second career" member who has come out of another sector of the government or private security. Our sense at ASIS is that there is a chance for first-career professionals -- people coming out of college and wanting to go directly into security. We see more and more of those, and we're targeting those people.

I think these are transition years for this organization as we go from that second-career model to the first-career person. The skill sets are very different; the first-career person is much more in tune with and comfortable with the Internet, computer security and technology. The second-career person probably is more in tune with law enforcement. Our job as an association is to address both needs.

SIW: What is something that you see in the second-career members that the first-career security professionals often don't have?

O'Hara: Traditional investigative skills come more easily to your second-career professionals. That is more of a [training] need to the first-career member.

SIW: With 25 years of experience as an ASIS member behind you, what have you seen change in corporate security? Or has anything really changed?

O'Hara: It's significantly different. Yesterday we operated with fences, gates, guards and cameras. We were worried about people taking minor items out of the workplace. The fences, guards and gates are not as important these days for many businesses. The assets are electronic; they are built on and live on the Internet. The facility environment today is more open; employees want to come and go with their electronic access card; they don't want to be stopped by a fence or a gate. Today, they want a card in their hand and the ability to be there.

Intellectual electronic assets are much more significant. One CD could have more property on it than you might have in a whole office years ago. And yesterday they would have had to steal the entire filing cabinet to get the same amount of information that is on a single CD today.

A [digital asset/data] theft happens today, and tomorrow it [that information] is on the six o'clock news. In the electronic age that we live in, there are not many secrets out there anymore that cannot be hacked or found. The things we have in place for protection must change tonight. These hackers [who have fed Wikileaks] were able to disrupt an amazing amount of our government in a short amount of time. WikiLeaks is a wake-up call. This has been going on for a period of time all over the world; it just has become more public than ever before.

SIW: What are some of your goals as president of ASIS?

O'Hara: We are putting a strategic plan in place for the next several years. That plan gets updated every few years. In that plan, there is Women in Security, also a young professionals program and a focus on standards and guidelines. These all reflect industry changes that we have to be involved in and provide. For example, some of our members are in countries where there are no standards, where there are no training guidelines.

SIW: How does an organization like ASIS balance that and assure that each member gets the support and value out of the organization that he or she needs.

O'Hara: It really is the membership value proposition. People ask, "How come it costs $150 for membership?" For me personally it is the best use of $150 I could spend. I have access to 37,000 people around the world. I can open my directory and find someone with the expertise I need. Yesterday I reached out to fellow members in Hong Kong and Jakarta. Within a short amount of time I get an answer from other members on questions I have.

SIW: There seems to be a long-term shift in the security industry from active response security (security officers doing patrol, and empowered to chase off trespassers) to active observation (security officers just doing observe-and-report) to passive observation (video surveillance recording, remote monitoring). How do you see this transition? Is our dependence on more and more technology and less-and-less on staffed positions potentially risky?

O'Hara: To be more efficient, we have to use technology to support the traditional things we have done. If you look at ASIS Accolades [a new products showcase held during the association's annual tradeshow], it is mind-boggling the new technology you see. We have to bring our security officers along to use this technology for different kinds of monitoring. From face recognition to GPS, all these things are making our business different, but also more exciting and effective.

SIW: Managing guard forces (managing people) seems to still be the most challenging part of many a corporate security manager's position. With 30 years in the industry, surely you must have some tips and ideas on what works and what doesn't as a "people manager".

O'Hara: The selection, screening and education of security officers are key. You also need to provide a growth path for them in the organization, and then supplement their skill set with technology, and give them the opportunity to learn new skill sets.

SIW: Is the business element of being a security manager changing?

O'Hara: There's no question about that. It's actually been transitioning for several years. We are getting the business aspect of the organization into the security organization. Dealing with your company executives requires some new skills. For example, as we spend money on technology, we have to display ROI. We have to present to them what risks we are going to mitigate. We have to keep security focused on brand. A well-know brand has a lot of exposure. Personally, at Weyerhaeuser we sold security services in-house for 14 years. You have to sell those services internally well or you won't be funded. Also, the security function is going to be driven by the culture of the organization. In every security organization, you have to some sense of your value, of what you provide to the business.