THE MAGAZINE

The Good Steward

By Ann Longmore-Etheridge

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Cummings attended Marquette University, majoring in history and political science. His security career, he says, began as a fluke just before his senior year. Since matriculating to Marquette, he’d been working to pay for school. The student union job board displayed a listing for a part-time store detective at the Milwaukee location of retail giant Marshall Field and Company. Cummings applied and was hired in October 1973. “I’d intended to graduate and go on to law school,” he explains. “The security manager was looking for someone who was going to be around for a while, but he didn’t have any other good candidates, so he gave me the chance,” he says.

“After I graduated, I took the law school entrance exams, and I did pretty well on them; I don’t think I would have had any problem getting into school, but I didn’t know what kind of law I wanted to practice,” he states. Cummings decided instead to take a year sabbatical to work full-time and save money for his future law school tuition. “As it happened, however, I was promoted. The security job started taking off, and I never looked back. I never did go to law school, although I did go back years later to do my master’s work. I’ve never regretted it, frankly.”

Cummings remained with Marshall Field’s for more than 12 years. After becoming a full-time security employee, he was given increased opportunities. “I wanted to stay busy, so they offered me different projects—one was an assessment of all the alarm systems….I ended up with a 20-page report…and I guess that showed some folks that I was pretty serious and could do a good job.”

Cummings was promoted to assistant security manager and then to manager. In November 1980, the company transferred him to its Water Tower store on the “magnificent mile” in Chicago.

“I learned a lot there. The pace was different. It was a much busier store in a vertical mall, instead of a horizontal mall that emptied into the shopping center, so there were some physical security challenges. I stayed there for four years until March 1985, when I had an opportunity to go back to Milwaukee and join the Mt. Sinai Medical Center as assistant director of security,” says Cummings.

He wanted to return to Milwaukee for personal and professional reasons. But when he first took the heathcare-sector job, he remembers thinking, “There can’t be that much to healthcare security.” Now, he recalls that moment with a laugh, stating: “I had no comprehension.”

At first, Cummings was responsible for operations, while the director of security handled policy. However, after the director’s departure in 1987, Cummings was appointed to serve as his successor. This was only shortly before Mt. Sinai joined with two other hospitals to form Aurora Health Care.

“I was fortunate enough to end up with the top job when we blended the security departments of the three hospitals. I’ve been here ever since,” Cummings notes, adding, “One of the reasons that I left retail was because the job had somewhat stagnated for me. What has maintained my tenure at Aurora for so long is that the job has not gotten stale. I’ve had regular opportunities to grow while on the job—especially in going from delivering heathcare security in a single hospital to 14 hospitals, pharmacies, clinics, visiting nurse services, and more. It has kept me very interested in and enthused about my job.”

Enter ASIS

Searching for knowledge to help him succeed in his new niche, Cummings first joined the Society in 1978. He quickly became a chapter regular. “My attitude was that I’d come to the chapter meetings and help out, but I didn’t want to run against anyone. I’d just be here to help. I ended up being appointed to do just about everything—for example, I was the newsletter editor; I was law enforcement liaison; and I was membership chair for five or six years,” Cummings states.

“In 1987, he went to his first ASIS Seminar and Exhibits. “I was a little overwhelmed. I had always gone to our chapter meetings, but we had about 40 people,” he says. “I had no idea of the number who showed up at the seminar and exhibits…. I marveled at the same things everybody talks about it—the networking, the education, the opportunity to see the vendors.”

Cummings missed the following year’s event but has attended each one since. 

“My focus has changed from year to year, depending on where I was in my professional growth and what projects I was working and what my volunteer leadership role was,” he explains, “but I’ve continued to find great value in attending.”

To other members, his advice is: “If you only do one thing per year, that’s the thing to do.”

At his first seminar, Cummings attended all the healthcare-related sessions and met Fred Jackson and Ciro J. Cardelli, CPP, who were restarting the healthcare security committee. “They made a pitch during their presentation for anyone interested in joining,” he recalls. “I told them that I was new to healthcare and that I figured they were the guys to learn from. The strategy worked because they let me join.”

Through the committee, Cummings says, he met all the “movers and shakers on that side of the business.” He stayed on the council for almost a decade and chaired it the last three years. “This also allowed me to move up the ASIS volunteer leadership ladder,” he notes.

In addition to chairing the Healthcare Council from 1997 to 1999, Cummings served on the Commission on Committees that formulated the title change from committee to council and created council vice presidents. “All the councils reported to board members; each board member was responsible for five or so councils. Honestly, that didn’t work well and certainly wouldn’t fit in with today’s structure where the board is working on a strategic planning level.”

When he received the call from Humphrey to join the board, Cummings admits, “I was totally flabbergasted. I was only a council chair and I’d never been a regional vice president (RVP) or an assistant RVP. I was blown away by the fact that I was tapped to come onto the Board of Directors.”

One of the early issues that Cummings wrestled with as a board member was to change the name of the organization from the American Society for Industrial Security to ASIS International. “The name change was important to show that we were serious about international members overall,” he states, of what became a sustained push to truly globalize the Society—one that continues today.

Advocacy. Early in his board tenure, the tragedy of 9-11 was “a watershed mark,” Cummings says. “While ASIS continues, and will always continue, to place a strong emphasis on education, I think that 9-11 woke us up about the Society’s advocacy role for our profession—of being out in front and truly the voice of security in the United States and around the world. What we saw after 9-11 was ‘security experts’ coming out of the woodwork and knee-jerk reactions to address the problems that the episode caused, and I think it showed us we had to take on a greater advocacy role.”

Cummings explains that the Society’s advocacy, now spearheaded by Jack Lichtenstein, ASIS vice president of government affairs and public policy, proceeds with the understanding that “regulations and laws can be good, but the devil is in the details.”

ASIS works to make sure that well-intentioned legislation isn’t going to do harm, says Cummings. He adds, “We’ve taken on issues that we would never have done 10 years ago—for example, guns in the workplace. I don’t think that a decade ago we would have had the courage of conviction to do that.”

Standards and guidelines. Cummings was also firmly in support of ASIS standards and guidelines. The Society had previously chosen not to promulgate them, but Cummings believes that 9-11 and other world events brought to the forefront the need for a professional security organization to create security advisory provisions. “This is a piece of our evolution that I can point to with pride,” he states. “Our profession and ASIS has looked over the horizon and seen the challenges that need to be met.”

To those unhappy with the ASIS standards and guidelines initiative, Cummings says, “When you’ve got 36,000 members worldwide, you’re never going to please everybody. But I do believe in the organizational leadership processes we have. The board members with whom I have the honor and privilege of serving are really concerned and have always done things for the right reasons; they’re not driven by self-interest as much as they have been driven by what’s best for the profession, the Society, and our members.”

Strategic planning. Cummings states that ASIS’s strategic planning is “one of the really strong, hardwired things” that guarantees the Society’s success. “It allows for an orderly transition and growth on a year-to-year basis without big ups or downs.”

That makes for stable financial health. “Due in large part to the great job that Executive Vice President Michael Stack has done over the years, the Society is in a financial position that serves our members very well,” says Cummings, who saw this first hand as ASIS treasurer and a member of the Budget and Finance Committee for years. The financial and strategic processes “provide the Society with great stability and allow it to continue its mission and serve its members.” he adds.

One of Cummings’ goals as president is to raise awareness of the Society’s strategic planning. “I think that one of the things we need to do is educate all of our volunteer leaders about the 2009 strategic plan,” he states, noting that he will be holding several webinars for volunteer leaders on the plan and the budget and on how the two are mutually supportive.

“When I look back to when I was a council chair, I didn’t grasp what the strategic plan was—I just went out and did what I thought was good for the Healthcare Security Council. Most of the time that dovetailed, but unless we explain to our volunteer leaders what role they have in the plan, we can’t expect them to be supportive of it on the council level, the RVP level, the chapter level, or others.”

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