How to Serve Multiple Masters

When you rent out your great big house to strangers; and those strangers invite their friends over; and those friends are looking to have what's known as "a ripping good time"; and you are the one responsible for making sure things don't get out of hand while the guests are having that ripping good time—you'll find that you have a lot of different, but sometimes interlocking, interests to serve.

That's roughly the position in which Steve Denelsbeck finds himself as security manager for the FleetCenter in Boston—home to the Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins, and host of assorted concerts, circuses and other extravaganzas, including the Democratic National Convention late next month. The convention was initially seen as a magnificent civic coup, but it has now become the bane of local residents and commuters alike by exacting a variety of pesky inconveniences in the name of security.

Denelsbeck deals with all of the FleetCenter's guests, employees, owners, service providers and relevant local, state and federal public-safety agencies. This deft balancing act calls for high levels of diplomacy, discipline, energy and patience. Technically, he reports to FleetCenter General Manager John Wentzell and to Corporate Security Director Mark Farrell of Delaware North (which owns both the FleetCenter and the Boston Bruins). But Denelsbeck's community of allegiances is much broader.

"I report to quite a number of people," he says. "Mainly it's the heads of the NBA and NHL. But it's also the FleetCenter executive and operations management groups. Then there's the people that I work for at Security Systems Inc. [SSI, the FleetCenter's outsourced security service provider], which was purchased in March by Allied Security. So now I [will report to] all sorts of people that I have yet to meet. Then there's Delaware North.... With regard to the convention, there's the Democratic National Convention Committee, or the DNCC, and 'Boston 2004'—the Mayor and the city officials. As well as the Secret Service and the FBI. I work for all those people. I've been detailed, if you will, to these different groups as a consultant, adviser, support person.

"It's very interesting."

When asked what prepared him to find such densely complicated challenges "interesting," Denelsbeck laughs and cites his stint as an Army Ranger. "As a private, you report very directly, very clearly, to the specialist—the E-4—the very low-ranking person above you. It's not a technicality or something [that's just] on paper. That E-4 will have you crawl through the same dirt as any sergeant, or officer or anyone else." In addition, he says, Rangers learn to be of service. "Throughout the military, wherever you go, as Army Rangers we work for the civilian community. You need something, we do it. So, coming here, it's no surprise that I work for everyone. Really, [that's] any security director's role," he says.

But in civilian life, being outranked doesn't always mean following every order. Your job, he says, is "protecting everyone in your corporation not only from [outsiders], but from themselves. It can cause quite a bit of controversy. You may be outranked at times, but that doesn't necessarily mean you'll be doing as you're asked. You have to know how and when to tell people something's not going to play out as they would like."

So, how do you do that? "It's not easy.... You have to get to know each and every individual and find out their patience level, how important their business really is. I spend a lot of time understanding everyone's job and what sort of pressure they get when they have to report up."

It also boils down to diplomacy, he says. And the ability to pay attention to many inputs at once. "Listening is huge; it's critical. When I'm talking to one person, I'm also trying to understand what's happening to my left or my right. I'm in constant conversation with lots of people, listening to every need and concern they have. But when it's time to execute, it all comes down to being firm but respectful. You have to be very decisive."

Does Denelsbeck ever jones for a simpler life? "I can't imagine. I would think it would be terribly boring!"

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Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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