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Mark Barnes: The Entrepreneur

Jun 01, 200513 mins
IT LeadershipSecurity

Chat With Mark Barnes for more than a few minutes, and you’ll hear words like value and revenue and ROI. It would be easy for the casual listener to mistakenly think that he hails from finance or sales or some other business function in which execs sprinkle those terms about like salt on a fast-food french fry.

In fact, Barnes is one of the new breed of security honchos who are as comfortable chatting with a CFO as they are investigating a warehouse theft. “I’m a security guy that cares about business and the numbers. You put a P&L in front of me, and my eyes don’t roll back in my head,” he says, with more than a hint of pride.

Barnes, director of safety and security at the sprawling Kiawah Island Golf Resort in South Carolina since 1995, has been the key player in shifting the department from its traditional focus on security guards and perimeter protection to loss prevention and risk management. Along the way, he’s earned management’s respect. “He’s able to manage a very effective security and loss prevention function while very much focusing his department on providing guests with great service,” says Prem Devadas, managing director of the resort.

This profile details how Barnes combines an extensive knowledge of corporate security with a well-honed set of management chops to make security more than just a cost center on the balance sheet.

Security Opportunity Knocks

A drive around the resort with Barnes reveals that, frankly, there are many worse places to work. Winding roads are bordered by palmettos, crape myrtle and live oaks draped with Spanish moss. Saltwater marshes and ponds dot the landscape, and alligators lazily sun themselves on banks. “I’ve actually lassoed a couple of them,” says Barnes (to move them from harm’s way, not for sport, he adds). The resort boasts five championship golf courses (Kiawah hosted the 1991 Ryder Cup), a large tennis complex, soccer fields, sandy beaches and bike trails. The security department patrols the island, checking on facilities and private villas, and responds to emergencies and the occasional skinned knee from a biking accident.

Barnes planned on a law enforcement career right out of high school in Maryland. His dad and his grandfather were his role models. His dad served in three separate branches of the military, worked at a newspaper, then went to seminary and became a priest. His grandfather was a cop in Richmond, Va., for 32 years. Barnes ended up going to school for one year at Memphis State University, then he joined the Army National Guard in Tennessee before switching units and moving back to Virginia. He applied for some police jobs while working in a carpet warehouse, but realized that he could make more money as a retail floor-covering salesman, so he put law enforcement on hold.

The entrepreneurial Barnes soon launched his own business as an interior decorator and home builder. In 1991, when recession gripped the U.S. economy, he started working on some private investigations with his best friend and karate sparring partner, who was in that line of work. “I realized I really liked this. I enjoyed protecting things, taking care of things,” he says. In 1994, the new security director at Kiawah, who Barnes had met working a protection detail, hired him as his assistant. When the director moved on in early 1995, Barnes was promoted to safety and security director.

Barnes is 43 but could pass for someone five years younger. He has an athletic build, the result of daily, 6 a.m. workouts. He’s soft-spoken, with a mild Southern accent. His conversations are peppered with “yessirs,” a reflection of his upbringing and military background.

Barnes credits Devadas with helping him grasp the intricacies of the hospitality industry and how security fits into it. “He taught me a lot about the business end of it, running the ship very tight, watching people, hours, budgets. I had a lot of that because of my own business, but not occupancy and dollars and room nights, that kind of thing. I had to think about ROI. I realized very quickly that I needed to show our worth,” he says.

To learn how to be a security director, he says he “went to every type of seminar I couldASIS asset protection courses, South Carolina Law Enforcement Division training courses, disaster management programs, anything I could get under my belt.”

Once he felt comfortable that he and his staff of six were on top of the day-to-day things, Barnes turned his attention to the other elements of his security program. He began putting out safety memos, running training programs for resort staff and showing the value of his workers’ compensation investigations. He started to keep detailed records of everything the security department did, to show the executive committee where problem areas were and how security was addressing them. Barnes immersed himself in interrogation training, which helped security achieve a 90 percent success rate in getting restitution for victims of theft. (He adds that since Kiawah’s new hotel, the Sanctuary, opened last August, no guest thefts have occurred.)

To combat shrinkage, Barnes installed covert cameras in some buildings and prosecuted anybody who committed a theft. “After that, we were able to add some more people because we were showing [executives] our value. That’s when I went from being a perimeter security guy to understanding the businessman’s point of view, why they wanted us here,” he says.

An important lesson he learned early on was how to deal with managers and staff who were reticent to report accidents or thefts. “In their eyes, they felt like they were weak managers because these things were going on. I told them, Hey, you’re not a weak manager. Please allow me to help you. We are here for you. You have your own security and loss prevention department right here that will assist you in retaining your profits and making your revenue,” he says.

Driven to Learn

During his first few years at Kiawah, Barnes continually wrestled with one of the major gaps in his career portfolioa college degree. An ex-college dean who worked as a security officer on Barnes’s staff finally told him to quit talking, pick up the phone and call an adviser, which he did. In the summer of 1999, Barnes began taking evening classes at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., where he studied business administration. When asked why not criminal justice, Barnes replies, “I work for a business that’s here to make a profit. I need to be able to think that way. Since I had decided I wanted to remain in the private sector, I felt that if I was going to deal with businesspeople, I ought to have a business degree.”

He didn’t stop with his bachelor’s. After receiving that degree in 2002, Barnes kept right on going, earning his MBA from The Citadel in May 2004. Barnes completed both his undergrad and grad programsat nightin a tidy five years.

That drive to continually better himself has paid off. Today, he leads a staff of 45, 14 of whom are security agents. His security staff doubled when the Sanctuary opened. At that time, Barnes was given additional management responsibilities when he took the guests services director position. “That would not have occurred had he not furthered his education and been able to demonstrate a higher level of management ability, a higher level of understanding of the business,” says Devadas. “His mastering of that responsibility will lead to even greater responsibility being given. Mark’s future development is limitless,” he says.

For his part, Barnes says the degrees boosted his confidence and showed resort management that if he sets his mind to something, he’s going to do it. “It made them realize, we’d better take notice of this guy so he doesn’t leave,” says Barnes with a chuckle.

Barnes reports to Vikram Sood, the hotel’s general manager. His security staff includes an assistant director and a.m. and p.m. supervisors. Every morning, the staff attends the hotel’s 9 a.m. lineup for the rooms division, where they discuss things such as occupancy, arriving VIPs and any incidents of guest unhappiness. Barnes or one of his supervisors goes to a meeting every Thursday that covers upcoming groups staying at the hotel. The small security dispatch office, where his staff monitors the hotel’s new digital camera system, is located in the enormous basement of the Sanctuary (a location, Barnes jokes, that gives him a nice view of the Dumpsters).

The Bridge Builder

Barnes spends a lot of his time dealing with the day-to-day stuff you might expect to fall under a resort security director’s purview: alarms, sensors, cameras, patrols, response calls, making guests happy and managing staff. Barnes also heads up the disaster management function, meaning that when there’s a hurricane coming Kiawah’s way, he’s responsible for making sure all guests and employees get out safely and that the hotel can set up an emergency operations center (they have an agreement with an inland hotel) if need be. That involves setting up the reservations system fast; thousands of revenue dollars are at stake. But while those responsibilities are of critical importance, Barnes gets noticeably more enthusiastic when he talks about the bridges he’s built between his department and public safety entities, and between the security function and the boardroom.

Many public agencies work with Kiawah. Those include the local community association, which mans the gates to the resort; the sheriff’s office; the local fire department and EMS crew; highway patrol; and state and federal agencies, such as the FBI and Secret Service. (Hosting a major golf tournament means working with a number of those groups.) Barnes doesn’t think his peers in corporate security rely on the help of public security folks nearly enough. “They kind of separate themselves from [those groups] when everybody’s trying to do the same job. Let’s get together and work it out,” he says.

He understands sometimes that means dealing with the biases of the men in blue. “A lot of guys, like rookie cops, say, You’re security guards. I’m a cop.’ I hate that, it really disturbs me,” he says, anger rising in his voice. To overcome those perceptions, Barnes trains his team so that they know how to work with public safety agencies that arrive at an event. “We work deputies on [some] events. When we pick up a radio, we know all the codes. We say the right thing; we do the right thing; we know the laws,” he says.

Of course, to avoid ruffled feathers, it doesn’t hurt to send business their way. Using a golf tournament as an example, which might involve the sheriff’s office, highway patrol and the FBI, Barnes says that it’s good to involve multiple agencies. “I try to get all the agencies that I usually deal with, and get the same amount of people involved with each event. There’s a little bit of politics there,” he says.

The second bridge Barnes has constructed over time is between security and his executive committee (which consists of Devadas, Sood, the controller, and directors of HR, leisure services, sales and marketing, food and beverage, and golf). Being the head of a cost center, Barnes understands the importance of showing management security’s value every day. “We need to understand that CEOs want to make money. If you can’t think that way, you’re not going to make it,” he says.

Barnes makes sure he shows ROI for his initiatives. “If I want to add somebody or a piece of equipment, I’ll go back and show them how the purchase of that equipment or that body will help us accomplish our goalshow much it’s going to cost versus how much it would cost if we didn’t add it,” he says. Barnes has taken his message to the resort’s sales team, explaining how they could use security as a sales tool. “I talked to them about the number of fire departments we have here, how close EMS is, the coverage we have with our cameras, the certifications of our people, our equipment, our relationship with the sheriff’s office, the town and what we’re able to do for people in special events,” he says. Before 9/11, security wasn’t a priority for visiting groups. Now, Barnes is invited to every preconference meeting.

One of the value propositions Barnes is working on is to create services that security can provide to incoming groups. “There’s no reason you can’t get yourself into the revenue-producing line and be able to use some of that as compensation for your guys,” he says. For example, Barnes says he can provide his staff EMTs, or people needed for extra perimeter security. It would cost twice as much to hire outside people, even when his staff is earning overtime. “It’s getting to the point where you can provide those services, just like you provide a banquet service, a bar, bike rentals and golf,” he says.

Making His Mark

Barnes is proud of the fact that security has come full circle since the time he arrived. “Security is understood, my team is respected, people know we have a purpose here, and they can rely on us for things, which is rewarding,” he says. Devadas gives kudos to Barnes for managing an effective security and loss prevention function while also providing the guests with great service. “That’s not easy in security, because the nature of security in a lot of large companies is to take on a watchdog, policing-type role,” says Devadas. Barnes also does an excellent job managing his budget, Devadas adds.

George Breed, director of security and community affairs at the Sea Pines Resort on Hilton Head Island, S.C., says his friend Barnes has done a good job walking a fine line between security and the expectations of guests. “Resort and hospitality security is much more demanding than, say, an industrial arena where there are hard, set, fast rules about where people can and can’t go. In a resort setting, people usually come to a high-end property with certain expectations and wants,” says Breed. “Ninety-five percent of it is public interaction. You’ve got to be more than a uniform; you have to be able to respond to more than just security and loss-prevention issues.”

Barnes says a retired FBI agent friend of his once told him that he had one fault: He wants to professionalize an industry that’s having trouble professionalizing itself. Barnes agrees, “I want to get the image of the security guard, with the black shoes and white sweat socks, doing his checklists while he’s watching TV, out of people’s heads. Because it’s a lot more than that. There’s a lot more value to private security out there than people are getting credit for.