Anyone who has interviewed for a position with Richard Handren knows there’s a twist that comes just as they’re getting comfortable. It has little to do with security, but it reveals certain traits he wants to see in his staff and it might throw the unimaginative off their game.
By Jennifer Brown
“Halfway through the interview I will slide a pen across the table and
say you have 30 seconds to sell me this pen, go! And it’s quite
interesting to see what they do. It tells me they can think on their
feet, that they can market — are they persistent? It gives me some real
insight into those individuals.”
It also gives some insight into the kind of leader Handren is and how
he managers his staff. He wants free thinkers who are not afraid to be
inventive and can see all sides to an issue before they execute on a
“When you interview someone you are looking to see what knowledge,
skills and abilities they have that are transferable, but you also look
to see if they are motivated — are they independent thinkers within the
team and do they understand the vision of what we are trying to build?”
And when the team members are in place, Handren, 58, hands
responsibility to them, but with the caveat that they know they can
always come to him if they have concerns that they aren’t ready.
“Some of our people have strong skills in certain areas but all have
been cross-trained,” says Handren who is a big proponent of his people
earning professional designations.
“If you don’t have it [certification], you have to work towards it, and
I send people on courses for what it will do to bring value to the
enterprise, but also value to them as an industry expert,” he says.
The RBC protection services team includes Frank McKenna, manager of
U.S. operations, heading up personal protection and physical security.
He has recently taken on the Caribbean and Latin America due to RBC’s
growth in those markets.
Lina Tsakiris and Jason Caissie manage the physical security side,
while Tracy Montgomery and Mark Illy handle executive protection and
Tsakiris, who has worked for Handren for four years nominated him for
Security Director of the Year but says the nomination was a team effort.
“We all want to be Ric when we grow up,” says Tsakiris with a laugh.
“We really saw him inspire our team in terms of what needed to be done
in balancing everything we do along with preparing for the 2010 Torch
Run,” she says. “He’s a visionary, a strategic thinker and humble in
his communication style but clear and effective.”
Handren’s career began when he joined the RCMP shortly after his 19th
birthday, right out of high school. He grew up in a small town in rural
New Brunswick — Martinon, population at the time, about 200 people,
located between Fredericton and Saint John.
For the next 25 years he worked in various units of enforcement across
Canada and retired from the force in Nova Scotia. About 10 of those
years were focused on financial crime. During his time on the force he
went to night school and earned an under grad degree majoring in
He then got into financial work and found his calling — secret
commissions, fraud, political corruption — he found it challenging and
Eventually, he was commissioned into the senior ranks of the force and
transferred to Halifax to head up operations for commercial crime and
federal policing for the province of Nova Scotia. Three years later he
was approached by Imperial Oil — they offered him a position in Toronto
overseeing fraud and theft cases for the company.
Four years into that job he was then tapped by Deloitte and Touche to build on the accounting firm’s fraud investigation team.
“I soon discovered that instead of being reactive, there was an
opportunity to be proactive and I started selling management on putting
proactive programs in place and doing sound threat-risk assessments and
putting good integrated security systems in place,” says Handren.
Then, one day in 2003 he received two phone calls from two different
people telling him RBC was looking to fill a senior security position.
A week later he took the job.
“The real challenge in coming to RBC was that I was coming to build an
international program for a major organization that now stands at
80,000 people in 51 countries and being able to hire a good team,” he
The first six-months with RBC he spent understanding the business and knowing where the gaps were.
“I put a major report in after that and said, ”˜This is where we need to go and who we need’,” he says.
He broke the team into executive protection and personnel security and physical security.
Last year he and his team completed what is probably the largest
project of his career — an intrusion and access control integration at
1,100 RBC branches across Canada.
It was an almost five-year project from start to finish. When he
arrived at RBC he was trying to learn what system were in existence and
how best to standardize them.
In the later half of 2003 he became aware that an RFP had gone out to upgrade camera systems at some of the branches.
“When I brought it in I felt, in concert with Graham Trimble (then
manager of physical security for RBC) at the time, that this isn’t
where we needed to go. I pulled it off the table, much to the chagrin
of some of the vendors — they weren’t happy about it. We totally
re-wrote it and expanded the vision to see what we really needed to
meet the need based on risk,” he says.
At the time, RBC was under attack from a multitude of threats.
“We were suffering robberies, ATM attacks, losses from fraud skimming,
mortgage fraud, internal theft — there was a whole series of things we
really needed to attack and we wanted to build a system that would
defend what we were trying to protect and was deep enough, through a
series of layers, to try and continue to meet our needs going forward,”
Handren then proceeded to seek the capital investment required to fulfill his project — $35 million.
“In every business case put forward we’ve always dug deep to clearly
understand what the cost would be and the return on investment for that
capital. I want them to know right out of the gate it’s very reliable.
When we send it to the executive level as non-security people they
understand. We bring it down to business language.”
“That in itself — to sell that to executive management to get buy in
and to have them understand the value — when we got it we re-issued the
RFP,” he says.
In 2004 RBC went through the bidding process and was looking for a
vendor who could not only meet the technology requirements, but act as
a true partner.
“We were looking for a vendor and service provider we could partner
with ”“ somebody we felt really comfortable with that we could build it
together. We ended up selecting Intercon because they were flexible and
they took on the challenges we gave them. We had some unique requests
in terms of what we wanted this integrated system to do,” says Handren.
There was considerable work that went on even before the systems were rolled out.
“We spent a whole year planning it from that point forward. The biggest
challenge was to coordinate the interdependencies between all the
stakeholders internal and external so we had a project manager with
Intercon and one at RBC and we worked through the process of how to get
It was a tall order — something that had not been accomplished before.
“We wanted access controls, intrusion alarms and the CCVE system
(Closed Circuit Video Equipment) and vault systems to be ULC level and
that had never been done before to our knowledge,” says Handren.
At the time, less than half of RBC’s branches had any cameras.
“I think there were only about 30-50 sites that were digital,” he says.
“We have shown the value-add because as we worked this through we
worked a lot of metrics.”
Statistically, fraud levels from ATM skimming have now dropped dramatically translating into millions in savings.
“We have never had a successful ATM attack since we finished the branch
security upgrade. We are now rolling it out to the 475 U.S. branches in
the southeast U.S.,” he says.
Handren has gained a reputation for being tough on vendors, asking them
to go beyond their typical service level. Some have even said that what
they learned doing work with RBC they have been able to sell to other
“We feel that to be successful we need our vendors to partner with us
so we’re very up front — communication and collaboration is key — there
is no question what our expectation of them is. I’m very candid with
them from the get go — ”˜Here’s what we expect from you and we will hold
your feet to the fire. Having said that, if you do give us that level
of service, we will be a loyal client for many years down the road.
Occasionally there are bumps in the road where perhaps a vendor isn’t
meeting their SLAs or veering outside the contract and we bring them
back on track,” he says.
Handren has also reached out to the bank’s information technology department and now collaborates with them on policy.
“We have found that working with IT has really paid dividends for us.
We work them as it relates to the physical side of the house. We now
also co-author IT policy. We’ve also done that with HR and business
continuity management and legal — we reach out to all our partners to
say ”˜how can we work with you to make it better’ and it has really
built strong relationships.”
Heading into this fall, Handren’s next big challenge is to manage
security operations for RBC as a major sponsor of the 2010 Winter
Olympics and the Torch Run.
It might not be immediately apparent, but in being a major sponsor of
an event like the Olympics, RBC exposes itself to risk from the
perspective of protest groups who might not be fans of major events
like the Olympics.
While the RCMP has primary responsibility for the Olympics and the
torch run, as a premier sponsor RBC has found that various activist
groups such environmental groups, anti-poverty and first nations
groups, have banded together and RBC could be a target.
“Many of these groups look at RBC and say, ”˜You finance the tar sands’,
so environmental groups aren’t happy and others say, ”˜We don’t think
you should fund the Olympics’. So there are about 106 days of making
sure our people and our assets are properly protected including our
executives along the route and on site at the Olympics. There’s also
the branches the Torch Run will pass by and in the lower mainland that
may suffer an approach of some kind. So there is a lot of planning but
also a lot of collaborative work with the RCMP,” he says.
The Torch Run starts at the end of October. Handren and two staff will be there for the entire month should any arise.