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Leading Police and Corporate Security

After leading the San Antonio Police Department, Alumnus Al Philippus joined Valero Energy to head up post 9-11 security measures.

Al Philippus credits the College of Criminal Justice faculty with teaching him leadership skills, which led to his career as Police Chief in San Antonio and as a Vice President at the Valero Energy Corporation.

“The seeds were planted at Sam Houston State University,” said Philippus. “The faculty taught me to think beyond management skills and to think about leadership skills. They were tough on us, but they supported and encouraged us. Truly, they were doing everything they could to teach us to be future leaders.”

After serving four years in the Air Force, Philippus initially had his sights set on being a firefighter. But poor timing in applying for that job led him instead to the San Antonio Police Department, where he served for 27 years. Over the years, Philippus worked his way up through the ranks in nearly every division and eventually served as the Police Chief for the seventh largest U.S. city for seven years.

“The police department was in a massive hiring mode,” said Philippus. “When I was in the academy, I fell in love with the profession, and I fell in love with everything about public service. We see some horrible things on the street, but we have lots of opportunities to help people.”

As a young Lieutenant, Philippus was assigned to administration under then Police Chief William Gibson, who was re-engineering the department shortly after a difficult period when a vigilante cop named Stephen Smith began hunting down and shooting criminals in the streets. The chief recognized Philippus’ potential, and Philippus knew he needed more education if he planned to advance his career. He searched nationwide for a reputable Master’s program in Criminal Justice and found it in the weekend program offered at SHSU, College of Criminal Justice. He graduated with a Master of Criminal Justice Leadership and Management in 1992.

The program taught him practical management, research and analysis skills for his job, which at the time included overseeing the physical assets of the department and compiling and presenting the budget. After a nationwide search, Philippus was promoted to Police Chief in 1995, a job he held for seven years. At the time, the average tenure of a major city U.S. Police Chief was 2.5 years.

“The turnover of the Police Chiefs at the time was equivalent to that of NBA and NFL coaches,” said Philippus. “Being a chief in a major city is a 24/7 job. There are no vacations; there are calls at all hours of the night from the media or about major incidents.”

During that time, Philippus got remarried, and he and his wife become the proud parents of twins. He knew he needed to do something different, and he turned to Bill Greehey, the CEO of Valero, which at the time was a small refinery operation in the process of acquiring Ultramar Diamond Shamrock. In the post 9/11 world, the industry was changing and needed quickly to beef up security.

Philippus had done some private consulting work with corporations during his career as extra jobs, and he decided to make the jump to private security as the Director of Corporate Security for Valero. He found a natural link between law enforcement and private security, but also some differences in working for the corporate world.

“My job is the protection of all the company’s assets, including people and physical assets around the world,” Philippus said. “Our people are our greatest asset, and it is not just a slogan. We act it out in the way we treat people with respect every day.”

Like other police chiefs, Philippus always struggled to get resources and tried to implement proactive approaches to crime fighting in a very reactive environment. In the corporate world, there are more resources, and allocations are based on the philosophy of return on investment. Philippus found that many of the skills he learned in police administration and leadership translated into his new job, including developing budgets, managing people, identifying resources and purchasing the most effective equipment.

In 2007 Philippus was promoted to Vice President of Corporate Services and Security at Valero, which is now the large independent refiner in the U.S., with 16 refineries stretching from California to Canada to the United Kingdom. With this network of refineries, Valero has a capacity of approximately three million barrels a day. In addition to being the top security officer at the company, Philippus’ role has expanded to oversee construction, cafeteria services, maintenance, printing and graphics, and fleet management.

“We do a lot of different things,” said Philippus. “I come in to work in the morning to do a, b, and c and wind up tackling x, y, and z. I have learned to hire the right people and get out of their way.”

Philippus said he is a great supporter of education and of SHSU’s College of Criminal Justice.

“There is no better curriculum to prepare future law enforcement leaders,” said Philippus. “They give you the skill sets to do the job and a strong foundation to be able to succeed.”

Philippus urged current students to be flexible and adjustable in their careers, ready to take on the next challenge that faces law enforcement, just like he experienced after 9/11. There are many serious challenges facing the profession, such as violent crime, mental health issues, gun control, drug cartels and homeland security, and students need to find ways to address these challenges.

“You have to be adaptable and prepared to change strategies quickly,” Philippus said.

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