published Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Margaret Levine breaks glass ceiling in corporate security world

MARGARET J. LEVINE

Job: Vice president of corporate security for Bridgestone Americas Holding Inc.

Industry leadership: Chairwoman of the International Security Management Association.

Education: Graduate of Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga in 1973, she went on to earn a bachelor's degree in sociology from Washington University and a master's degree in public administration from the University of Denver.

Career: Levine has served as associate director of the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc., technical services manager for global security for Mobil Oil Corp., director of global security at Capital One, and corporate security manager for Georgia Power Co., before joining Bridgestone in Nashville.

Margaret Levine was head of global security for Capital One in 2001 when terrorists struck New York City where the company's CEO was speaking and where one employee went missing for more than eight hours.

"Those were some of the worst hours of my professional career and a day I never want to go through again," Levine recalled, noting that both employees turned out all right despite the collapse of the World Trade Center.

The Chattanooga native has spent her career trying to minimize such threats for tens of thousands of employees as a security manager in the banking, oil, utilities and automotive industries. As head of global security for Bridgestone Americas, Georgia Power and Capital One, Levine has had to keep a watchful eye out for any kind of external or internal threat to her employers.

Levine says protecting physical and intellectual property is very important, but guarding against harm to company employees, contractors and executives is the top priority.

"I've worked at a company where a general manager was almost kidnapped," she said. "I've worked at a company where an employee was killed during an attempted robbery and at a company where 150 employees and dependents had to be evacuated from a country whose government was collapsing. It just takes your breath away when you get a phone call and hear the news that someone has lost their life or is in grave danger."

Guarding against such threats has been a lifelong passion for Levine, who says she first developed an interest in criminal justice during a sociology class visit to a criminal trial while she was still a teen at Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga. After college and early jobs in criminal justice, Levine said she "fell in love" with corporate security while working at Mobil Corp. in Alexandria, Va.

"I knew then that the corporate world and global security was where I belonged," she recalled. "There's tremendous personal satisfaction in helping the security of your colleagues and your employer. To be on call 24 hours a day, you have to love it."

Although she graduated from the all-girls GPS, Levine has spent most of her career in corporate security with other men. Among more than 400 top security officers who are members of the International Security Management association, only a dozen are female members.

Last year, Levine became the first woman chairman of the ISMA, the industry's principal trade group.

"We're making great improvements, but there is still a glass ceiling in this profession," she said.

Levine said ISMA provides valuable training and contacts for the top security officers of major multinational companies.

"The threats have become more complex, and our technology to detect problems much more sophisticated," she said.

But having relationships with company executives to ensure their safety during international visits and developing contacts with other security officers to learn about new types of threats is key.

Levine credits two mentors for her success. A former boss at Mobil Oil taught Levine both how to best secure company assets and how to handle the politics of the corporate world. The ability to relate to a variety of people, Levine says, she learned from her grandfather, Garrison Siskin.

"We had a close relationship and he taught me a great deal about building relationships with people and how to find the value that all people have," she said.

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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