The Security Institute’s newly appointed Chief Operating Officer Angela Vernon-Lawson CSyP FSyI speaks exclusively to SJUK
A potted career history for Angela Vernon-Lawson could read: “Entrepreneur, leader, academic.”
It is fair to say that she will probably have to draw down on her not inconsiderable experiences as the newly appointed Chief Operating Officer at the Security Institute.
There are many challenges stacked in her way but a keen eye for looming dangers, honed in loss prevention, a lot of energy and the ability to communicate clearly will also assist.
Born in the West Midlands, she has been in and around the security industry in various different capacities for decades – all of which helped her get the Institute job.
Vernon Lawson had been in post in an interim capacity since April 2022 and entered the race when the job was opened up to external candidates.
Peter Lavery, Chair of the Security Institute, said that in that process it soon became “very apparent” to right individual was already in the building.
Vernon-Lawson says: “I started in loss prevention for a pharmacy as I had a natural ability to spot concerning behaviours and prevented many shoplifters being successful.”
Vernon-Lawson took the decision more than 20 years ago to dedicate her time energies to the security industry.
She adds: “As the Millennium rolled round, I decided to work full-time in the sector and have not looked back. I have worked globally with amazing clients which does present different challenges, however, being agile, flexible, and prepared are key.”
She has been sitting in the CEO chair for almost a year, so it would be interesting to find what impressions she has garnered about the Institute in that time.
Version-Lawson, who lives in South Devon and where until recently she sat as a magistrate in the tough world of the family division, says: “It is a time-consuming position, it requires dedication to create an environment and institution that listens to its members and strives to provide the best service possible. It is without doubt an extended security family and I aim to assist anyone who is in need personally or professionally.
“So I have had to step away from the Bench because of the level of commitment needed for this job. But I will return one day, I feel sure of that.”
Values, ethics, honesty
Were there any valuable lessons you learnt from those early days?
“Communication is very important, and understanding human behaviour is unpredictable and responses are likely to change for a number of reasons. For example, Fight or flight is often spoken about but freeze is a critical factor. Financial support is essential to ensure resource is fit for purpose and the task in hand. When it comes to personal values, ethics, integrity, honesty, and reliability are traits I have learnt to value in co-workers.”
Vernon-Lawson holds an MSc in Risk and Security Management which she gained at the University of Leicester.
From May 2006 until August 2017, Vernon-Lawson served as a senior lecturer in the subjects of security, business continuity and resilience at Buckinghamshire New University.
The role took in the running of the Foundation Degree in Protective Security Management and to oversee the development of the Protective Security Level 3 Award and associated Training Providers.
Alongside this, from 2002 until February last year, Vernon-Lawson worked in a self-employed capacity in close protection, surveillance and investigations.
All the while she was running the Lawson Associates consultancy which concentrates on strategic and operational security and risk management.
Vernon-Lawson sees a direct correlation between her work in the education sector as a university lecturer and the security industry – in short, she learns in order that others can improve.
She explains: “Academia has been a long-standing passion for a number of years. The whole experience of learning, expanding knowledge, developing skills and behaviours in a forever evolving industry is essential.
“And I am no exception. I learn, to share that learning, and to assist other people to improve, advance and to progress which is truly beneficial in this position. I never know what questions I will be asked but being able to draw on my knowledge and experience means I can support others and if I cannot I usually know someone who can. Being well informed enhances competency.”
What are the challenges facing the Security Institute in the coming years?
Renewing and adding benefits for an increasing membership, managing expectations and delivering on those expectations. It is important to consider the voice of thousands of members and find a solution or compromise.
The Security Institute recently carried out a major governance review.
The Board adopted the recommendations within the Institute’s regulations following a meeting held on 15 December. Those recommendations now adopted include:
- enhanced screening checks to align with the Government’s Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS) for directors and employees
- an expansion of ‘Conflict of Interest’
- the inclusion of two ‘independent directors’ on the Board
- the merging of the Audit and Risk Committees
- enhanced risk management through further alignment with the BPSS security policy and guidance
How easy will it be to implement the accepted recommendations?
Vernon Lawson says: “The work has been done over a period of months; thought, consideration and debate assisted to identify and embed such recommendations for a growing membership and one which is multi-faceted and continues to have a global reach.”
The Institute has since decided to order the presence of two independent directors on the board and Vernon-Lawson makes it plain why.
She explains: “Independent is the key word. Directors in this role will have a specific skill set, can fulfil a requirement, remain objective by removing any emotional decisions and support a diverse board who volunteer their time. It also provides a pragmatic, and lateral approach to identifying workable solutions.”
Despite the pandemic and the squeeze on household finances, the Institute’s membership numbers have been holding up.
Vernon Lawson adds: “The membership is very healthy as we nudge towards a growing membership of five thousand. The Membership Registrar and the Deputy Membership Registrar are key to its success and timeliness of the Validation Board.”
At some point before the end of the current parliamentary term, the Protect Duty legislation (otherwise know as Martyn’s Law) will be introduced in its draft form.
It has been driven by Figen Murray who lost her son in the Manchester Arena attack in May 2017. Twenty-three were killed and more than 1,000 injured by a suicide bomber who detonated a shrapnel-based, homemade bomb as concert-goers were leaving the arena.
Many shortcomings were identified not only at the venue but in the industry as a result.
Vernon-Lawson says: “We have a very proactive Counter Terrorism Special Interest Group (SIG) who drive many of the practicalities and the implementation for our membership on the Protect Duty/Martyn’s Law.
“We have been in preparedness mode for change to the security infrastructure for quite some time. The SIG consider counter terrorism in its entirety, discuss in multiple forums to assist The Security Institute to shape their position in public or governmental consultations.
“An approach which provides credibility to the process as multiple people are involved and it’s not based one person’s view point.”
In step with the rest of the security industry, Vernon Lawson has few clues as to how Martyn’s Law will look or what its implications might be.
“I think it’s difficult to say because it has taken a very long time to get through the system. At this stage everybody is waiting to see what is in it before knowing what the exact response will be.”
But, she says firmly, organisations, businesses and individuals can always “do more” but she suspects that training and education will be at the very heart of the industry’s response.
Vernon-Lawson, known to friends and some colleagues as Angie, adds: “I would like to think there will be some extra help from the government – but what that would be, I can’t say. But we will actively engage.”
Finally, as she casts her mind across a long and varied career, what is the best piece of advice she ever received?
She replies: “Gosh, that’s a difficult question! I have met so many amazing people who in various ways have been inspirational and shared great advice.
“However, when I was studying for my MSc, I met John McCammont, the former Det. Chief Superintendent Head of West Mercia CID, who once said: ‘Stay true to yourself, be honest and stand up for what you believe in.’”
Away from the demands of the Institute, Vernon-Lawson is a huge fan of DIY – particularly decorating and building.
But definitely not anything electrical.
“I’m probably blow myself up!”