28 Apr 2023

Know Your HBS Staff: Corey Tolbert


by Shona Simkin

When Kim Kardashian visited the Harvard Business School (HBS) campus earlier this year, Corey Tolbert, account manager for Securitas, orchestrated the security plan: classroom logistics, blocking off hallways and exterior access points, response protocols for potential fan and media presence, and permissions and access for her Hulu film crew. We talked with Corey about some of the non-celebrity aspects of his work, as well as what he likes to do in his spare time.

Where are you from?
I grew up in Philadelphia with my grandparents.

How long have you been at HBS, and what was your career path?
I’ve been here 10 years, I started in January of 2013. I was in security at the Museum of Fine Arts for six years. A colleague who worked in security more broadly at the University told me about this opportunity. I applied, interviewed, and it ended up being a good fit. I’ve loved it ever since.

How has your work evolved?
I started as the assistant account manager for Securitas. I helped support the account manager and put together a comprehensive set of procedures, which we call post orders—about 500 pages representing a wide scope of security procedures, resources, and policies. It took about 18 months to write. During this process, I also sunk my teeth into the day-to-day operations of security at HBS and had to learn the campus and the community. About five years later the account manager was thinking about transitioning as he progressed toward retirement. He asked me about changing roles, so in 2017 I became the account manager. I now have a little more strategic oversight over the program, figuring out longer term planning and improvements to the security program, and I oversee the 36 Securitas staff on campus.

Along with our colleagues in Operations we look to improve our technology and the skillset of the staff in the security operations center. We expanded our dignitary protection program, which is for high profile visits to campus, helping to support the operations of their security team, researching their risks and threats, and coordinating with our partners in HUPD. We also expanded our community training offerings. I’ve been a management of aggressive behavior (MOAB) instructor for 10 years, and we also offer basics of security, first aid, CPR, and stop the bleed training, to expand the awareness of security and how people can improve their own personal security.

What does your work look like day-to-day?
It varies between updating procedures—those 500 pages get continuous updates; reviewing, verifying, and disseminating incident reports for any sort of medical call or emergency response on campus; attending meetings for security planning—right now we’re doing a lot of commencement planning that involves sniffing dogs and recruiting extra security officers to help with bag checks and securing the perimeter; and supporting the public facing technology for our visitor management system. I also make sure that our team is doing all of their own email checks and tours and noting work orders for any hazardous conditions. I also make sure that all of our staff have current CPR and first aid training, customer service training, suspicious activity training, bias training, and safe driver training for cart driving.

One of the things that drew me to security is that I’ve always had a really wide array of interests and security gives me a chance to use many of those skills. I like doing administrative work and writing procedures, I like documenting things and using math in different parts of my job, and I get to meet and interact with people and do public speaking for trainings. Security gives me a chance to use a lot of those skills and the variety keeps the day interesting. I know that when I show up to work, I don’t know what will happen or what will pop up but I know that I’m ready for it and I’m happy to be able to provide that for the School.

Do you ever get flustered around VIPs, or is it all in a day’s work?
I’m a very well-grounded person, so I don’t get extreme highs or lows. When you’re in security you have to keep perspective and keep calm. There’s an expression that you’re like a duck: cool up top and pedaling like mad below. I do well at keeping cool. I’ve met high profile people—President Obama and John Legend at the MFA—and thankfully I’m not someone who gets starstruck. I’m HBS’s representative to the guest’s security people, I’m not their everyday security person, so there’s a level of decorum that we need to keep. I do my best to give people that comfort level.

What might surprise someone about your work?
People probably only think about security on an as-needed basis—that we’re mostly reacting and responding to things. But security does a lot to be proactive. For example we had a really high-level bike theft a few years ago, so we now have trainings and spontaneous check-ins about how to properly lock your bikes and how we have bike locks to lend if you forget yours, things like that to help people keep their property secure. We process 78,000 transactions per year between email, phone calls, and radio calls. Security is in the information business, not just in the response business. We monitor social media in the security center for peer institutions, public facilities, and news stories—the sooner we have information the better we’re able to react should the scenario have an impact on our community.

What’s your favorite aspect of your job?
Probably the community trainings. Often when you work in security and public safety, you’re seeing people in a desperate situation—even something as innocuous as a lockout can make someone anxious and upset, and we do our best to respond within minutes and be reassuring. When I do community trainings, people are generally having a good day. I’m also someone who loves humor, so anytime I can train people I mix a little standup routine in to keep it light and interactive while also giving key principles to empower people.

What are some of your other interests?
I grew up singing classical music in Philadelphia; all my best friends were singers. I led the HBS staff singing group, With Interest, for the first few years. For several years I helped arrange an event called Artstravaganza that showed staff artwork around campus and had staff playing piano and cello in Baker Library. It was nice to humanize the workplace and get staff to show a different side of themselves. That was one of my great passions.

I’ve always enjoyed teaching music and conducting. I had the chance to conduct the Boston Pops Gospel Choir at Symphony Hall, which was one of my favorite moments ever. I’m also a photographer, I’ve been doing that for seven years, so photographing events and places on campus has been really great for me.

I also work in youth ministry, I’m an evangelist in Christ Apocalypse Church, which is a Nigerian version of the Pentecostal Church. Mentoring and developing youth brings me great joy. I’m kind of an emissary between them and their parents—I’m not that much younger than their parents and in some cases not that much older than them, so I bridge that age gap. I also bridge a cultural gap. Pretty much all the adults in my church were born in Nigeria and their children were born in America. I’m an African American who also has a deep curiosity about Nigerian culture (my wife is Nigerian).

I’m also a chess player. I was the high school champion in Philadelphia in ninth and tenth grade, then I dropped chess because I was also a three-sport athlete. I don’t know how I had time to do everything I did in high school! I’m still a very avid chess player. I have a lot of interests!

Is there anything else you want the community to know about your work?
Community education is one of the best ways that we can keep our campus safe. We work and study and live in an urban environment, which brings inherent risk. The way we make our community the absolute safest is having an eyes wide open approach to all that’s going on around us. If we’re all paying good attention to what happens every day, and noting things that are out of the ordinary and bringing them to security, it’s super helpful. Doing that involves thinking and planning, which is why we offer so many forms of community education. We do this at a regular cadence so that the community can be thinking in advance about scenarios that can come up and be well equipped to respond. If you’ve thought about it in advance and have an action plan you’re ready to deploy, you’re more likely to have a better outcome. I hope that readers will look to myHBS for upcoming trainings and sign up for themselves or for their department.

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