Robert Messemer: Managing Crisis, Safety and Protection on a Global Scale
On March 5, 2013, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez died, triggering political unrest and protests across the country. Airports were closed, roadways blocked and gunshots were heard in the country’s capital. Mourning, unruly crowds took to the streets as businesses shuttered their doors, bracing for riots and violence. A group of protesters gathered around the Nielsen office in Caracas, shouting anti-American slogans.
Global companies like Nielsen, which operates in 106 countries, often face situations like this. A global economy offers unprecedented opportunity through new markets but with this, also comes heightened risks for foreign employees. Managing these risks and preparing for volatile situations is a reality for global organizations today. In the Venezuelan case above, swift action was put into place. “Within 45 minutes, we had armed security on the ground, getting the two Nielsen auditors and their families to a safe hotel because the airport was closed,” says Robert Messemer, Chief Security Officer at Nielsen. “We couldn’t put them on a plane that night, but we did the very next morning, and we got them safely evacuated.”
Messemer is no stranger to volatile situations, with 24 years of experience with the FBI. In 2007, he joined Nielsen as its first Chief Security Officer. The security team is comprised of 24 information security, privacy and risk management professionals, a third of whom are overseas, and is responsible for the safety and security of Nielsen’s 40,000 associates around the world. “What’s good about that arrangement is we still impose global standards, but at the same time, maintain a local perspective in understanding the challenges faced by our senior executives in each of these regions of the world,” says Messemer. He’s proud of the fact that of his North American teams, fully one half are females, and 75 percent of his directors are women, as well. “I think that is really unique in security today,” he says. “It provides us with a competitive advantage.” Politically, Nielsen has great latitude, which is a huge plus for Messemer’s team. “There is no area that we cannot go into or evaluate,” he says. That lack of limitations makes his team uniquely positioned in the world of security.
Nielsen gives its clients the most complete view of the consumer, tracking global sentiment, spending intentions, media consumption, device use, as well as trends, habits and behavior. The company has grown and evolved over its 92-year history and now covers 106 countries, in 15 time zones. While the Nielsen brand is most often associated with television ratings, those TV ratings services only comprise approximately one-quarter of the company’s business and revenue. Today, Nielsen aligns their business into two divisions: What Consumers Buy and What Consumers Watch, offering clients the gold standard in measurement and analytics. “Our data is industry currency, traded amongst the world’s leading manufacturers, retailers, media players and advertisers to drive their business forward by making the most impactful decisions,” says Messemer. “The integrity of our data is so critically important, and our team works very hard across the company to secure it.”
With so much at stake, Messemer and Nielsen invest a lot into the development of talent and the team, and take mentorship seriously. “I was happy to play that role in the FBI and to be able to see some of the people that I managed now assume greater roles within the FBI and create greater value for our nation,” he says. “Now, coming to Nielsen and being able to mentor young security professionals, it’s a very personally rewarding experience for me.”
Another one of the roles the security department has at Nielsen is to help support the company’s code of conduct and behavior of its associates. “It’s a strong underpinning to the company’s commitment to integrity,” says Messemer. This allows Nielsen personnel throughout the world to be confident that risk issues are being addressed, which allows them to focus on their own responsibilities in furthering the goal of exceeding client expectations.
Privacy and the potential for data loss are the main risk challenges for Messemer. “We live in a very complex world, so political risk is really important. All of these factors in this complex, interconnected world provide a lot of risk, but at the same time they also provide a lot of opportunity for security professionals to create value for their organization,” he says. “We exert strong leadership in crisis management, so if there’s a business interruption for any reason, the security team is brought in.”
“We have a detailed and concise crisis management plan and it tells executives exactly what they need to do in the first hour if there’s an unexpected business interruption, no matter what it might be,” says Messemer. With instructions on what to do in the first hour, the first eight hours and the first 24 hours, this plan gives people certainty in knowing what to do to ensure safety and how to protect business assets.
Clients also appreciate the work Messemer’s team does. “We come in and speak straight with the clients. We give them our honest assessment. They appreciate the candor with which we share our challenges, and they appreciate the innovative solutions and, most of all, Nielsen’s commitment to integrity,” he says.
- Annual Revenue: $6.5 Billion
- Security Budget: $11 Million
- Data Protection