Wood Finds Career in Coffee and Crime

Steven Wood, senior manager of corporate investigations and analytics, Starbucks

Steven Wood built his career in private security, topping it off as the senior manager of corporate investigations and analytics at Starbucks.

Wood, who graduated from Sam Houston State University with a bachelor’s degree in 1990, began his criminal justice career at the University Police Department. Since receiving his Master’s Degree from the College of Criminal Justice in 1993, Wood has pursued security in the private sector in such areas as retail, insurance, cargo shipping, and the oil and gas industry. Eight years ago, he was recruited by Starbucks Coffee Company, a $10.7 billion firm with 17,000 locations in more than 50 countries.

“I was more driven and sought opportunities in the private sector,” said Wood. “It allowed me to look at what corporate America deals with, issues like loss ratios and internal and external thefts.”

As head of corporate investigations and analytics, Wood is charged with a wide variety of responsibilities, including copyright infringement, intellectual property, cybercrime, embezzlement, and external fraud. Because Starbucks is a worldwide corporation, Wood deals with company issues not only in the United States, but in other countries like Canada, the United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Germany.

“The crooks and criminals are constantly coming up with new ways to get the money,” said Wood.

Wood often interacts with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies both in investigating and prosecuting cases. Most of his job involves fighting external fraud, including cases where company gift cards are used to launder money, identity theft is initiated through unsolicited e-mails using the Starbucks brand, or free coffee coupons are counterfeited and sold on online auction sites.

“Some people will receive an e-mail advising them they can get a free $500 gift card to Starbucks, but the fraudsters are trying to get you to buy their product or to steal your identity,” Wood said. “I tell our customers, if it’s too good to be true, don’t click it.”

Wood also is charged with investigating the improper use of the company’s brand and logo, and cases of embezzlement and fraud among company employees. He also protects employees and customers at sites worldwide. “We take protection issues extremely seriously,” said Wood.

During his career, Wood helped solve some interesting cases. In the oil and gas industry, he helped bust an organized crime ring that was stealing cigarettes from convenience stores. By placing a special mark on his company’s product, law enforcement was able to prosecute three leaders of the gang and to file organized crime charges against several Mom and Pop stores that purchased the stolen goods.

While in the cargo industry Wood uncovered a ring that was stealing American Express traveler’s checks in California and shipping the proceeds to a gang in the New York/New Jersey area. Finally, he investigated a card skimming case where credit card receipts were swiped onto a hotel keys magstripe and used by a corporation to purchase diesel fuel.

Wood credits his graduate education at Sam Houston State University with balancing the role between law enforcement and theory, allowing him to identify with corporate America and find success through balancing common goals and objectives.

Because of his broadened perspective, Wood encourages students to take classes in other disciplines to aid them in their future careers. If they are interested in private security, a business or marketing course could help to better understand the business perspective. In addition, technology is an exploding area, so computer courses will provide valuable skills for nearly any criminal justice career.

"If you want to pursue a job in the corporate world, you have to understand how it works," Wood said. "So many in law enforcement have tried or are looking to get into corporate security, but we can’t hire some of them because their unable to adapt from a public servant into the business world. You have to accept constant change and adjust in order to obtain a broad view on how businesses operate."

Wood said students graduating with a degree in criminal justice should not limit their options.

"There is nothing wrong with getting in on the ground floor," Wood said. "You are constantly developing yourself. Your education is never over with. You are always learning new things."

Member of The Texas State University System