Scott O'Brien '77, president of law enforcement products manufacturer The Safariland Group. Scott O’Brien ’77 (marketing), president of law enforcement products manufacturer The Safariland Group, is a recipient of the 2019 Cal State Fullerton Vision & Visionaries awards, the university’s premier recognition for alumni. He explores the impact of student internships on his business, the state of manufacturing in today’s economy, and why alumni and others should give back to CSUF’s Mihaylo College of Business and Economics.

More than half a century after a launch from the garage of a Sierra Madre, California, residence in 1964, leading law enforcement and military holster manufacturer The Safariland Group is relocating its operations to Jacksonville, Florida, to transform the business for the needs of the contemporary market.

Within this endeavor, The Safariland Group President Scott O’Brien ’77, a Cal State Fullerton marketing alumnus, has enlisted the assistance of a new generation of business students at his alma mater, who have provided internship-based advising to his company, with recommendations based on the managerial principles of such business successes as Toyota.

“We have had several interns who have provided research and analysis for us and even assisted with work instructions, which will be helpful as we transfer from Ontario, California, to Jacksonville,” says O’Brien, who recently received his alma mater’s most prestigious alumni-focused recognition, the Vision & Visionaries award.

“They have worked on supply chain aspects, marketing and broader strategy. We benefit a lot from their research and have implemented many of their recommendations,” he says. “It is a really nice way to get an outside pair of eyes on a problem, and it’s very rewarding because the students grow so much over the semester they intern with us. They come in a little timid, a little shy. But at the end they have their legs and are ready to go. So it is a win-win for both them and us.”

Led by expert management teaching and research faculty, students from Cal State Fullerton’s Mihaylo College often have a combination of knowledge of the latest business principles and practices, along with applied experiences in other internships and employment.

It is a symbiotic relationship which O’Brien suggests other companies should consider. “There is a very nominal fee for intern consulting programs, and it is worth every nickel that you spend. You get it back many times over,” he says. “My recommendation [for business owners] is to find a specific project for the students to work on, so they are very targeted in their approach and expectation of the end result.”

The New World of Manufacturing 

Despite changes in the global economy in recent decades, the U.S. is still the largest manufacturer in the world, producing 18.2% of global products. But in the era of mobile technology, the internet of things and same-day delivery, manufacturing today is a high-tech and supply chain-focused operation.

“You used to run through 10-year cycles with technology, but now you’re lucky if it goes for two years,” says O’Brien. “For instance, holster manufacturing technology has changed from molded leather holsters of the past to injection molding. One of the reasons we are moving our facility is that we bought an injection molding and tooling business in Jacksonville that has the technology needed to mold holsters for law enforcement, our major client base.”

In a business in which product strength and durability is essential – police officers must have the assurance that their weapon is secured within the holster, even in the event of a struggle – quality assurance is paramount.

But by maintaining a strong focus on latest industry trends, O’Brien’s Safariland has stayed ahead of the game, as manifested by a recent contract from the U.S. Army to make holsters for soldiers stationed around the world.

“When you’re in manufacturing, it’s all about the operation and how lean you can make it. It’s about continuous improvement and making the process better,” says O’Brien. “Since the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, you want to eliminate waste from the system. So making straight lines and not having waste tying up your cash is huge.”

Scott O'Brien stands above the main warehouse floor of The Safariland Group in Ontario, California.

Photo by Jeanine Hill

Giving Back and Paying It Forward Through Mihaylo College

O’Brien has been an active member of Mihaylo College’s Dean’s Advisory Board since 2006. The board, comprising Southern California business professionals across a wide range of industries, ensures an applied workforce-ready perspective for the college’s graduates.

“It is an honor to be asked to be on the board and give input into what businesses need from the college. And my greatest focus has been the need to not just turn out degrees but turn out leaders. I feel Mihaylo College has done a great job of producing leaders and not only degrees,” he says.

With the ear of the college’s dean and other senior leadership, O’Brien recognizes his board membership as transformative in ensuring that students have a high-quality and applied application that matches what today’s employers seek.

“What you get back is many multiples of what you give when you get involved with the college. It is very rewarding to work with the students and knowing you have an impact on them is also rewarding,” he says. “I have developed great friendships with the university’s leadership, which is an unexpected benefit. Being on the board offers the chance to work with great people and leaders in the community – it is very interesting and rewarding spending time with these people.”

How to Get Involved

Mihaylo College actively seeks the involvement of alumni and other business leaders from across Southern California who are committed to making a difference in the lives of the next generation of business talent. For information about opportunities to get involved, visit the college’s boards and councils page. Or read more of our articles on the college’s community impact.