Leading a Fire Systems Giant Into the Future
Honeywell reshuffled its vaunted life-safety business and reached into its well of veteran talent to appoint a leader of a new umbrella organization. In an exclusive interview, Gary Lederer, explains his vision to keep the Titan-sized organization agile in reacting to customer needs within a vibrant marketplace. He also addresses industry trends and challenges, plus technologies that could one day alter the life-safety landscape.
When you are the most dominant technology and systems manufacturer in a multibillion-dollar industry, news of a change in leadership will rightly resonate throughout the supply chain and beyond. Such is the attention cast upon Gary Lederer. In February he was appointed to lead Honeywell Life Safety (HLS) Fire Solutions for the Americas, a new umbrella organization that will oversee Honeywell Fire Systems and System Sensor.
A life-safety veteran who was with Pittway Corp. when it was acquired by Honeywell in 2000, Lederer assumes a role that was previously filled by a pair of industry stalwarts. Allen Fritts, who served as president for Honeywell Fire Systems Americas, and John Hakanson, who served as president of Honeywell Sensing and Devices under which System Sensor operates, have retired. Both men are inductees to SSI’s Hall of Fame.
It is Lederer who is now charged with building the conglomerate’s fire systems business while implementing strategies to bring about new organizational efficiencies and synergies among a broad range of brands and product portfolios. The appointment entailed Lederer’s return to the United States. His most recent post was based in London where he led the HLS Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) Fire Systems business.
In an exclusive and in-depth interview, Lederer shares his vision for the future of the Americas’ fire systems business, as well as perspectives on trends and challenges affecting the fire/life-safety industry, and much more.
Strategic Vision Begins to Take Shape Under New Leadership
After spending so many years abroad, what has the transition been like for you returning stateside?
Gary Lederer: Fairly seamless. I was an expatriate very early in my career with a different company. I learned from that experience. It’s often harder coming back and repatria ting because when you go on an expat assignment it’s new, exciting; you see new things, you learn new things. When you come back you kind of expect it to be as you left it, despite the fact 14 years later, obviously things have changed. My kids are grown so they’ve been back over here for six or eight years. We spent quite a bit of time back in the U.S. so the repatriation has been easy.
Within Honeywell Life Safety, we have quarterly leader meetings, so we bring people from around the globe. I knew what was going on in this business. Before I went to Europe I was involved in System Sensor in St. Charles., Ill. I’d been with that business three years prior to going to Europe. I knew the fire systems business just by virtue of the fact that having been with Pittway, I saw it grow up.
I ran the fire systems busine ss in Europe, so I knew the fundamentals of that business. Me sliding in has been pretty easy actually. I’ve only been in it for four weeks, so maybe if you ask me in another two months I might have a different answer.
What are some initial objectives you are undertaking in your new role?
Lederer: We had two very good and well-respected senior leaders retire. I had the pleasure of working with both of them — John Hakanson, who was my boss at System Sensor when I went to Europe; and Allen Fritts. Allen and I go way back to 1988 when I joined Pittway.
We took the opportunity to combine the leadership but not the businesses. We saw success in China when we had the two businesses under one leader. We did that several years ago. And a couple of years ago we combined our leadership of the System Sensor business and the fire system business in India. Again we saw some benefits.
Those benefits basically are you get internal efficiencies without affecting the external customer base. If our customers see any change in what we’re doing, other than improvement, than I’ve not done my job very well. This should be totally transparent to the external world what we’re doing. We see internal efficiencies in many of the things we do. For example in technology, technology application, if you look at the structure, System Sensor is a component supplier. We position it as a component supplier to the industry. That’s what the remit was in 1984 when it was spun off as a separate standalone business within Pittway.
We’ve been very successful in delivering very high-quality, reliable products that are fit for purpose to the market. We don’t want to lose that, but System Sensor is one step removed from the end user. The end user would be the building owner, and so we want to make sure we’re getting proper communication, proper information.
My role is to make sure that the Fire System people who are one step closer to that end user — and the System Sensor people who are providing the sensing technology — are trading information, working together to make sure we’re providing and developing the right types of sensors, the products that fit into a fire system, to get feedback from users in our customer base as to what they need.
To what degree do you rely on end-user input?
Lederer: We rely on the information the end user can provide to us, rather than design a product in a vacuum and hope it fits for somebody. I see that as a benefit. I also see as a benefit our internal manufacturing and distribution system. We were running those as two separate businesses and I think there are some synergies, rather than treating them as separate companies but to look at us as one company. And delivering greater value to our customers by cutting out what we have today, what I’ll call internal handling issues that we probably can avoid. Instead of shipping it from one factory to another to another, to combine it with something, to ship it somewhere else; just ship it directly and cut out the value chain.
We’re all under the Honeywell operating system which has delivered significant value to our business. It really is all about creating value for the customer and by asking the question, “Is what we’re doing something that our customers are willing to pay for?” In the end that’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to provide our customers something that helps them in their business at a price they can make some money on and be efficient with.
Can you elaborate more about the synergies that you want to generate?
Lederer: I’ll give you an example. Having been responsible for our sales in the Middle East, we use a lot of American product, UL product. In many of the markets, for instance, Saudi Arabia has a preference for UL-Listed product. That product was being made in our St. Charles factory, being shipped to
Northford [Conn.], and then was being shipped to our Middle East office, then shipped to Saudi Arabia. There’s a lot of handling there. It needs to be pick-packed and shipped out of St. Charles, it’s offloaded in Northford. It’s then pick-packed and shipped to Dubai, which is offloaded in our warehouse there. Only to have the same process again to go to our customer in Saudi Arabia.
What we’ve done is we’ve eliminated it all; we’re trying to streamline that. A lot of customers want one delivery. If they place an order that has detectors and panels on it, they just want one shipment. So instead of System Sensor shipping it to Northford, we’ll have System Sensor ship it to Dubai. Our people in Dubai consolidate the order.
If the customer will take a direct shipment, we’ll have System Sensor ship it directly to our customer in Saudi Arabia and the Northford factory ship it directly to Saudi Arabia. We eliminate all the extra handling and what I call non-value-added work. We’re not adding any value to the integrity of the fire system by shipping it around the world many times.
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