Honeywell Blazes New Trails in Fire Systems

For alarm dealers, engineered system distributors (ESDs), electrical contractors, security directors and the general population alike, no other brand name is as universally synonymous with building controls as Honeywell. Founded nearly a century ago in Wabash, Ind., Honeywell has grown into a $22.3 billion global power, largely due to its staunch reputation for providing those who build, maintain and use buildings with comfortable and safe environments.

The business unit responsible for those functions is called Automation Controls Solutions (ACS), which today accounts for nearly a third of Honeywell’s total sales. ACS, which supplies services and products to more than 100 million homes and buildings around the world – including 24 of the top 25 oil refineries – is one of Honeywell’s four diverse business units.

In recent years, Honeywell has witnessed significant growth within this segment via its security and fire/life safety enterprises. The company greatly expanded its stake in those markets in late 1999 with the purchase of The Pittway Co., one of the largest manufacturers and distributors of electronic security and fire systems. Pittway’s stable included such established brands as Ademco, ADI, NOTIFIER, System Sensor and Northern Computers.

By assimilating that acquisition into its ACS unit, Honeywell elevated itself into an elite league of worldwide suppliers, alongside competitors such as Tyco and Siemens, and, more recently, GE and Bosch. Domestically, Edwards Systems Technology (EST) is also a major player in this market.

One of the resultant units created under the ACS umbrella was the Fire Solutions Group, which includes NOTIFIER, Fire•Lite Alarms Inc., Silent Knight and Fire Control Instruments (FCI), all of which have been designated as members of the Fire Systems Group subunit. System Sensor, although a part of the Fire Solutions Group, is being marketed as a separate entity from the other fire manufacturers.

This past March, Honeywell rounded out those high-profile brands by acquiring The Gamewell Co., a 151-year-old manufacturer of commercial fire control panels and emergency life safety systems. The Fire Solutions Group’s impressive portfolio of companies now boasts more than 335 years of combined manufacturing experience.

Much of that experience has been shared by Mark Levy, president of the Fire Solutions Group, and Allen Fritts, president of the Fire Systems Group. Both men have dedicated their 30-plus-year careers to the fire detection industry and have earned the right to be considered icons.

You have both been in the industry so long and seen so many changes. What have been the most significant developments?

Levy: In 1970, being part of a very small company, I had no idea that the industry could evolve into what it is today.

One of the most striking events during my career was the fire at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. That event created a very strong awareness of the potential insufficiency of protection that existed. Although it took several years, it eventually enhanced codes and standards and led to stricter enforcement across the country. We have always supported the code-making bodies. During the Pittway days and since, we have had representatives in all the technical and association committees across the board.

Through the years, I have seen the fire industry turn into a global industry, with three major players and a fourth that is not quite the stature of the other three. They are Honeywell, Tyco, Siemens and EST, which is part of SPX Corp.

As technology has evolved, it has attracted large corporations that are capable of making the kind of investment to create global enterprises. The fire/security space has attracted them because there is significant and continuous growth. The enforcement of codes and standards and the upgrading of life safety standards that began long before 9/11, in the 1980s and 1990s, stimulated that growth, whereas a lot of the large corporations had seen cyclical growth, which is less consistent.

Fritts: Probably the thing that stands out the most is the consolidation that has gone on, seeing large companies getting larger and the erosion of independent alarm contractors. Although I believe the pendulum is swinging back and new ones are emerging.

The consolidation has created some loss of jobs and customer confusion, but, considering what is going on in the world today, I don’t believe it was that unexpected. However, we are beginning to see a lot of those folks reappear in the marketplace as their noncompete contracts end.

The biggest surprise during my career was when Pittway sold the company. At that point, I had been with the company 25 years and all of sudden a major part of my life got redirected.

Through the years, my biggest thrill has been enjoying the industry and meeting terrific people in all aspects, from dealers to competitive manufacturers to security consultants.

What are your current roles with Honeywell and how do you fulfill your responsibilities?

Levy: I am an entrepreneurial type of person who has always attracted qualified and energetic management. I value long-term commitment and capability.

We have a global business and we have concentrated a lot of the past few years on international expansion, so I probably spend about half my time traveling. Since the Honeywell acquisition, I was president of the systems business, which included Fire•Lite and NOTIFIER. Then, I took over the Fire Solutions Group, which broadened my responsibilities and included two additional systems companies, and also our System Sensor division. I became a group president as opposed to a fire sector president.

I am responsible for strategy and overall group performance, as well as expansion. I spend a lot more time on acquisitions and integration now, and medium- to long-range planning, instead of the day-to-day, month-to-month stuff. I enjoy it very much. The variety in my position is endless and there is no fixed schedule. Typically, I interface with my managers a great deal as well as different disciplines within the organization.

I must say though, that, compared to the old days, I miss knowing more people more directly. When I started, I had 16 people; today, with more than 3,000 people, that aspect is much more difficult.

Fritts: I report directly to Mark Levy. My role is president of Honeywell Fire Systems Group, which is the control panel sector of the business. I have the daily responsibility of all operations of the fire units and the people in them, and, more importantly, satisfying the customers who deal with those units.

My day-to-day activities also involve a lot of travel, employee interfacing, being fundamentally responsible for customer relations and handling operations, including quality, marketing and engineering. I have 14 people who report directly to me, who in turn manage about 350 people throughout the business.

My direct report staff possesses more than 300 years of combined experience in this industry; probably a little greater than half those years were spent in the Pittway organization.

We have a very good balance that also includes people coming from outside the company. In addition, we have two people with contracting experience, so there is a real nice understanding of the customers’ needs. We live by a rule here that a desk is a dangerous place to watch the world, so we are out in front of customers as much as possible.

Let’s go back several years and talk about Fire•Lite and NOTIFIER becoming part of Pittway. What changes took place?

Levy: The single biggest change between Fire•Lite [being independent] and being owned by Pittway was the scale of investment and product development, which Pittway allowed us to greatly enhance. Other than that, the business pretty much stayed the same. We went from a privately owned company to a<

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