AlarMax Founder Roger Graf Dies Unexpectedly at 64
Roger Graf is remembered for his dedication to his employees and his customers as well as his love of fine cars, watches and pens.
PETERS TOWNSHIP, Pa. – AlarMax founder and president Roger Graf, who grew his company from one location to a nationwide distribution hub, died unexpectedly on Tuesday, Sept. 12 at the age of 64.
Graf was married to Donna M. (Pacey) Graf for 35 years before his death and they shared a son, Joshua E. Graf.
He started AlarMax 32 years ago and grew the company from one location with a handful of employees to 26 locations and more than 100 employees across the U.S.
“This growth was a testament to his visionary leadership and unwavering dedication to excellence and integrity,” according to his obituary. “Roger was committed to his employees, who he regarded as an extended family.
Outside of the office, Graf loved sport cars, elegant watches, fancy pens and drinking dirty martinis to cap off the day. He enjoyed spending time dining out and golfing with friends, going to jazz concerts, attending Pittsburgh Penguins games, taking guests for a ride on the pontoon boat at his second home in Deep Creek and smoking cigars.
Graf attended First Lutheran Church for more than 40 years and “his faith was a source of strength and solace throughout his life,” according to his obituary. “It was an integral part of his identity, making him an example of love and compassion to all who knew him.
“He will forever be remembered as a devoted husband, a proud father, and a generous friend,” the obituary says.
How AlarMax Employees Remembered Roger Graf
Randy Hall, vice president at AlarMax, remembered his company’s founder fondly.
“Roger cared about people,” he says. “It didn’t matter if you were the CEO of a company or a dishwasher. He was gracious and giving. I was fortunate to experience this firsthand, many times over the years.
“Roger was a man that stuck to his principles and always did the right thing and treated everyone with respect. Seeing the joy in people’s eyes when Roger made their day and they weren’t expecting it was awesome,” says Hall.
Bill Lew, corporate account manager for AlarMax, called Graf “a man of great compassion and faith.
“When I used the term AlarMax Family, I truly believe he felt that way about each and every one of you,” he wrote in an email to employees. “Any employee who has ever had a personal issue knows the first words out of his mouth were to go take care of what matters most: YOU!
“As a boss, he took great pride in the fact that AlarMax has NEVER had a layoff in the history of the company. When the industry tanked, we didn’t. When COVID hit, we did not have furloughs, we didn’t have shortened work weeks and no one missed a paycheck. Well, no one but Roger,” says Lew.
“One of his greatest concerns was that we were taken care of,” he says. “When health care costs soared, he did everything he could to minimize the impact to each of us, with great expense to the company, but he knew how important it was to us all.
“I have watched over and over how he took the time to learn about people and truly care about them. We owe it to Roger to carry on in his honor and do the best we can to fulfill his dream of making AlarMax the best company it can be,” says Lew.
Memories From Across the Security Industry
Dennis Holzer, executive director at PowerHouse Alliance since 2009 and president at Hamburg Brothers from 1994 to 2009, went to same college as Graf (University of Pittsburgh) and worked at a competing distributor in the same city for years but didn’t meet him until Graf applied for PHA membership.
AlarMax is also a member of CEDIA, the Electronic Security Association (ESA) and the Security Industry Association (SIA).
“When we met, it was a lot like homecoming, with us both telling stories from our previous companies. It’s unfortunate I got to know him so late,” says Holzer. “His company had a major strength in security, so when we met, he was trying to go where we were strong and we were trying to go where he was strong.
“We were good, clean competitors. First and foremost, Roger cared about his company and his employees. He was as bright, knowledgeable and ethical as anyone I’ve met in distribution. He always wanted to compete on a fair field,” he says.
“I learned a lot from Roger—and I’ve been doing this for 40 years,” says Holzer. “There was never a time when he wouldn’t take time to help you whenever you asked him.”
Graf would often invite Holzer to join him at business dinners, knowing the conversation would alternate between business and their outside shared interests, including sports cars, fancy pens and luxury watches. They last saw each other at CEDIA Expo in Denver earlier this month, Graf’s second time attending the show that’s focused on the residential AV industry.
Kirk MacDowell, president at MacGuard Security Advisors, calls Graf “one of a kind—and I say that in the best way.”
Graf took his dedication to satisfying his customers to extremes at times.
“There was a time in Roger’s life when he did not fly on any aircraft,” says MacDowell. “Many years ago, an alarm company called AlarMax late one evening and needed a critical part for a large commercial installation the next morning.
“Roger took the frantic call, jumped in his car, and drove the part to the dealer in Ohio just in time for the early-morning installation. I heard that story often from AlarMax customers even before I met Roger, so I had a good feeling about the man,” he says.
MacDowell says he was “warned by my co-workers at GE Security circa 2010 that Roger can be a force to be reckoned with and to be prepared to wait a long time in the reception area no matter when the appointment was previously scheduled. This was normal when a vendor wants to visit Roger.
“After my third time booking an appointment, getting there on time, and waiting for a long time, I had just enough,” says MacDowell. “I walked into the conference room where Roger was sitting and announced, ‘Roger, I am tired of waiting. I am going to the cigar bar down the street, having a cigar and a cocktail. Join me or not, it’s your call.’
“About 45 minutes later, Roger walked in with two bottles of his favorite Rum and said, ‘we are drinking them both this evening.’ What I didn’t know was that everyone in the cigar bar knew Roger and joined us for an enjoyable evening, which I will never forget,” he says.
“Roger had a heart of gold,” says MacDowell. “Many reading this knew Roger much better than I, but we know that he had a soft heart and loved his employees and his customers and was always there for both—always. We lost a great man, a friend, and a mentor. God Bless him and his family.”
SIA board of directors chairman James Rothstein calls Graf “an outstanding security industry leader, a generous person and a class act.
“He grew AlarMax into a highly respected national player in security distribution,” says Rothstein. “He developed a great team with strong relationships, and he will be missed in our industry.”
Friends of Roger Graf will be received at the John F. Slater Funeral Home, Inc., 4201 Brownsville Road in Brentwood, Pa. on Thursday, Sept. 21 and Friday, Sept. 22 from 2-4 and 6-8 p.m. Funeral services will be Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023 at 11 a.m. in First English Evangelical Lutheran Church, 615 Grant Street in Pittsburgh. Interment will follow in Queen of Heaven Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations be made to Pennies from Heaven or the Foundation Fighting Blindness.
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