Exclusive!The Way of the Westphals

For brothers Bruce and Roger Westphal, family and business are as synonymous as their company, Bay Alarm, is with success. Founded by their father, Everett, in 1946, the Pacheco, Calif.-headquartered company has grown into one of the nation’s largest independent alarm dealers.

The operation has come a long way since the brothers opened up their first central station in 1964 to monitor 1,000 accounts. Now into its third generation of Westphal stewardship, Bay Alarm rang up more than $57 million in revenues in 2002 and has more than 75,000 residential and commercial subscribers served by nearly 500 employees through 10 offices in Northern and Southern California.
Through it all, Roger, president and CEO, and Bruce, chairman of the board, have built their empire on the strength of family ties and a philosophy of slow, steady growth predicated on consistently providing customers with quality products and services.

They have also expended much time and energy outside their business and family, giving back to the industry and the community through trade association involvement and charitable efforts. Both men are past association presidents.

Bruce and Roger’s endeavors have not gone unnoticed, as they have accumulated numerous industry awards. At the time of this writing, they were set to receive perhaps their greatest honor – the California Alarm Association’s (CAA) George A. Weinstock Lifetime Achievement Award – during a tribute banquet at the association’s Winter Conference in San Francisco.

In an exclusive interview, Security Sales & Integration spoke with the Westphals about their legacy as one of the founding families of the modern security industry. They fondly reminisce about fooling around with alarm systems as kids, explain how they turned Bay Alarm into a regional powerhouse and discuss the challenges facing the industry today.

Weekend Battery Changers Kept Going and Going …

You both grew up in this industry. What was that like?

Bruce and Roger Westphal: When we were kids, we used to assemble bell boxes in the basement and that sort of thing. One of the biggest thrills was turning 16 and getting our driver’s license, which allowed us to go out and change batteries on the weekends. We changed 27 premises in one day, which was the record in the days of dry cell batteries.

When did you really get into the swing of running Bay Alarm?

Westphals: Right after we graduated college in 1964, we opened our first central station. We couldn’t really afford it, so we had to work 24-hour shifts a lot of the time …  of course, we were in UL compliance at the time!

What was the competitive environment like back then?

Westphals: It was very exciting because we had two or three local competitors that were very aggressive and we had ADT, which, if we beat on bidding something, it was a really big deal. It was like a constant war; it was a lot of fun and there were a lot of victories.

How does that contrast with today?

Westphals: There seemed to be more small and medium-sized companies out there then. It was fun being in charge of your own business. Every day was different because of the challenges and level of growth. We were coming up with new solutions to new problems.

We even used to have a small manufacturing company for hard-to-find items, and we had some patents. The equipment and technology was much more basic, such as batteries, light bulbs and relays.

Business, Family See No Gap Between Generations

There’s often a lot of friction and fighting between brothers. Did you two ever have any differences?
Westphals: We always got along fine. We had some healthy debate on issues but would resolve them and move on. From the beginning, we always had the same vision for the company – it comes first, and we invest in it. We wanted the same thing for each other.

When you have had a partnership like we have for so many years, you put your ego aside. The current generation has exactly the same sense.

What about other family members? How does everyone get along so well?
Westphals: The most wonderful thing about a family owned business is the enthusiasm, drive and success the next generation has demonstrated.

  They have done a remarkable job. It has been an absolutely wonderful experience to be part of this process.

We have a program in place where they have to graduate college and work at least three years outside the business and then undergo a five-year stint working in all levels of the company to learn how everything is done so they can relate to everyone. This allows them to see the value in working for the company and the family.

We only wish our dad could be here today to see how the company has grown. He would probably be very proud that we have a large family business that he started with one customer.

Company Focuses on Core Strengths, Has No Plans to Sell

What is Bay Alarm’s overall strategic approach?
Westphals: The philosophy is to stay a family-run business, and we like to grow in the markets we are in. We don’t extend ourselves beyond that; it’s very simple growth. We have acquired many companies – about 50 of them – within our marketplace and will continue to do so.

Is there any possibility of the company being sold?
Westphals: We probably would not consider selling. As long as we have active family members in the business, there is no point in selling. We are in a good industry with a great company and lots of opportunities. Our industry is better than most other things you could find out there.

Duo Believes in Being Proactive and Participating in Associations

  What prompted you both to become active in the trade associations?
Westphals: We have been very involved in them our entire careers. People who aren’t are not being responsible for their business. It should be looked at as an obligation. Doing so protects your own interests as well as the industry. It is even truer today because there is going to be more regulation than ever.

  What do you believe are some of the most important issues facing the industry today?
Westphals: One of the things we have been fighting in California is no-response [by police.] Who knows where that will go. We have to somehow convince police departments that we really are their partners and need to work together to be successful rather than adversarial. Police will probably continue to respond, but we may see new compliance rules.

In addition, we are also going to see more government regulation, which may slow down or speed up the industry.

Weinstock Award Culminates 40 Years of Dedication, Hard Work

  You are well respected among your peers, some of whom have decided to name you as this year’s recipients of the George A. Weinstock Award. How do you feel about the recognition, and how would you sum up your careers?
Westphals: It is a wonderful tribute and a great honor. We have known George for a long time and really respect him. We are very proud of what we have accomplished in our 40 years of working together, building what we believe is the finest alarm company anywhere.

On the family side, we built a business that our family wants to come into, and the business has the capability to provide room for them to stand on our shoulders and take it to the next level. We are both married to our original spouses, have raised several successful kids and have had a great time doing it.

We take great pride in our success and tremendous satisfaction in protecting lives and property. We certainly worked very hard for very long, but that’s what it takes, and the results have been great. We also had a fairly good dose of luck along the way! It h

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