P1 CEO Whall Talks Challenges, Technologies and Conduct
The cover story of February’s SECURITY SALES & INTEGRATION Business Issue features Protection 1 CEO Tim Whall, who is participated in an exclusive and extensive interview. There was so much more to the conversation than was practical to include in the print or even extended online version. Plus some of it was more of a personal and overall industry assessment perspective rather than centered on P1 alone. So, here Whall describes his top challenges, security technology and industry consolidation. In addition, he imparts advice for a successful career, be it in this or any other profession.
What’s the most difficult aspect of your job and how do you deal with it?
Tim Whall: Time and distance. There are only 24 hours in the day and there are so many people to see. I like to tell managers and leaders all the time, “Don’t get caught up just talking to the same people. You get people on a playlist and you need to expand that all the time.” At some point, your bandwidth gets shrunk down. How do I make sure I get a chance to each of the branches? Getting to them once is difficult enough. Getting to them twice in a year and visiting your top customers and sitting in on your centers on a regular basis, getting down to where you run your main centers every month, doing your one-on-ones with your teams just to follow up with things. Clearly time has got to be the biggest obstacle that any of us has. And with us, with the footprint distance here, you spend a lot of time on those plane rides and getting to the airport and getting back to the airport. Handhelds make it a lot easier to catch up on things and cell phones are pretty much a necessity for you to be on, but there always seems to be so many people to see, touch or speak with. The first guy to invent the 25th hour in a day is going to be a genius.
What about from a more strategic or operational challenge perspective, what would be the most difficult aspect of that area?
Whall: The tracking of training, certifying all your people, all your technical people, having the tracking mechanism in place so I can say, “Bill Smith has been certified on the following technologies. Here’s the last date of training. Here is where he’s at with that.” Just keeping everybody up to speed in terms of what they should be doing and how they should be doing it. Now I think the analytics are in place for us. We hired a new organization and development leader. They have some very clever ways to do training now, which, thank goodness, it takes away the need to put five guys in an office in this town or seven guys there and 12 guys in an office there. There are much more effective methods to getting it out there, but still keeping your employees in pocket. They want to be up to speed. They want to be trained on the ways to do things. They want to be trained on the latest technologies, and I would say that remains the toughest thing because of the continuity of it. You really got to get into a rhythm with it, and you really have to dedicate your firm to it.
To what extent do you think technology is enabling versus inhibiting growth the security industry? The technology is fantastic and really exciting, but there are certainly some challenges inherent in that in terms of just keeping up with training people, educating the end user, competing with others coming in from IT or more technical-type fields.
Whall: The enable part is when something comes up that provides value to the client. If we can figure out this cloud storage with the right bandwidth and the right cost, that’s going to be terrific. If you think back to DVRs, when they came out, it was great. So that was enabling. We were replacing the VCRs and putting in DVRs. It was a lot more capability and that was terrific. Then it becomes inhibiting because it’s not one DVR, now it’s 624 DVRs. And for your technicians, volume is the greatest trainer and if you’re changing your mind regularly or this one is now been replaced by this one that’s been replaced by this one, then it gets to be an inhibitor. Technology is definitely enabling the security industry for better ways to accomplish transmission to storage, speed and security using improved methods of streaming and encryption for sure. But, we seem to be a little slow to adopt to big technology changes, but once a change is made, I feel like everybody jumps on it and then there are a lot of different choices inside that one improvement.
The speed of technology innovation is challenging the industry I believe with the ability to innovate and deliver more cutting-edge solutions. You know, I’m sitting there talking to you and I just can’t give you a Wi-Fi solution in your home. I don’t think people understand why at this point. I think there is an expectation of, “Hey, this shouldn’t be here today.” If I was doing a multifamily dwelling, why can’t I put in a Wi-Fi solution? It’s not what I call cobbled together. As we move forward, I do feel that the companies that are closely aligned with the IT team do have an edge with integrating the latest technologies with customer solutions because sometimes we can move a little faster than waiting for a turnkey manufacturer solution. And if you’re in tight with your IT guys and their business-minded professionals, I think you can craft things and answer the customer’s need before an off-the-shelf product is made available to you.
The last thing I’ll tell you is that new technologies run on the IT platforms, communicate on the IP or GSM networks, whether it’s the video transmitter via Wi-Fi or the mesh networks. The companies are challenged to keep the tech and sales forces updated in training in terms of what’s going on. So how do I schedule the training necessary for this year for the right amount of people, whether it’s my sales team, managers or technical guys, what we’re going to be cutting into? They must always be prepared, show up on the spot professional, ready to go and deliver the service that the client is looking for. To an extent, we’ve changed the technology. We’ve changed the choices and that’s really how I think the business has been. When something gets developed, we start buying it and then all the one-offs become the little improvements. It does this, plus this and now this, and we have a hard time just holding the line on using something over time or using it long enough. So, we’re a little slow to see the technology changes and when we actually get one, then the little add-ons keep coming. I think it’s a necessary way of doing business, but there it’s challenging for a company to stay up to speed with the people doing it. It’s not enough to have your VPs and your top managers understand the issues. It’s how do I get the knowledge down to my guys and ladies in the field that work with it everyvday, whether it’s the sales or the install side?
Do you envision an acceleration of consolidation throughout the industry? Why or why not?
Whall: I don’t know. I think it’s always going to be the same. Ten or 20 years ago, we used to say there are 13,000 to 14,000 alarm companies out there and today there still seems to be 13,000 to 14,000 alarm companies. For guys who want to start their own, the barrier of entry is pretty low. They’re going to keep coming into the business. Each sized company has its own stop at where growing more gets to be the issue. At what point have you just maxed your capacity and you have to start adding more people to get the growth thing started again, whether you’re going for two-
man operation to a 10-man operation or 10 to 25 or 25 to 100. Each organization has to get through that growth. History has shown that a fair amount have decided rather than keep going. They figure, “Let’s sell it at what we’ve got. We’ve kind of maxed our efficiencies and our bandwidth is stretched without bringing more people into the game. This is the time for us to get out.” So I think there is room for more national players. It’s now on the thinner side rather than on the growing side.
If you were mentoring a young executive in the business, maybe a son/daughter or nephew/niece, what would be your top pieces of advice for a long and successful career in this business?
Whall: I have three adult children and I tell them all the same thing. Regardless of what job you hold, you control your effort and your output. You control how that is seen. You can choose to put the extra effort in or you can choose not to. If you’re young and you want to get ahead, you want to get your hand up for everything you can do. You want to be the person people look at when they say, “Boy, you want to model that person’s behavior.” You’ve got to earn your stripes. You’re there to get your opportunity. You’ll have a better chance of getting your opportunity if you have a positive energy about yourself, if you’ve got a great work ethic, if you focus on your task, you look for feedback. Just ask for feedback. Don’t be afraid of it. Don’t worry about being told that you didn’t do something right. Be the kind of person that goes through life that says, “How could I have done that a little better?” You should never give up. People like that are gems to work with. That’s what you’re looking for.
In terms of our business, if you’re in sales or service or installation or monitoring or collections, this is a business that doesn’t require you to be a Mensa candidate per se. But it does require you to be inordinately disciplined because we deal with the same things on a daily basis. You know signals are going to come in that need to be responded to, and you know clients are going to want service. You know phones are going to ring, and you know that we’ve got to get installs cut in. You know we’ve got to go prospect for the day. You know that we’ve got to write sales. And if you can show the discipline and just get in the habit of managing your day so you stay proactive in your approach and don’t just react to the things that happen to you, you can have great success here. Again, if you’re wishy-washy and have a hard time with time management, the days can go by and you actually don’t see yourself getting ahead. You don’t see yourself advancing your goals because I do believe that if you had one trait to be successful in our space, discipline would be the one that trumps the others.
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