On the RISE: How Allegion’s Nelson Jenkins Engineered a Work Culture
On the RISE is a column by SIA in partnership with SSI that profiles the next generation of security industry leaders.
On the RISE is a bi-monthly column by the Security Industry Association (SIA) in partnership with Security Sales & Integration profiling the next generation of security industry leaders. This column is part of SIA’s RISE initiative, a community that fosters the careers of young professionals in the security through networking and career growth events, education and professional development offerings and scholarship opportunities.
For this installment of On the RISE, SIA spoke with Nelson Jenkins, senior mechanical design engineer at Allegion and a 2020 winner of the SIA RISE Scholarship.
What first got you interested in security and safety as a career choice?
Allegion first got me interested in security and safety as a career. Fresh out of college, I wanted to work somewhere where I was able to make an impact. At the time, Allegion had just spun-off of Ingersoll Rand and had become a publicly traded security company. Being there at the start of a company seemed like a great opportunity to make an impact on its history. Originally, I had more of an interest in the role than the industry, but the industry seemed stable and seemed like it could use some creative uplifting. So it was the potential to be innovative within the industry which really drew me to security and safety as a career choice.
What has your career path been?
I started as an entry-level mechanical engineer, working on a team with other engineers developing a product. Throughout my time working as an engineer, I had opportunities to step up and lead certain activities within my role; however, I gained a lot more exposure within my company once I stepped out of my role. I wanted to help Allegion become more innovative. Forming a team with a few others that had this same passion, we identified that in order for Allegion to become more innovative, things needed to start with culture.
So we formed a group that helped promote creativity and different innovation method — bringing in guest speakers, hosting workshops and panel discussions and running small experiments campus-wide. What started as a passion project then became a larger initiative that helped expand my network internally to Allegion and externally and has helped draw more eyes to me as a leader within the organization while I still handle my engineering responsibilities. I eventually went on to become a senior engineer and am currently serving in a lead engineering role for a new product development team.
Who has influenced you or mentored you – either within the security field or outside?
I’ve had many people influence me in my career. My current manager has definitely helped me in terms of structurally approaching my career and helping to push and direct me within the organization. From my previous manager, I definitely learned a lot about the importance of maintaining curiosity and creativity in your career. There are others who I’ve either met through networking events and followed up with or met on LinkedIn via cold call. I’m consistently inspired by others’ stories, whether in leadership positions or not — they affirm that there’s more than one way to get somewhere.
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
I love the arts. I’m a bit of an artist; I do drawings with graphite, charcoal, oil pastels and colored pencils. I’ve also always dabbled in music, whether that be beat production, playing percussion, or DJing. Although I like logic, reason and definitive answers, I’ve always appreciated art for the ambiguities. In a certain sense, it feels a bit more free than scientific reasoning. This has always been my Gemini duality: appreciation for the logical and intuition. I’m always looking at ways in which science influences art and vice versa.
What advice do you have for young professionals just starting out in the industry?
Don’t get so wrapped up in your deliverables for your current job that you don’t make time to prepare for that next role. Try to understand what you’d like to do next. If you don’t immediately know the answer, that is OK, but make sure you’re searching for that answer. Reach out to others asking what they do – LinkedIn is a great resource to use for reaching out and expanding your network. There have been a bunch of times when I have found someone in a role I’m interested in learning about and cold-called them asking for advice. You’d be surprised at the responses.
What do you enjoy most about being at your company – and in the security industry?
I love that we serve a basic human need. It gives me a sense of purpose and longevity that we’re creating products which solve the classical problem of providing safety.
How do you define success?
Being content with who you are, what you’re doing and what you’ve achieved.
Tell us about your experience studying mechanical engineering and applied physics. How have you leveraged those skills in your work with Allegion in product design and on projects involving smart locks?
From a technical stance studying physics helped me make mathematical sense of the surrounding world. Studying mechanical engineering helped me apply those same physics principles to designing a physical system. I chose mechanical engineering because it’s the broadest of the engineering fields with the most room to create — we touch on computer science, electrical engineering, environmental engineering and bioengineering. It’s my understanding of each of these fields that allows me work closely with hardware, firmware, RF and systems engineers when designing an electromechanical lock and actually understand problems to provide feasible solutions.
From a conceptual stance, studying physics and engineering helps me approach problem solving from a structured approach. It has taught me the importance of understanding variables and eliminating or solving them with the tools I have available. Also work ethic — engineering school was tough.
How do you think the SIA RISE community can help foster the careers of young people in the industry? What does the program offer that is most important to you/your company?
I think SIA RISE can help foster careers of young people by having a mentor program, job availability postings for jobs of companies within the network, career mapping feedback sessions, accountability partner system for setting goals and achieving them and webinars or short classes on: networking, negotiating and leadership. What I enjoy most about the SIA community is the access to a great network beyond my company who I can bounce ideas off of and really feel supported by in my professional growth. And also opportunities like this, to be featured, share my story and get exposure!
Tell us about your grassroots innovation efforts at Allegion. Why is it important to have a culture of innovation, and what are some ways to foster creativity at security companies?
Innovation cannot thrive within a company without the main ingredient, the people. It’s one thing to “achieve” innovation by introducing a new product, service or business model to the world, but to have a competitive advantage, it’s important to sustain innovation. You do this by creating an environment where curiosity, experimentation and cross-collaboration are encouraged amongst the employees. We did this via grassroots by having creative workshops where anyone from campus can learn and be encouraged to be creative.
How can understanding disruption theory help organizations be more strategic and innovative?
Understanding the theory behind disruption helps you foresee disruption in an industry by knowing what patterns to look for. If you can foresee it, you can take appropriate steps to proactively be the disruptor or be disrupted. It’s based on recurring observations across different industries. The theory was created by Harvard professor — and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma — Clayton Christensen. I think it is great to learn what worked and didn’t work when companies were faced with challenges (e.g., Blockbuster and Netflix) to then make a better decision on your current strategy.
What do you believe are the top trends and/or disruption points impacting the industry and why?
Some things I think we need to be aware of in the security industry are companies entering into security who do not have a previous background in this space, providing solutions that are “good enough” for the customer. Whether it’s a new company starting in the security space or one entering in from an adjacent industry, competition is high. A few characteristics of companies on a disruptive trajectory are they’re appealing to new markets or the low end of markets, markets with customers who are overserved.
Companies who are on this path provide solutions which the customer sees as “good enough” and whose needs are often overlooked by the well-established incumbents. In residential security, we’re seeing this in startups getting a lot of recognition and press, offering products which aren’t tested and certified to meet certain ANSI/BHMA grades. One of the highlights from this past CES was a former blinds automation company now offering a smart door lock! This shows you that we need to open our eyes beyond the traditional competitors we’ve been looking at.
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