Sparkie-turned-$23 million security technology expert wins supreme Business Support award

Leaders in everything from legal services to research, from search optimisation to disputes resolution and more gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the AUT Excellence in Business Support Awards this week. And the winners are (drum roll here)…

“The most important New Zealand company you’ve never heard of” has won the Supreme Award at the 2015 Excellence in Business Support Awards.

Advanced Security Group, an under-the-radar specialist security technology company with a client list including The Warehouse, Genesis Energy, Fonterra, Watercare, F&P Healthcare, plus prisons, hospitals and airports around the country, emerged as the overall winner.

Category winners included AJ Park (which won the export support award for the third year in a row) Perceptive Research, Pure SEO, GeoOp, Netlogix, the Tourism Industry Association, MBIE, Altris and the Dispute Resolution Centre.

The awards evaluate New Zealand organisations using the internationally-recognised Baldrige performance excellence criteria, with finalists being interviewed and visited onsite, says founder Sarah Trotman, now AUT Business School’s director of business relations.

“The awards provide a unique opportunity for business support organisations to benchmark their performance against others in their sector and to give a mark of quality to their organisation. The robust entry and evaluation process enables finalists to reflect on how effectively their organisation achieves business excellence in all key areas."

Advanced Security CEO Mike Marr says the awards process was a chance for companies to “sharpen” and “grow”.

Marr, an electrician by training, went the corporate route early in his career, but in 1999 found himself in a job he hated. He handed back the keys to the company car, ditched the corporate salary, dug out his sparkie’s toolbelt and started his own electrical and security business.

“I complained to my wife about my job and she said ‘If those guys [his former bosses] can do it, so can you.’”

Three years later, Marr was your average Kiwi small business: a $400,000-a-year turnover security system installation and service business with a handful of staff. That all changed when he found out German multinational engineering firm Siemens was getting out of security technology in New Zealand, and he decided to try to buy the loss-making operations.
“We were with the lawyers signing the debenture documents and they were saying: ‘Do you really know what you are doing?’ And the bank didn’t believe my forecasts, but just lent to me because I had a house.”

Over the next 13 years, Marr bought another five companies and set up 12 offices across New Zealand. Revenue grew 30% on average each year and looks set to hit $23 million this year. The company has 100 staff.

So why does Marr think Advanced Security won the top prize at the Business Support Awards? He says the company’s philosophy around continuous improvement, its ISO accreditation, and the company focus on staff gave them the edge – plus some impressive financial growth.

“Our people play a huge part. Advanced Security is a service business, so great people make a great business.”

Mike Marr celebrates with his parents at the awards ceremony this week. Photo thanks to Lavinia Calvert

Marr says he realized early on it was essential to have fully-trained employees – not contractors – in the regions, both in terms of customer service and company stability.

“We have an amazing staff retention rate – most of the people that came over from Siemens and other acquisitions are still with us today and this is a huge thing for us; it gives us a solid foundation. Having engaged people is a big part in terms of making us the industry’s best financial performer.”

He says the company offers industry-recognised training and person development opportunities, and staff safety nets, like a confidential employee crisis fund.

When the child of a staff member recently ended up in hospital for several weeks, the company not only supported the mother, but also paid the wages of another employer to stay with the mother in hospital.

While the majority of Advanced Security’s systems use other company’s technology, it is increasingly looking at developing its own applications, particularly in the drone and cloud space.

For example, the company’s E-Guard division is looking at how drones could be used to check out an unoccupied commercial building if an alarm went off. Marr says the Advanced Security has received an exemption from Civil Aviation Authority rules which would allow it to use drones to send back live pictures from an unmanned, or difficult-to-reach site, and is in the process of patenting some new technology.

It is also investigating Cloud-based security services, which could see Advanced Security hosting swipe card, door access, camera footage and other security data for companies. This information has traditionally been stored by the companies themselves.

“E-Guard is looking 5-10 years into the future and dreaming about what is possible in the technology space and how to make this into a commercial reality. The statistics suggest up to 80% of future businesses haven’t been invented yet, so we need to be continuously looking into the future of security technology.

“We are talking to Callaghan Innovation.”

The 2015 AUT Excellence in Business Support Awards were sponsored by Idealog, ICG, Fuji Xerox, Drake New Zealand, CPA, the Institute of Management, IBM and the New Zealand Business Excellence Foundation.

The entrant organisations are evaluated in five assessment sections: leadership; understanding of customer and market needs; development and delivery of services and products; evaluation of its own performance; and (the heaviest weighting) evidence of results in terms of the business support they provide.

Winners at the awards ceremony this week. Photo thanks to Lavinia Calvert

The full list of winners is:

Category Award Winners

IMNZ Business < $5M T/O Management Services

Joint Winners:  New Zealand Dispute Resolution Centre and Altris Ltd

ICG Business < $5M T/O Sales & Marketing

Perceptive Research

Idealog Business < $5M T/O Technology (non-cloud)

Pure SEO

Idealog Business < $5M T/O Technology (cloud)

GeoOp

IBM Business $5M - $20M T/O

Advanced Security Group

Fuji Xerox Business $20M+ T/O

Netlogix

New Zealand Business Excellence Foundation Not for Profit

Winner:  Tourism Industry Association New Zealand

Highly Commended:  The Arbitrators' and Mediators' Institute of New Zealand

Drake New Zealand Government

Winner:  Business.govt.nz (Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment)

Highly Commended:  Plant & Food Research

AUT International Business Export Support

AJ Park

Fuji Xerox Leadership

Stefan Preston (Ingenio)