The Big Idea with Ron Davis
Lessons From a 'Nonconscious Leader'
If you had just one really great idea you could share with the alarm industry, what would it be?
This month we feature Jim Brannen, who died in March at age 77. JIm helped grow a huge dealer network during his tenure at Security Associates Int’l.
Brannen's BIG IDEA:
'We become what we think about most of the time.'
IM BRANNEN passed away in March. He was my friend. He was my partner at Security Associates Int’l. He was a leader in the industry. And, most of the people who lead, are part of, or who have benefited from dealer programs, owe just a little bit of gratitude to him. Brannen did it first and, as far as I’m concerned, did it best. In so doing, he left a great legacy from which we all can learn.
Back in the early 1980s, Steve Rubin, Ray Hoven, “Tyke” Burgwald, Katie Bally, myself and several other industry pioneers formed what was the industry’s first conversion franchise, meaning that franchisees were recruited from existing alarm businesspeople. It became successful, with the number of franchisees surpassing 150. By 1985, our chief supplier was having trouble keeping up with production of our proprietary products. Capital was needed, and a decision was made to expand the franchise program to include “associate dealers.” The idea took hold and by the late 1980s hundreds of additional dealers joined what was rebranded as Security Associates Int’l.
FINANCIAL EXPERT FINDS ENTREPRENEURIAL FIT
We outgrew our offices, added staff, started providing financial programs, and offered wholesale monitoring in addition to our product supply centers. It was starting to be a rather big business. One of our investors suggested that I needed a partner with financial acumen. He knew of such a person: Brannen, who was the former senior vice president at First National Bank of Chicago. Brannen was looking for an entrepreneurial adventure that would push him harder than his existing corporate life. We met, hit it off and he joined the company. Shortly thereafter, I moved up to chairman and Brannen became president and CEO.
He was the “inside” guy; I was the “outside” guy. During the next few years we built a company with more than 4,000 dealers and 15 central stations, and that was listed on the American Stock Exchange. Brannen and I traveled around the world interviewing and seeking new suppliers, raising capital, and all those things that a growing company does.
Years later when the dotcom bubble burst, markets were turned upside down, financial institutions were having difficulty surviving and we were caught in the middle of it all. A new, multimillion-dollar offering was tabled. Cash dried up, investors became more demanding, and eventually we had to reorganize with both Brannen and I “retired.” During the two years leading up to the retirement, I saw a leader emerging from the crisis — someone from whom all of us were able to derive strength in the face of long odds. That’s why I call Brannen a “nonconscious leader”; it was natural to him, and he seemingly was not conscious of the qualities he was exuding to customers, staff, investors and end users.
KEEPING COMPUSURE DURING A CRISIS PERIOD
One morning, amid one of the worst periods we had, I asked him, “How do you do it? What keeps you going? How can you not get crazy?” He gave me one of those looks that seemed to question my sanity and replied, “Ron, when we signed on, it wasn’t just for the good times. As they say in wedding ceremonies, it was for better or worse. And I figure that in addition to our normal duties, we owe it to everybody to keep our heads, keep working and provide leadership.” And he did. Every morning he came in dressed in a suit and tie, ready for whatever the day would bring. Every evening, he would pack his briefcase for his “homework” and get ready to head home. If he had been a boxer, he would’ve looked the same whether he had just won the world championship or lost a 15-rounder. His hands were steady, his mind was focused, and as far as the world was concerned he was leading the parade.
During the past 15 years, we went our separate ways. Brannen went into retirement to be the father and grandfather he always wanted to be, and to travel just for pleasure. We I stayed in touch, usually getting together every 12-15 months and reminiscing about the good times.
At his funeral service, I started thinking about all that, and also what the greatest “big idea” Brannen could possibly have given the industry. It’s a variation on an idea Earl Nightingale had over 50 years ago — “we become what we think about most of the time.” Brannen always described himself as a banker. That is, until he got into our industry; then he became an alarm guy. As SSI Industry Hall of Famer Stan Oppenheim might say, “Jim Brannen was one of us.”
Certainly, Jim Brannen will be missed. However, he was one of those people who shared his vision with everyone around him … and that makes him a visionary. Rest in peace, Jim, your legacy in this industry is well preserved.
Ron Davis is Security Sales & Integration's "What's the Big Idea?" columnist and contributing market analyst. He is president of Davis Group, a full-service consulting firm serving the security industry, which also includes GraybeardsRus. He has 35 years of industry experience, including founding Security Associates International in the 1980s.