The Big Idea with Ron Davis
Honoring a Guardian of the Industry's Good Name
If you had just one really great idea you could share with the alarm industry, what would it be?
This month we feature Douglas Pierce, Former CEO, Guardian Alarms
Pierce's BIG IDEA:
"If you didn’t have the cash to buy something with, you didn’t buy it."
HERE ARE A LOT of successful people in the alarm industry. Being successful and being praiseworthy are two different things. Often they go hand-in-hand, however, and I know of very few people in the alarm industry who were as successful and praiseworthy as Douglas Pierce, CEO of Guardian Alarm in Southfield, Mich. I knew him for a lot of years, we had a few memorable times together, but what I really remember him for was what he achieved when he took over the company from his father. Pierce took what was a rather ordinary company and turned it into an industry colossus.
He, along with his brother Richard, put together one of the largest and most successful companies operating in the industry. Of course, as readers of this column know so well, I’m not inclined to write just about people who are successful and what they accomplished. Rather, I enjoy discussing how they accomplished it — their ideas and their paths that helped them reach the very apogee of the industry (I could just picture Pierce reading this column, and calling me up asking, “What the hell is an apogee?”). Well, Douglas, the apogee is the top of the pyramid, the highest rock on the mountain, or, in this case, the building of one of the largest companies in the industry. Sadly, I can’t tell him that and he won’t be reading it. Douglas Pierce died in September, at age 74 from liver cancer.
ACQUISITIVE PUSH PROPELS COMPANY GROWTH
I talked with one of his closest business associates, Karen Majeske, someone who worked with Pierce for more than 40 years. He was her mentor, and she was, and remains, a dedicated disciple who has gone on to upper management at Guardian Alarm, and is highly respected in the industry. I asked Majeske what she thought would have been Pierce’s best idea in helping the company grow. She thought about it for a few moments, and came back with something that she was pretty sure he would’ve agreed with. You see, Pierce’s father, Milton, had always felt that if you didn’t have the cash to buy something with, you didn’t buy it. Apparently this philosophy was instilled in his sons, and Douglas Pierce was its chief advocate. That is until he had an epiphany, a great idea as to how they could grow the company to the size it would eventually become — huge.
He told Majeske that they would achieve their corporate goals by blending organic growth, which had been substantial, along with an aggressive acquisition program. And with a singleness of purpose that was unshakable, Pierce led the company into a program that resulted in more than 40 companies being acquired by Guardian. The company — which celebrated its 85th anniversary last year – did it with capital that was generated internally along with a modest loan program that has long since been paid back. And they did it the right way. They paid fair prices. They treated the people that were employed by the acquired companies wonderfully. And of equal importance, they treated their customers with attention and care. (Along with its Southfield base in the Detroit area, Guardian has four more offices in Michigan, three in Ohio and two in Florida.)
LASTING LESSONS TO OTHERS ALONG THE WAY
There’s a kind of a morbid joke that goes something like, “the man who dies with the most toys, wins!” In Pierce’s case he had all the toys, success in business, a wonderful family to which he was devoted, children and grandchildren, everything one could hope for in life. It is unfair that this happened, and I wanted to treat the event of Pierce’s death in a respectful way, and in a way that he would most appreciate. So here goes.
He went to work regularly. He treated people fairly. He built a large business that employed many people. He had fun. And if he had a comment that he could make now, I’m sure it would be something like, “I not only did it my way, but I did it in a way that benefited our employees, our customers, and our families. And along the way, I think more than a few people learned a few valuable life lessons.” I’m saddened that Douglas Pierce is gone. I wouldn’t even complain if there was just one more time for him to blow smoke from one of his big cigars in my face. But it’s comforting to know I am one of the people who learned a few valuable life lessons from him. Douglas, you did well. Rest in peace, and thank you.
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.