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Zeidler Interview

by msecadm4921

As one of the world’s biggest security companies (pictured is a Securitas: protected sign in regenerated Leeds city centre from the turn of the year), lately Securitas has made two sizeable acquisitions in the UK – of the guarding competitors Reliance and Chubb. Geoff Zeidler, UK MD of Securitas, spoke about that and other matters with Mark Rowe at one of Securitas’ offices.

There’s an inherent risk – and some people might shy away from it – in giving people responsibility. People might not do things right. “And you have a choice,” Geoff Zeidler says. “You either trust them [people] and give them space, or you control them.” It’s a dilemma in any sort of business, and life, as I said to Geoff Zeidler. This dilemma is as acute as for any large business – and they do not come much larger than Securitas, which has 95,000 employees in Europe and 280,000 in the world. How do you simply make sure that everyone is in the right place, at a time?! The Securitas toolbox – and yes, there is a literal tool-box – answers this. The company has a flat organisational structure. In Geoff Zeidler’s words: “You don’t have many layers [of managers]; you delegate; and you trust people.”

Simply interviewing him said something, quite apart from what he said. Securitas in the UK for a few years has been one of those companies that has kept itself to itself – which is perfectly reasonable, except that some companies put themselves about. Those of us who attended the opening conference of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) in 2003 – and should we have a club, a name, or even a tie?! – will recall that one of the main speakers was Thomas Berglund, the then President and Chief Executive Officer of Securitas. Then he gave an international view of regulated private security, of how licensing would take ten or 15 years to work through in the UK. As time has proved!? Since that event, I have kept an eye out for Securitas people at SIA conferences; they have not been there. Nothing wrong with that, to repeat: people have a day job to do. Except – a subject Geoff Zeidler addressed during our hour’s interview – for a large company, in any sector and not only security, there may be a responsibility to front the industry they’re in, a duty that does not apply to a smaller or micro firm. It may be more natural for a large company to take a lead, to be listened to outside the security industry, whether speaking to trade unions and European institutions, besides national regulators. In a word (mine, not Geoff’s), it’s about using your clout. It’s significant, then, that Geoff Zeidler, who started at Securitas in September 2008, has become a member of the SIA’s consultative committee, and is becoming vice-chairman of the BSIA. Geoff has spoken at industry events, such as the BSIA-Greater Manchester Police annual spring exhibition in Manchester in April; and at the SIA’s conference in London on March 30.

It’s not just in security that you want to work in a place that lets you have responsibility, Geoff went on; and yes, once or twice maybe you do take risks. Because of the margins in the security industry – in other words, because UK guarding margins are so slight – ‘control is very much the norm’, Geoff added. “That’s where I think we are different.” Four of the top five UK security guarding contractors, he went on, are owned by or offer security as part of, facilities management (FM) companies, offering other services such as cleaning and catering; by volume, Geoff suggested. Staff may multi-skill, doing security and other soft services. Other countries may have developed differently. As Geoff added, a third of Securitas’ business in Finland is fire; in Stockholm, you are as likely to see a Securitas patrol as police.

When Geoff mentioned continental countries, that reminded me of the Securitas officers I had seen on a recent holiday in Switzerland – the only security officers I noticed in that country. The Swiss Securitas uniforms included dark blue berets – and it may be something about middle-Europe, because a couple of years ago in Austria I saw G4S officers in berets too. So although I hadn’t thought of bringing up uniforms – any more than Geoff Zeidler expected me to – I asked about uniforms. What officers wear is an important topic, given that it’s what the company supplies, the customers and public see, and Securitas indeed has quite a range of customers, air and ferry ports, museums, sites served by mobile patrols?

Geoff noted that uniforms were on the agenda of an executive meeting he was due to have. He answered first with a point about customer service; the security officer may be dealing with the customer’s customer, representing the customer, ‘and the uniform is absolutely part of that’. “Securitas actually went through a major re-design programme; it’s been going for the last two years and establishing a European standard in terms of materials.” The uniform has three ranges – a classic, a standard and a dynamic – that relate to the type of job role. Securitas commissioned its own set of fabrics, for wearability, to be smart, and cost-effective, ‘and established something that all the countries can use as a base, with such amendments as locally required. So I would say yes, uniforms are a very important part of the officer, in terms of making the officer feel good … there’s a lot of style issues. One of my earliest meetings, I do remember, was a discussion about epaulettes.” Geoff chuckled; he chuckles readily. Yes, security does have a military history, but epaulettes are not something Securitas particularly subscribes to, ‘but then some customers do have their own views on uniform, which we will obviously work with’. He summed up: “We want to work for our standard uniform as far as possible. Because actually we think it’s the best thing for the officer.” Some central London customers may prefer their security officers to wear grey or other suits, and a tie branded in the customer’s name, rather than the security contractor. The security contractor naturally might prefer its contract staff to look like (and identify with) the security firm rather than the customer. That’s a question for all guarding contractors and not purely Securitas, for instance if a guard force has gone from in-house to a contractor; but it does bring us back to company profile. If a client recognises and buys into a particular security contractor, they may be more comfortable with having ‘their’ security officers in the contractor’s uniform. Which also brings us to Securitas’ considerable acquisitions last year first of Reliance Security Services, the guarding arm of Reliance, and Chubb Security Personnel, likewise the guarding part of Chubb. The ‘transaction’ work has occupied Geoff for the last year. Most time-consuming, he said, has been seeing how the businesses are structured; an organisational chart might not tell you how a business works. Geoff’s work has been ‘trying to align the people to get them into the right roles, get as many of the good people as we can in the business. Right from the outset, the transaction was all about establishing with a scale that would allow Securitas to improve service; because with the business density of staff on the ground, you are in a better position to manage cover, and all of those things. Secondly, to enable us to start specialising more specifically.” As Geoff went on, the way Securitas operates is to have branches that are quite small. That can allow them to specialise in quite specific types of business; he gave an example in Germany, where much of the company’s business in that country is specialised, for instance in museums. Meaning; the branch manager of the branch specialising in museums understands what’s right and what’s not for museums.

“So a lot of the time has been spent trying to work out how best to manage people. I will be honest, a lot of time has been spent talking to the customer, making sure that the changes that we make are explained, are understood and don’t affect the service.” Geoff raised the point that some having made an acquisition might not want to air; that you lose customers. To digress, I recalled one business development man (ex-G4S, itself the result of a merger between Securicor and Group 4) musing that a customer may have chosen Reliance (for example) because they had had, and no longer wanted, Securitas. How would anyone be able to ‘sell’ the new service to such a customer? While Geoff admitted that Securitas had lost some customers, he added, ‘but frankly, not many; I am very pleased with that and that reflects the fact that we have done very little to change the people in front of the customer and the way they are supported. And we have emphasised in the whole of the transactions, the integration principles have been fairly simple and clear. Job one has been, we will deliver the service to the customer, ahead of cost saving, very explicitly, because this [the acquisitions of Reliance and Chubb guarding] is not about hacking out large amounts of cost. Now there have been obviously reductions in the back office, HR and finance, and there has been some systems realignment,” but, he went on, the company is re-designing its IT systems, rather than tacking one firm’s IT on to the other. “And that’s a lot of work,” Geoff summed up, and chuckled. “And it’s a lot of time with people, really. People getting to know each other.” As he recalled, the official acquisition of Chubb Security Personnel was not until March 31; and the deal with Reliance became known in September 2010. That means several months of people wondering, do I have a job still? And what will it be? “People are uncertain and you would understand that, and that takes time,” Geoff said; time telling staff what the situation is, and when decisions will be made and given. “There’s been little attrition … but I hope and believe we are largely through that now.”

Unless you buy something else, I quipped. In reply, I expected Geoff Zeidler to play a straight bat (though, to judge by his online CV, he is not a cricketing man; rather, at Cambridge University he was a rugby player, and a good enough rower to captain the university’s second crew – Goldie, for those who follow it on TV – against Oxford). Instead, he answered that he had been ten years a banker – to add some background, he also has worked in the manufacturing and electronics sectors, and has consulted, and came to Securitas from the Forensic Science Service – and he does not like acquisitions, ‘because they take time to build teams’. And strong-performing teams, he stressed, for the business and customers, are best. Acquisitions disrupt. “So we need to settle things down,” he said. While he did not rule out more acquisitions, he made plain that the focus is now on delivering a service with what Securitas has now. At this point Geoff Zeidler brought up the SIA, working on the regulator’s consultative committee, and more recently acting as the BSIA’s representative. “The reason I accepted is that it’s going to be a very important time for the industry,” he said.
About Geoff

What of his working week? I wondered aloud if by visiting staff and Securitas offices alone, or customers alone, or attending to other things such as the SIA – any one of those three could take up all your time. So as with a chief constable or prime minister, how to pick what to do?! “The most important thing I can do is to make sure everybody knows what they are supposed to do,” and as he added, given the acquisitions, the team currently does not know each other so well. “It’s making sure people are absolutely clear what is expected of them and where they are going to; and they have a lot of questions, they need a lot of clarifications as to what that means, and whether they are doing things right or wrong. At the moment I would say I am spending a large amount of my time helping them understand what their new roles mean in Securitas.” In a word, that is internal work. “The second thing, as you say, is getting out to customers, and I probably would” – here he pauses – “if I was to average across several weeks, I probably [would] say that I would be with customers, 20, 30 per cent of the time – current customers.” And as he said, he has BSIA members to get to know, as he takes more of a BSIA role from next year. A sign of the all-consuming nature of the merging of Reliance and Chubb into Securitas may be that when I asked about the 2012 Olympics, after Geoff mentioned them, he said frankly that he wished to duck the question. In his brief answer, however, he showed that he is well aware of what the issues are, regardless of how much Olympics-related work you have. Some staff may want to be paying visitors to the Games; some may not be interested and may only want to work all the overtime they can. And what will customers want.

To round off, Geoff returned to where we began; Securitas’ market position as a specialist in security, and not as a provider of security as one service among several, ‘soft’ services, ‘which I fundamentally do not believe’. If someone walks into your office and steals your laptop, the office cannot work. If it’s not clean, it can work. In other words, security (or lack of it) has an impact on your business in a way that other services do not; other services such as cleaning and catering merely make a workplace inhabitable. “That doesn’t mean you need loads and loads of security; it might mean you need CCTV,” Geoff added. So, once the Reliance and Chubb parts are brought into Securitas, if you are a prospective customer, and one that sees security as a service that calls for a specialist, you can expect to see more of Geoff Zeidler.

National – absolutely

Geoff Zeidler aired the question as raised by national customers of security – can you, Securitas (or indeed any other national contractor), give a consistent, national, service? “We would say absolutely, it’s possible,” Geoff replied. “Now that is where you have got to be disciplined. There’s a difference between controlled, and disciplined. We would say, we have good controls in place, we understand what people are expected to do, they take responsibility for doing it.” And the contractor is very specific, Geoff adds. It may be that the national contractor designs the service so that branches are dedicated, ‘and indeed Reliance have done that, for a number of their customers; Securitas have done that for a couple of its major customers.” The contractor may support the national customer with a dedicated structure; with a strong set of KPIs (key performance indicators); or a service matrix that can keep a close eye on what’s provided.

The toolbox

Whether on a presentation on a laptop, or the actual, physical box with the wooden ‘tools’ inside, you may have been talked through the Securitas toolbox. If not, here it is, in brief. First is ‘focus on security’, a cube. It’s what it says; it’s what you do, what you are. There’s the market matrix; the value chain; flat organisation; financial control (‘the six fingers’); risk management; the industry and step by step; and lastly ‘people make the difference’.
Flat organisation means, as Geoff Zeidler said: “We don’t have lots of layers; and in fact the de-layering [of management] has been the main part of the transactions [with Reliance and Chubb].” A lot of senior people have gone, he added, which as he said is common after acquisitions, ‘but might have been more than expected’.
But what does six fingers mean?! “You don’t have to be a genius or an accountant to run a business.” You just need to know about your new sales; your portfolio change, your total sales, your direct and indirect costs; and that is all; the rest is profit. “The sixth finger,” Geoff added, “is collecting the money.” You can, as he went on, make business difficult and complicated.
“We train down to the branch managers (BMs); ‘you have to deliver certain service requirements, but you are actually responsible for making sure that the customer gets billed right’.” The branch has to make sure the guards are on the sites. And that means, as Geoff said, small units, rather than centralised and larger offices.

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