SSN checks in with winners from the first '20 under 40' class

Class of 2007 honorees reflect on changes over the past 10 years in the industry
Wednesday, October 5, 2016

YARMOUTH, Maine—Every year, Security Systems News recognizes 20 young professionals in the systems integration and monitoring space for their accomplishments. This month, SSN is announcing its 10th year of “20 under 40” integrator winners. To commemorate this, SSN caught up with several of the first honorees—the Class of 2007—to hear their perspective about how the industry has changed over the past 10 years, and what might be ahead in the next 10 years.

“My role had a lot more hats 10 years ago,” Steven Coppola, president at Statewide Central Station, said. The company has since been able to expand its management staff, allowing Coppola to pass along some of the tasks he had been handling, such as dealer services and operator training. “[Now,] I can focus more on expanding our company and looking at it as a whole—and looking at it from above—[for] where we need to be, and seeing the future of our company,” he said.

Eric Yunag, VP of strategic initiatives for Convergint Technologies, said that his role has changed over the years as well. Yunag was formerly the CEO of Dakota Security, which was acquired by Convergint in January; Dakota’s entire team joined Convergint following the deal. “The most significant evolution of my role … was the focus on scaling the cultural aspects of our organization over that [10-year] period of time.” 

Yunag continued, “Increasingly it was focusing on building a more robust and cross-functional leadership team that could meet the evolving needs of our clients.”

Lou Sampson, CFO at American Alarm and Communications, said that his role at the company, which covers more than a traditional CFO might, has evolved as “a result of the growth that we’ve had in the company.”

“My role has moved into a position [where] half of the company reports to me,” Sampson said. A notable aspect of Sampson’s responsibilities is “taking a lead on many of the acquisitions that we do,” he said. American Alarm has completed 27 acquisitions, many of which have been in the past 10 to 15 years, he said. Most recently, the company acquired Electralarm Security Systems, which it announced in September.

Robert Few, now the director of regulation and compliance for Charter Communications, noted on his changes in position since receiving the “20 under 40” award in late 2007. He helped launch wholesale central station Legacy Security Services in June 2007. Later, Few joined Time Warner Cable in 2011, which became Charter Communications this year.

Coppola said that a lot has changed in the industry in the past 10 years, particularly the DIY market and prices dropping in the industry as a result.

Increased access to home controls, like thermostats, lights and door locks, is what has changed the most since 2007, Few said. “I think that’s probably the biggest jump, is actually making security portable.”

Convergint’s Yunag said that companies’ perception of security has changed. “I think primarily … the difference that strikes me is the evolution of how our clients view risk. It has evolved well beyond where it was 10 years ago, in terms of going from purely physical security to being part of a broader conversation with our clients. It is a much more holistic view of what it takes to address risk, particularly at the enterprise level.”

“I think that has forced the integration industry in general to adapt to that and think about how they provide solutions that address a broader range of constituents inside of our clients,” Yunag continued. 

Yunag also noted that hiring practices have changed and adding and developing staff has been the biggest challenge over the past 10 years. “As I look back on it now, I think the types of people that we hire as the tip-of-the-spear sales people are much different than they were 10 years ago. They function much more today as a business consultant than systems sales people,” he said. “Technical skills are certainly things that we can develop and train and build programs around but at the highest level, a match on core values and culture are the most important.”

Sampson also pointed to hiring as a key consideration of the last decade. “The big thing over the last 10 years has been really leading our company to the next level and attracting and retaining really talented people,” he said. “What’s given me the greatest satisfaction has been growing and developing those folks—that’s been critical to our overall success as a company.”

Legislation and licensing is the industry’s largest obstacle according to Few. “As far as an industry goes, I think that our biggest challenge overall is legislative efforts, and trying to work to standardize some licensing requirements among states, to remove the regulatory burden, bring it up to speed, and make it make sense.”

Keeping up with technology has been the biggest challenge in the industry over the past 10 years, according to Coppola. Looking forward is important, he said, “trying to look a year ahead of time … and start planning now for that.”

Sampson also said the speed of change in technology can be difficult. “The technology’s changing so fast that the ability to adapt and to change quickly is a crucial thing that we have to do better—and it’s very challenging,” he said. “The companies that are going to survive and thrive going forward are those that improve their speed to change.”

Specifically, communication paths have changed considerably, according to Sampson. “I think perhaps the more challenging issue has been communications paths, and particularly the sunsetting of certain technologies,” Sampson said. “Providing different types of options [for communication], other than cellular, will probably continue to be a factor going forward.”

Charter’s Few also saw a lot of change in methods for communication. “We’re talking a lot less about POTS, which is a good thing. … We’re seeing a lot more IP-based, cellular.”

When asked about his greatest accomplishment in the industry, Few said, “I think I’m working on that right now. I’ve taken a lot of interest in the Electronic Security Association. I’m currently the chair of the YSP Council—the Young Security Professionals Council. Last year we launched our mentorship program, where we were able to recruit and draft 15 mentors, people who have really made it in this industry, with 15 mentees—up and coming rising leaders throughout the country.”

“Since we purchased our central station almost 15 years, we’ve grown probably at least by 10 times,” Coppola said. Statewide Central Station, a wholesale monitoring center based in Staten Island, N.Y., had about 15,000 accounts when Coppola received his “20 under 40” award in 2007, and the company has about 45,000 monitored accounts now.

Coppola said that over the next 10 years central stations like Statewide need to continue to diversify and enter new areas of monitoring, such as video, managed access control, or mobile PERS. Few also pointed to PERS and mPERS as a rising technology.

Sampson pointed out that the convergence of IT will be a disrupting force in the next 10 years.