International Organization Of Black Security Executives 12th September 1995
New Orleans Hilton
New Orleans, Louisiana
September 12, 1995
It is an honor to be here this afternoon. The IOBSE has a key role to play in ensuring equal opportunity for black security executives, and I am delighted to be here to talk about Guardsmark, the efforts we have made in that direction, the problems we still face, and the solutions we propose to undertake.
Before I get into the details of what we’ve done, and what we intend to do, I want to tell you something about Guardsmark to give you a context and an understanding of our situation.
Let me say, first, that I am very proud of Guardsmark. Time magazine has referred to us as the company that “many security experts consider the best national firm in the business:’ and in Tom Peters’ best-seller liberation management, he praises Guardsmark as the “Tiffany’s” of the security industry. We have been praised editorially by the New York Times, and network media as well as many others have applauded us for stands we have taken. The company began in 1963 in the building that is now our national headquarters, where my father’s investigative firm of eight employees occupied a total of 750 square feet. I made $60 a week as a salesman for Mark Lipman service, and I soon expanded the sales-calling program across the United States.
As a result, I saw that there was a very real need for a security service dedicated to excellence, and Guardsmark was founded to fill that need.
As a start-up company, it was very difficult to recruit the kind of people we wanted for a firm that we hoped would one day transform the industry. We are all familiar with the low margins the industry suffers from, and the temptation to employ marginal personnel is overwhelming for many of the 13,000 private security firms that exist today.
But I knew there was a place for a company with a zeal for excellence, a company that would be seen to stand apart by the intensity of its screening, the quality of its training, and its insistence on ever higher standards. So for 32 years we have pursued two goals: first, to be the most innovative, visionary company in this industry and exceed the expectations of every customer we serve; and second, to raise the standards of the industry to help security professionals obtain the social standing, economic rewards, and psychological satisfaction they deserve for the enormous contribution they make to the public welfare.
It has not been easy. Shaking up the status quo never is. It makes a lot of people nervous. It makes a lot of people scared. And it makes a lot of other people angry. Whatever they say, many people don’t welcome competition very much, and the only kind of level playing field they like is where it’s you that gets leveled.
But the effort has been worth it. We started in 1963 with $1,000. Today—fueled only by internal growth we have annual revenues of just under $200 million and more than 10,000 employees in over 400 cities across the united states. Our next branch office will represent another milestone, giving us 100 offices coast-to-coast.
Our compounded growth rate over the last 15 years is in excess of 10 percent, and that’s without making any acquisitions. They tell me on wall street that we must have a good product.
I sincerely believe our employees are the best in the industry. Before they were employed, they filled out a 24-page application and underwent both a background check that goes back 10 years and a 12-page medical exam. Our applicants must also pass a 10-panel drug test, which is not self-administered, as many others are. Our test includes an independent and complete chain of custody.
For every applicant who meets our selection standards. And is employed, 49 others are rejected. That’s a two percent acceptance rate. Our criteria are so high that it’s more difficult to become a Guardsmark security officer than a police officer in most communities.
Over the years, we have also increased the general level of education. Ten percent of our entire workforce and more than 88 percent of our managers now have a four-year college degree.
In recent years we have stepped up our recruiting so that now we make annual visits to such schools as Harvard, Wharton, Michigan State, UCLA and other outstanding colleges all across the country.
With that as background, I’d now like to tell you what we’ve done at Guardsmark to try to diversify our workforce.
We have never, in the history of the company, disqualified a candidate on a personal basis such as race, color, religion, or gender. But we realized there was more we could do. In the early eighties, we began a conscious, deliberate, voluntary, and sustained effort to increase the number of minorities among our security officers and our managers. We established quotas for both regions and branches, and regional managers had to commit to the goals they were assigned. To make sure of a maximum effort, annual performance bonuses were tied to achievement of these goals. Because we did not lower our standards, which we absolutely refused to do, it was the responsibility of our managers in all offices to be proactive in seeking out and recruiting minority candidates.
Results were quickly attained. The percentage of our employees who were women—only 4.3 percent in 1975—climbed to 18 percent last year. And where we had zero percent women managers in 1975, 19.7 percent of our managers last year were women.
The growth in racial minorities was equally dramatic. In 1975, only 26.2 percent of our employees were racial minorities. Last year, that percentage had climbed to 48.9 percent. Of our total workforce last year, 35.2 percent were black and 13.7 percent were
other racial minorities.
At the same time, the percentage of managers who were members of racial minorities rose from 7.1 percent to 19.7 percent.
We take some comfort in the fact that our percentages are so much better than those of both state and local police forces. The most recent numbers available are from 1990. In that year our black employment was 34.6 percent, while that of local police was 10.5 per- cent and the percentage of black employees among state police was only 7.5 percent. Similar differences are found when comparing the percentage of combined racial minorities.
Our numbers are also better than those of police forces in major cities, comparing the percentage of our work force that is black the percentage of each city’s population that is black. In this case, we’re using Guardsmark’s current numbers compared to 1992 numbers for the cities, because that is the most recent year available. Guardsmark comes out ahead in all the cities for which we have data, including Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.
Another comparison also shows that Guardsmark has done a fairly decent job of creating management opportunities for blacks and Hispanics. Last year in the united states, only 10.6 percent of managerial personnel were black or Hispanic. The percentage at Guardsmark was 18.4 percent.
Part of our success has come from promoting into supervisory positions our African American employees who worked for Guardsmark as security officers and took advantage of our tuition reimbursement program to get their college education, or who worked for us while they were going to college. While this has worked well for us, it will take longer than it should.
I have to admit to you that we are not happy or satisfied with all of our numbers. While racial minorities make up almost 49 percent of our total workforce and 20 percent of our managerial personnel, we still need greater minority representation at both the managerial level and at the highest levels of our company.
Our situation reminds me of the old story of the man who had one foot in a fire and the other in a block of ice—and on average felt okay. Seeing where we are at Guardsmark in terms of management opportunities for minorities and where we want to be, I guess you might say that on average we’re okay. But there’s nothing average about Guardsmark. There never has been and there never will be. Our numbers are not okay, they are not indicative of how we accomplish our objectives, and they do not represent our sense of justice and fair play.
To help you understand why I feel so strongly about this, I need to tell you a brief story about one of the most formative events of my life. I attended high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, during the school integration crisis in 1957, when the governor ordered out the national guard to keep nine black children the “Little Rock nine,” as they came to be called—from going to school with white children, and president Eisenhower ordered out the 101st airborne division to protect the kids and prevent riots.
One of my friends was among the Little Rock nine, and I was appalled at the bigotry and hatred he and the others had to endure. During a panel discussion that was broadcast nationally by NBC, I strongly supported integration, and as a result—I was only 16 years old at the time—my life was threatened.
Realizing how difficult it was for President Eisenhower—who had led the allied armies in the battle against tyranny—to call out troops against fellow citizens, I helped organize a group of students to show support and understanding for the president. We sent him greetings for his birthday, and in response he sent me a personal “thank you” note, which I still have and will always treasure. Unfortunately, after the associated press picked up the
story, I also received more threats. That whole series of events confirmed my deep belief in the justice of the civil rights movement that was then beginning to grab the attention of the nation. I have never wavered in that belief, and I have done what I could over the years to oppose racism and bigotry of all kinds, and to speak out on behalf of fairness, justice, and opportunity for all. I became a lifetime member of the NAACP, a member of the board of governors of the United Way of America, and national chairman of the national conference of Christians and Jews—where I was responsible for the addition of the first Muslim to the national executive board.
I have served as dinner chairman for the national conference of Christians and Jews, the urban league, and the NAACP. I invited the NAACP to recruit members among our employees with a payroll deduction plan that we conceived, making Guardsmark the first non-minority-owned business in Memphis to do so. And I am proud of having received the NAACP ‘s “distinguished service award” and of being one of the few to receive the “James a. McDaniel award” from the Memphis urban league. So you can see that our efforts to increase managerial opportunities for blacks at Guardsmark are not mere window dressing, but heartfelt and substantial. We are encouraged about the future, because our branches now employ numerous African Americans in middle-management positions who will be ready to move up when an opening occurs. Our low turnover hampers progress, but the pieces are now in place for a significant improvement over time. It is the present that we need to work on. And there are still challenges that we face.
Since compensation at Guardsmark is higher than most—and higher than many corporate security executive positions—we attract the top available candidates. The challenge for us is to more actively seek out, attract, and recruit the best black candidates available. We will do this not as a result of any federal mandate—we have no federal business—but simply because it is the right thing to do.
The increasing complexity of security requires ever higher levels of education, and that presents another challenge for us as a company. Top black graduates today have a wealth of choices in terms of careers, industries, and companies. And too often private security is not seen as an attractive alternative to other options that are available. So we will have to find ways to present our case to candidates more effectively, while at the same time continuing the fight to raise industry standards and earn for security its rightful share of public respect.
It would be easy enough to stand here before you and defend our record, tell you that we are doing all that we can, that there’s nothing else we can do, that the fault lies elsewhere, with society or the educational establishment or the unfortunate circumstances of history. But that isn’t true. There are things we can do. And there are things we will do.
We can be creative and innovative, and through our own efforts increase the pool of candidates while doing nothing to lower our standards. We can do that first by examining our assumptions. At Guardsmark, we have focused our attention on attracting the very best candidates from the very best schools. But there’s something we’ve been missing.
It is something very fundamental, as basic as the simplest truths that may go unrecognized precisely because they are so obvious.
Isn’t it true that the child of a hired hand, or of a store clerk, or of a welfare recipient—the son or daughter of someone whose parents perhaps couldn’t even read—a child who had none of the advantages conferred on so many by our society—who knows the bitterness of poverty and the sweetness of overcoming adversity— who has toiled and scraped and struggled and managed to graduate from Grambling, Jackson State or Johnson C. Smith—
Isn’t it true that this child, now grown into a man or woman, with all that he or she has seen and experienced and understood—
Isn’t it true that this person knows more about how to succeed, what it takes to succeed, the sacrifices that are required, and the pure moral strength of ultimate commitment—than many people who have never had to struggle a day in their lives?
I think that’s true. And I think that kind of person could make an outstanding contribution to Guardsmark. So we will make a greater effort to seek out those candidates.
We can also increase our pool of candidates by tapping a rich source of specialized knowledge, insight, and expertise—the IOBSE.
We need your help. We need your advice. We need you to challenge us to go beyond the ordinary means of achieving our goals to the extraordinary. We need this organization to flourish; to gain influence; to increase in numbers; to become a spiritual partner in a joint, concerted effort to see a profusion of opportunity for black executives in this industry.
And we ask all of you as individuals to assist us in our efforts. We need candidates. We need your recommendations. If you know of security professionals who you think would make a quality addition to the Guardsmark management team, introduce them to us. I personally guarantee that each introduction will be handled very carefully.
Guardsmark is determined to help create greater opportunities for black security executives. And as a sign of our sincere commitment, we are today establishing “the Guardsmark reward of excellence scholarships,” which will be given annually to five black students selected by your organization.
George, on behalf of IOBSE, please accept this check to fund the scholarships and to signal a new and mutually rewarding relationship between IOBSE and Guardsmark, incorporated.