Leaders in risk & security: Yesterday’s achievement, tomorrow’s standard

Issue 3 2020 Editor's Choice

The concept of management by wandering around can be traced back to Hewlett-Packard in the 1970s. The concept surmises that managers who wander around in an unscheduled manner, visiting various department and staff in the company, will gain a real sense of the organisation, the morale of the staff, people’s productivity and also develop a far more personable relationship with people at all levels.

Jack Edery, although focused on a participative management style, found that the relationships developed and insights gained by walking around and talking to his staff enabled him to run a successful company and develop a team that was the envy of his competitors. Jack remembers that there were some days it would take him two hours to get to his desk in the morning because of the conversations he had after arriving at work.

It was in 2016 when Jack retired from his role as CEO of Elvey Security Technologies, a position he had held since 2003, having joined the company as financial director in 1996. In 1999, Elvey listed on the JSE and the company was bought by the Hudaco Group in 2001. In 2005, Jack was also appointed as a member of the Hudaco Group Executive Committee.

When he retired, Elvey had become one of the largest security distributors in South Africa (arguably the largest at that stage).

The agency concept

A part of the success of Elvey in the national market was the ‘Agency’ concept Jack introduced in the late 1990s to create an Elvey presence in smaller areas where setting up a full branch was not viable. Many distributors had branches in various locations in South Africa. The success of these branches depended heavily on the branch managers and the people working there. If the manager was motivated, the branch would do well, but if the manager and the staff simply came in to do the minimum their job required, the branch could struggle.

Jack knew that people were the key to success, specifically people with an entrepreneurial flair who did not rely on someone above them to motivate them and so he launched the agency concept. Elvey therefore granted ‘agencies’ in various smaller regions to people who would trade under the Elvey banner. The company would supply product and marketing services, as well as handle the accounting and other administration functions for the agency. This allowed the agency manager to focus on sales and service.

Jack’s focus on choosing the right people paid off and the concept grew over time, as did the sales revenues from the various agencies Elvey had throughout the region.

It’s all about the people

When talking to Jack about his career at Elvey, he makes it clear that his success is a reflection on the strong team he built around him and the relationship he developed with the people working at the company. He built a strong management team to support him, along with an equally strong team of second-tier managers. At the time of his retirement, most of his team had been with him for over 10 years.

With the right people in the company, Jack was also able to build a strong value system at Elvey along with a culture of quiet competence, caring, respect and support. When people feel comfortable in their place of work and with the people around them, knowing what the company stands for, the results follow.

Jack is quite clear, however, that success depends on hard work, but he believes that hard work is made less onerous and stressful when in the right environment and with the right people. Moreover, while the culture and the work environment are important to him, he was no walkover as a boss. He is a firm believer in giving the right people the right tools and skills, but then expects them to deliver.

I can attest to the focus and determination Jack had and expected of his staff. A few years ago, I met with Jack in his office to interview him on a particular topic. I mentioned to him that a person he had hired only a few months ago was missing. His reply was that he had learned in business, one must “fail your failures fast”.

I smiled at this, but he explained that not every new project or initiative is going to work out as planned. What is important is keeping your eye on the ball. When you see things going wrong, you have to address the issue and deal with it. There is no point in dragging it out and hoping something will change, you must make the change. Business leaders need to quickly recognise failures or issues that could lead to failure and take action to resolve the problem by changing strategy or shutting down that initiative in order to ensure your resources are focused correctly.

In other words, you need to fail your failures fast.

Focus on the right things

This focus and attitude to success is something companies in the security industry (and any company in general) can learn from. Over the years, Jack led Elvey through good and bad economic conditions, but the company came out ahead each time. His advice to companies struggling in the current economic climate is to avoid wasting your time and effort on the things you cannot change and focus all your thoughts, energy and action on the things you can – and continually review your choices.

“You’ll get better at it as you journey through the challenges,” he says. “Learn from your mistakes and don’t allow ego to get in the way of doing the right thing. If you do the best you can at what you do, it will always pull you through. If your value proposition is solid, you’ll grow.”

Jack Edery.

Keep learning

Improving is also a standard for Jack. He encouraged his staff to do the courses required to be able to do their jobs better, as well as to broaden their knowledge by reading. Advice he took to heart in his own life.

Jack tells the story of seeing a security guard at Elvey walking around with a textbook under his arm. It turns out that the guard was studying towards a degree through Unisa. With Jack’s assistance, the guard increased the number of courses he studied per semester and moved to a job in Elvey’s warehouse. He was soon able to obtain his degree and was eventually poached into an internal auditor position at the Hudaco Group a few years later. The guard was focused on improving himself and was prepared to do the work required to make it happen.

When asked what advice he has for youngsters in the security industry today, Jack says that even though the industry has changed and will continue to change as technology advances, his advice remains the same: Identify what you enjoy doing and position yourself in that line of work. Pursue formal training on the subject and hone your skills in that regard.

He adds that people should not make career choices based only on monetary influences. “If you do what you enjoy and become the best at it, money will find you.”

No industry stands still. The changes faced over time can be challenging, but they are also an opportunity for those willing and able to learn and take advantage of new ideas to provide solutions and services to the market. Continual growth and learning is therefore vital, according to Jack Edery. “The industry is dynamic and what was cutting-edge technology yesterday needs to be improved upon today. Yesterday’s achievement must become tomorrow’s standard.”


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