Pam Petrow and Vector Security adapt to new technology

 

Technology has created a new dynamic in many businesses, and Vector Security is no exception. The pace of change, in turn, has altered how CEOs need to manage.

“Today, more than ever, you have to be able to think and adapt faster,” says President and CEO Pam Petrow. “For many years, the progression of technology was much slower, and you had a lot more time to let things roll out, see how other people did.

“I get feeds daily on new entrants in home automation, on new cameras, on new video analytics. I get stuff daily, and that was not true 15 years ago. The speed at which you need to be able to make decisions and react has changed dramatically,” she says.

For example, Vector has a three-year strategic plan, rather than a five- or 10-year plan. Even then, sometimes the company is only halfway through and making modifications.

On top of being nimbler yourself, Petrow says you have to be nimbler with your employees. They need to be kept up to speed and focused through all the distractions, which is why Vector uses tools like a product roadmap.

“Every day, new products come out, and we don’t want to chase everyone. We have to be more selective about what we’re going to look at. And then if you make the wrong bet and you pick the wrong product, you’ve got to be able to shift again,” she says.

Petrow says it’s a matter of being able to recognize it and move on. Vector even has a person whose primary job is to watch the market, looking for technology that could benefit or threaten its product line.

“The lifespan on products and services is just shrinking. It’s not forever,” she says. “I think as long as you’re nimble and you can make that adjustment, you’re in a good place.”

Get comfortable with new

Luckily, Petrow has experience to draw upon — she joined Vector right out of college and has held almost every role over the past 35 years. Since 2011, she’s led the U.S.’ fifth-largest security company and its 1,200 employees.

Security has changed a lot over those 35 years, especially recently.

Residential customers want a home automation solution on a single application. They can turn on lights, enable locks, see who is at the door, disarm the system remotely, change the thermostat, operate their garage door and watch video feeds.

“We have changed just like a lot of other industries have as the technology has become affordable and available,” Petrow says.

Residents use home automation to learn when their kids get home, if the Amazon delivery came or whether the landscapers followed their instructions, she says. It has evolved into an infrastructure where people have the ability to monitor their homes from any place via their smartphone.

Vector now interacts with its customers day in and day out, rather than just in an emergency.

The commercial side has undergone the same integration, as disparate systems like access control, the fire system and burglar alarm are put on one platform, Petrow says. When an employee is terminated, for example, the business owner can immediately remove his or her access code. Employers can determine if an employee opened the store on time and manage slip and fall claims with cameras. A car dealer can use video to prove a vehicle was already scratched when it came for service.

“We’re able to provide technology that makes businesses able to operate a lot smoother and more cost-effectively,” she says. “It’s not just a tool anymore for when the smoke alarms go off to be able to evacuate people.”

New products and services, however, mean a new sales presentation. Petrow says they initially underestimated the challenge of getting the existing salesforce comfortable. They trained them on how the new services worked and said, OK, now go sell it.

But reps often returned from calls without offering the new technology. Petrow says they didn’t want to create a negative experience for long-term customers or damage their brand or the company’s brand.

“We struggled — and we’re much better now than we were, even a couple years ago — with getting our teams, our sales teams primarily, to adopt the technology. One was they were afraid of it. But we found out, too, that we had to put it in their homes so that they fell in love with it, so they had that degree of comfort when they were out in front of a customer,” Petrow says.

They had to become personally engaged before the sales took off, she says. In addition, Vector found it useful for installers to use their iPad and say, “Look, I don’t know if your salesperson talked to you about all these things, but if you’re interested in any of them, I’d be happy to explain them to you.”

It’s a second chance to expose customers to changing technology because Petrow says it’s frustrating when customers call to cancel because they’re looking for a service that Vector provides.

“We try to make sure at all points we can that the customer knows what the value proposition is and what our products and service offerings are,” she says.

More training, different recruitment

The evolution of technology creates the need for a more diversified team with different skills. Vector’s investment in training has increased substantially, as a result.

“The other thing that’s been interesting from our HR perspective is the industry years ago was not very attractive to younger people,” Petrow says. “They didn’t want to come in because it was dated and there wasn’t a whole lot of technology.”

Today, younger people see a product they can relate to, and Vector benefits because they can get up to speed quickly. They’re already using their phones for everything.

“We’re able to hire differently than we could 10 years ago or 15 years ago when people would come in and went, ‘Ah, that product looks like it’s from the ’70s.’ It’s really pushed us as a company to train differently. We can hire differently, and we have a different pool of people who are interested in the technology that’s now out there,” she says.

However, recruiting younger employees takes a different strategy. Vector previously used a centralized recruiter, but that isn’t effective.

“They don’t want to talk to a recruiting department. They don’t want to talk to HR. They want to talk directly with the manager that they’re going to be working with,” Petrow says. “So, we’ve had to up our game in terms of the training for the people that are directly hiring.”

You cannot place an ad and be done, she says. Managers have to change the posting if it’s not getting enough hits to keep it relevant. Quality job candidates also expect a quick response, so managers must stay involved and available the entire time a posting is up.

“A lot of the managers don’t necessarily feel that they want to go down that road and start spending their time recruiting. They want that to be done by an HR function,” Petrow says.

But the mindset of younger people coming into the workforce requires this approach. They have a different perspective on what they want to know about the company and the people who they would be working with.

Shifting resources

Vector’s internal resources have shifted as well. Cyber is critical, so the IT team has been ramped up, Petrow says. There’s more awareness of cyberrisk and an organization-wide commitment to limiting it. The incident response team does tabletop exercises and employees watch a video on the topic every month.

The IT team has changed its approach, too. Before, if an employee was caught by a phishing email, he or she did training, she says. Now, if employees report phishing emails, they’re rewarded for the right behavior.

The company also develops its resources and outside partnerships so it can deliver more, such as knowing to send a text message rather than call when an alarm goes off. Petrow says everything has to look seamless to customers and you cannot be the best at everything.

“We would not be relevant today if we didn’t find good partners to help us deliver the services that consumers are expecting. We couldn’t do it. I mean, we couldn’t do it and make money,” she says.

Because the products and services Vector offers are more complex, it automates what it can.

“We’ll automate it, if it doesn’t sacrifice the quality of service to the customer,” Petrow says. “Sometimes, it actually improves it, and then we try to use those resources differently to create a better customer experience or to create a new product or service offering. It’s amazing because stuff we said we’d never be able to automate, today we can automate. The technology has created lots of opportunities just as it’s created some challenges.”

Although rapid change can be scary, Petrow says there are opportunities to explore.

“Don’t be frozen by the fear. Make sure that you’re looking for the upside opportunities as well because that’s what happens with a lot of companies,” she says. “They are so afraid of the unknown that they don’t do anything. They wait too long and then they’re overcome by new players. You have to embrace it and you have to figure out where your place is — you make your place in it or you’re going to be irrelevant.”

 

Takeaways:

  • Make decisions faster, including moving on from your mistakes.
  • Technology creates as many opportunities as it does challenges.
  • A changing market requires a matching shift in operations.

 

The Petrow File:

Name: Pam Petrow
Title: President and CEO
Company: Vector Security

Born: Pittsburgh
Education: Bachelor’s in business administration, dual track marketing and management, from Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania

What was it like attending Harvard University’s Advanced Management Program? It was incredible, and humbling because there are so many smart people from all over the world. Harvard teaches by case studies, so you do a lot of studying and reading and then talk about it as a group.

I tend to be the kind of person who likes to be right. Harvard taught me there is no right answer. I would come in thinking I had thought about this from every different angle and that I had the right answer — that was important to me. Then I’d sit in class, and there would be 10 other answers that I hadn’t even considered.

My biggest takeaway was don’t be so narrow minded in your approach to things and surround yourself with people who are different from you so that you have an opportunity to see things you wouldn’t see on your own.

What was your first job and what did you learn from it? I grew up in South Fayette Township in the South Hills. My grandparents owned a neighborhood grocery store, so from the time that we could use the stamper to stamp cans, we worked. We shelved inventory, worked the penny candy counter, cashiered and ran the meat counter when we were older. It was a great opportunity to develop a work ethic. I also learned the value of money and earning what you wanted — if I wanted a bike, I used my money.

Even though I don’t own Vector, I treat it just like I did our store, that it’s my business and what I do is a reflection on me personally as well as the organization.

What do you like to do when you’re not working? I love to cook. It’s something that I do to relax. It’s something that I’ve done with my son who is at Penn State now. I’m a real foodie and I’m really into grocery shopping. My husband gets frustrated. I could spend hours in the grocery store.