Exclusive interview: David Sullivan, President of Vanderbilt and ComNet

David Sullivan

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International Security Journal speaks exclusively to David Sullivan, President of Vanderbilt and ComNet.

It was the famous American author, John C. Maxwell who, on the subject of leadership, once said: “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.”

Under normal circumstances, a business leader is vital to the success of their organisation. Decisions have to be made and strategies need to be created in order to give their company the best possible chance of success. In the current trading environment we are seeing under COVID-19, the role of the business leader is magnified to an even greater extent.

With circumstances changing at such a rapid pace, it is crucial for any business to have strong, calm leadership to help them navigate their way through these challenges. In David Sullivan, some of the biggest brands in security have exactly such a leader.

Sullivan is President of Vanderbilt and ComNet, as well as their holding company, ACRE, LLC. International Security Journal caught up with him to discuss his career in security, the latest developments across the ACRE portfolio and how the companies are coping during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A life in security

With a career in security spanning more than 35 years, David Sullivan is renowned for being one of the industry’s most prominent thought leaders. Having held senior executive roles at ASSA ABLOY, Ingersoll Rand and HID Corporation, Sullivan became President of Vanderbilt International in 2019.

Looking back on his decision to accept the role, Sullivan said: “I wanted to get back into a business that was focused on systems rather than hardware. I was involved in the process when Vanderbilt separated from Siemens and that gave me a greater understanding of what the business is about.

“I really wanted to come back to work in Europe and this was the perfect opportunity. I love the business; I love the people that are in the business and I think the product lines are very strong.”

The high esteem in which Sullivan holds his employees is abundantly clear as he describes the approach he takes to management: “I try to provide a clear framework for people to work within, allowing them to operate freely in the boundaries that I outline.

“I empower my management team to run the business, I really try not to be intrusive with my management style. It’s important to create an environment that encourages interactive discussion, two minds are usually better than one.

“As I was advancing my career, I tried to take certain points away from each of my managers, traits that I liked and didn’t like. I then tried to incorporate everything that I liked into my own management style.”

Stepping out on your own

In 2014, Vanderbilt Industries purchased the security products arm of Siemens and rebranded it as Vanderbilt International. As with any acquisition, there were challenges and issues that needed to be resolved.

Sullivan points to the cohesion that he has brought to the company since he took on the role of President as his greatest achievement: “When I first took on the role, there were still a lot of procedures and processes that needed to be put in place to make us a truly organised and unified international group.

“I think we have now come together as one strong organisation. I must also give full credit to my team who have worked extremely hard to give this business a strong foothold and ensure it has the best possible chance of success.”

Vanderbilt is under the umbrella of ACRE, a holding company which also owns ComNet, Open Options and RS2 Technologies. Each organisation is set up to run as a standalone business but in the EMEA region, Sullivan and his team have found increasing synergy between Vanderbilt and ComNet.

ComNet offers an extensive line of fibre optic, copper and wireless video and data transmission equipment that is uniquely designed to meet the needs of the security, intelligent transportation system, utility and industrial markets.

Sullivan explained: “When you look at the footprint that Vanderbilt has in EMEA, there are well-established customer service and tech support teams, localised within different countries, that includes specific language skill sets.

“Contrast that to ComNet before we began working together, the sales people themselves were trying to translate any kind of tech support or customer service questions that came in. By bringing the two companies together, we can benefit from the infrastructure that Vanderbilt had in place. Customers are already responding positively to the enhanced levels of service being provided.”

With the advantage of a solid, localised structure in place, both companies are now looking to grow their businesses across a range of vertical markets. Sullivan revealed: “We are working across lots of different verticals right now.

“We are seeing most of our success coming from commercial office environments and we are also focusing on the banking sector. The Vanderbilt SPC product portfolio, which is a range of intrusion detection solutions, is well suited to the banking environment.”

David Sullivan

Sullivan also described some of the new applications that Vanderbilt’s ACT365 access control technology is being used for: “We are seeing a lot of growth in the sports, recreation and retail sectors. For example, if someone wanted to play tennis, their card could be programmed to allow them access onto the tennis court during a specific time period.

“The system also has the capability to send you a QR code which you can use on your smartphone to grant temporary access. At present retailers are utilising this feature to allow for customers to set reservation times to go to their stores. The time allotted provides them preferred access to the store during the scheduled time. We are seeing some really interesting developments with the technology at the moment.”

The need for education

The ACT365 product is one of a number of cloud-based solutions from several vendors that are rapidly growing in demand across the industry. The ACT365 delivers seamless integration between access control and video management accessible from anywhere, at any time and on any device.

However, according to Sullivan, there is still a lot of work to do to educate the installer community about the advantages of cloud-based solutions. He said: “I continue to think that our industry struggles with cloud-based solutions.

“I don’t think the end user lacks an understanding of what the benefits of these solutions are but I think the installer community is finding it a challenge. Interestingly, I think the current market conditions will encourage a change. Installation companies will look to seek out more revenue models that provide them with a recurring income and cloud-based solutions are the answer for that.”

One of the major benefits of a cloud-based solution is its ability to integrate with other systems and in the eyes of Sullivan, integration is now a necessity. He added: “More and more, we are seeing clients that need complete integration. Much of our engineering and product development is now focused on partnerships with other companies in order to provide that complete solution.”

Looking ahead, Sullivan projects that the future of integrations is going to be based around touchless technology, given the COVID-19 pandemic: “Once we get through the pandemic, I think we are going to see deeper integrations, potentially in terms of disarming alarms through the use of facial recognition. People are going to be reluctant to have to physically touch surfaces and that will be one of the main drivers of demand.”

Coming out the other side

Of course, the entire team at Vanderbilt have more pressing concerns at the moment as they try to navigate a way through the immediate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sullivan indicated that although there has been a slight drop in orders, it is nothing that cannot be recovered from.

“It is varying depending on which country we are operating in. For example, very little security work is taking place in markets such as the UK, Ireland or France. However, places like Sweden and Germany have largely stayed at a similar level as they were before the pandemic. It is also encouraging to see the Asia Pacific region opening back up and quickly becoming active again, that perhaps provides some light at the end of the tunnel for other regions.”

Once the challenges of the pandemic have been overcome, the plan is for Vanderbilt to expand its global presence: “There are lots of opportunities in the Middle East and Asia specifically and so we want to grow our offerings in those places. We want to continue enhancing our portfolio and providing even better solutions.”

As we move through the various phases of the COVID-19 crisis, there will undoubtedly be many more difficult decisions for business leaders such as David Sullivan to make. However, it is clear that the employees of Vanderbilt and ComNet have a leader who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way.



This article was originally published in the May 2020 edition of International Security Journal. Pick up your FREE digital copy here

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