Peter Harvey talks us through security development In South Africa

Peter Harvey has spent his entire working life at Red Alert, the company his father started in 1981. One must therefore acknowledge that he is in the perfect position to explain the company’s development, particularly in the last decade.

Established in East London, South Africa, Red Alert’s security services were initially isolated to the local geographical area. However, a national rollout plan saw the business expand over a period of almost seven years. In that time, offices were opened and management and sales representatives were employed across the country.

Harvey recalls: “During that process we started two other divisions within the company: we started a cleaning division and an armed response division.Those were some of the key developments in the middle stages of the company’s history.”

The company’s Manned Guarding division provides security services to retailers and businesses ranging Alertfrom hospitals to hotels. Its cleaning division offers a similarly comprehensive range of services for industries such as healthcare, retail, hospitality, educational facilities, industrial environments, and motor manufacturing facilities.

Trained staff provide disposal of waste materials, office and ablution cleaning, window cleaning, high pressure cleaning and, for the automotive industry specifically, the cleaning and replacing of specialised filters.

The Armed Response division provides intruder alarms and reaction services, including 24-hour armed response, CCTV, community policing, alarm installations, maintenance and system upgrades, and 24-hour monitoring services.

“One of the important things to have happened in South Africa over the past five years has been the significant rule change in the game of business in the country, and specifically since the year 2000,” Harvey elaborates.

“Employment equity plans and policies have become apparent in our business landscape. We went through a small transition in ownership, where we saw three people who work for the company, all from previously disadvantaged backgrounds, become 25 percent stakeholders.”

Though a big step for the family-run business Harvey believes it was necessary.

Training employees is a vital part of any security company’s internal operations in South Africa. Harvey explains: “The way the legislation works, you are not allowed to be employed in the industry at any level without having passed certain PSIRA exams and criminal checks”.

The qualifications are available at training centres throughout the country and are part of the country’s efforts to clean up the industry, he says.

While the industry is regulated, he does have some concerns about the effectiveness of the regulatory bodies themselves. While entry-level qualifications are mandatory, Harvey reveals that sometimes, even when workers do not meet the criteria, action is not taken. However, when Red Alert takes on staff, the training continues.

“We start them with one or two basic courses straightaway such as an induction programme or customer care. From there, training continues on the site at which we place them,” he adds.

Red Alert sets high standards when it comes to its employees. Its own continuous improvement plan called ‘20:20’ allows Harvey and the rest of the managers to set targets. He is quick to emphasise though that these are realistic targets.

“Every single manager in every region has taken his four or five areas of concern, has set targets that have been approved by directors, and are now targeting improvements in those specific areas. We reassess those areas regularly and we also adjust the targets regularly. In short, we continuously strive to improve.”

The last couple of years have been tough for most companies across a wide range of industries. In some cases, South Africa has been shielded from the worst of the recession. Nevertheless, Harvey recognises the impact it has had: “There is no doubt about it; the economic downturn has affected everyone. However, from our company’s point of view, although we have lost parts of some of our clients because they have gone into liquidation or they have had to cut costs, overall, our sales are up.”

Harvey is so confident in his company’s operations that he started up a fourth division in the last eight months. It specialises in financial services, specifically short-term insurance. The products are aimed at existing clients, of which Red Alert has 10,000.

“I’m using my existing staff members and my relationship with clients to offer them a new product,” he explains.

For the future, Harvey sees Red Alert maximising its footprint in South Africa. The focus will eventually turn to expanding to other parts of Africa. In fact, the company already has an office in Lagos, Nigeria, which is proving challenging. However, there is definitely demand for the company’s services elsewhere.

“We are now focusing on acquisitions as opposed to organic growth,” says Harvey of its current strategy. “So we are actively looking out for businesses that we feel could bolt onto our existing infrastructure.”

While Harvey has taken the business into the financial services sector with the addition of the fourth division, he is reluctant to continue adding services that are beyond the company’s expertise. Harvey speaks highly of the management team within Red Alert and puts part of its success down to the fact the business has been owner-run since the very beginning.

“We have started to employ various managers but even now, with our new BEE deal that we have concluded, even those guys have become part of the shareholding. The passion and the commitment that you get from an owner is hands-on,” he says.

He also acknowledges the management style that has seen managers made entirely responsible for their office or region. That level of independence has not only helped Red Alert to succeed but has encouraged its employees to flourish.

“It seems to have given the guys their own sense of belonging and they really seem to rise to the occasion. A lot of corporate companies may not enjoy that approach but it works for us,” he concludes emphatically.

Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi
Anthony-Claret is a software Engineer, entrepreneur and the founder of Codewit INC and CEO of Portia Web Solutions. Mr. Claret publishes and manages the content on Codewit Word News website and associated websits. He's a writer, IT Expert, great administrator, technology enthusiast, social media lover and all around digital guy.

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