Interview with John Cerasuolo, President of ADS SecurityJohn tell us a little bit about your work background before you came to ADS?
I started my career with nine years in the Navy as a nuclear engineer. I enjoyed my time in the military, but left when I started my family, as I was spending a lot of time out at sea. I then spent two years at Michelin and followed that with 18 years at a telecommunications company before I joined ADS a little over two years ago.
What helped you successfully transition from one type of organization to another?
Attitude is key. It is critical to attracting the best talent, wherever you may be. Too many people look around to see if the environment is giving them what they want, instead of seeing how they can make it a great place to work. It is the difference between a passive player and an active force. Great leaders find ways to make the situation enjoyable for high-performing talent. They rally people around the vision, which is one of the most significant things any leader can do. There is always a group within the company that will help you sell your vision. And so you get them on board first, to help you champion it effectively through the organization. I have always been fortunate to have great people around me.
When you came to ADS, did you have to change much to make sure that you had great people?
We replaced eight of the top 15 folks at ADS in the first year. While it was a fabulous company with great culture, it had grown past the capability of some of the existing leaders. It was a challenging process to complete, but we felt it was critical not to drag it out for 2 to 3 years. It was important to do the right thing, and the leadership team realized it needed to be done. After we absorbed the shock, it was not difficult to get the group motivated. I firmly believe that is why we have been able to achieve what we have accomplished in the last few years.
How do you define leadership?
It is fairly easy to define the components of good leadership; integrity, leading from the front, caring for people, being honest, etc., but what it really comes down to is creating an environment in which people can do things they didn’t think they had the capability to do. That’s what great leaders accomplish. The analogy that I think of is the Butler basketball team.
Talk more about the important elements of leadership.
Well, leadership starts with integrity. You can never lead without it. It’s also important to be an inspiring person. It does not require you to be an extrovert or great speaker, but leaders must have the ability to inspire people to do their best. People respect a strong sense of character, and it is important to demonstrate care and compassion for the folks that you work with. They want to know that you are willing to work as hard or harder than they are and if you are, they will achieve beyond your expectations. The media can sometimes mislead us by telling us they know the components of a great leader. They often highlight things like the ability to be a great speaker or an imposing physical presence. But, those are just external characteristics. Good leadership comes from the inside.
How do you inspire others to do their best every single day at ADS?
Everyone on the staff is required to spend time in the field with employees. One time I went on-site to help install an alarm system, and was a helper to our technician. When our salesperson later that day called the customer to ask how it went with the President on site for her installation, the customer was floored. She had absolutely no idea that the assistant on her job was the president of the company. Another great program we have is a thank you note program. We have challenged our technicians to periodically write thank you notes to customers. Our technicians have personal knowledge of the families and businesses we serve, and some of the challenges they face. We have asked our 100 technicians to write 2010 thank you notes by the end of this year. To encourage them, we will have a drawing and give away a jet ski to one technician at year-end. At first, our technicians were curious about our rationale. So, we explained that our success is based on engaging our customers, and that their job is much broader than running wires and turning on systems. We grow because of our relationships, not because of the equipment we sell to customers. This thank you note program has been absolutely phenomenal.
How has your performance been in the last several years?
In our industry the most common way to measure growth is either through recurring revenue from monitoring services at ADS. We have been successful at growing our business and over the past three years are up almost 30%. We have done this by finding ways to distinguish ourselves from competitors such as our thank you note program and our emphasis on relationships. Our competitors have had the lower prices, but we have been able to sustain our growth and profitability, actually thriving in a very tough industry. We are a referral driven business, and our best advertising are the signs in our customers yards and ability to motivate them to share with their friends and neighbors about the amazing service that they received from us.In addition, we have invested in improving the size and quality of our sales team. It’s important for us to recruit and retain the right sales folks, those who are most effective at communicating our value. Our value proposition is “we are your security partner for life”. Many sales forces in our industry are high-pressure, and they design a system without thinking about the customer’s unique needs. We want to protect your home from burglars, fire, water leaks or other security issues, and once we do that, we will monitor from our central location, and not subcontract that to someone else, as many do. To be sure that our salespeople are selling value, we have invested in trainers and established ADS University. We also invest heavily in recognizing our top employees every year. We treat them to a big award ceremony with trophies and dinner events and tours. We believe in celebrating success. We want them to feel really special and treat them like royalty.
What is the best decision you ever made as a leader?
Attracting the right talent to the organizations I have worked for. That is really the result of many small decisions, but they add up to really big impact on the organization.
What has been your toughest challenge as a leader?
As a young officer assigned to my first ship in the Navy, I had a team of amazing, talented and experienced petty officers, who knew much more than I did and my job was to be their leader. It really helped me to appreciate the importance of team success. I had to earn their respect and trust if I was to succeed in our mission.
Do you use any unique hiring processes?
We don’t hire very many people because our turnover is low, but we do use a very extensive hiring process for salespeople in particular. We have some contract recruiters who have been through our ADS University, and we conduct 3 to 4 behavioral interviews with each candidate. We also spent a lot of time and effort in on-boarding, making sure that our new people feel welcome. From time to time, that includes sending flowers to their home, supplying their office with a computer and a phone on the first day, and welcoming them by sending an e-mail throughout the company on their first day. It’s our goal to let them know they are important to us and our success.
What advice do you have for other leaders?
Surround yourself with the best people possible. While that is common advice, it isn’t usually viewed as important in execution. We tend to overestimate the importance of a single leader and under estimate the value of a network of leaders. Having great people around you also contributes to your personal success. I’m a much better person because I have been inspired and stretched by the people I work with.
Is there any other information that you think is particularly important to share with future leaders?
I think it can’t be over emphasized that the savior leader portrayed by companies and magazines is not necessarily the most successful type of leader. Often, those leaders are very different than they are depicted. The best leaders fly under the radar. They don’t pine for recognition, look for the big stage, or ask for lots of media coverage. Leaders that reflected glory to those who work for them are high performance, successful leaders.
John Cerasuolo joined ADS Security in 2008 as the President and Chief Operating Officer of the award-winning security firm. ADS Security is headquartered in Nashville and is the 25th largest security firm in the United States out of 14,000 security companies.
Prior to ADS John was Vice President of AFL Network Services. He was responsible for a 1,300 employee operation across 35 locations providing telecommunications equipment installation services to all the major telecom carriers.
John graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1983 with degrees in Economics and Political Science. He served as a Naval Officer in the United States Navy’s Nuclear Engineering Program, earning his MBA at Clemson University in 1995.
John also serves as the Chairman of the Board of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, a non-profit organization that promotes free markets, limited government and individual liberty in Tennessee. He is also active in numerous charities supporting our military veterans, is a business advisory board member for Cumberland University and an Admissions Blue and Gold Officer for the United States Naval Academy.