Growing security across the Southeast
Story by Donna Reges Hall
Ron Oetjen says it’s the constantly changing nature of security technology that keeps him engaged and challenged. He initially got his start in the field through the military, working in Bosnia and Kosovo with cameras and ground sensors that were designed to signal approachers. Later he worked for a national company as an electronic security installer, where he began to grasp the business side of the field and decided it was the right fit for him long-term.
In 2004, Oetjen started Intelligent Access Systems, which services the electronic security needs of power, gas, water and electric companies, as well as universities and healthcare. His company designs, installs and manages cameras, door hardware, electronic security systems, network cabling, as well as fiber optic infrastructure and information technology.
The timing to start a company in the security field couldn’t have been better. In 2004, government regulations had just begun to go into effect and these proved beneficial to Oetjen.
“We took a different approach, and it really has paid off for us through the recession because electrical companies have still been strong, gas companies have been strong, everybody still wants water in their house and the government has started to regulate all of those facilities,” says Oetjen. “Water, because of terrorist attacks, electricity, because of the critical infrastructure nature of power to the grid, and the gas company, obviously because there’s so much volatility in gas.”
About twenty percent of Oetjen’s clients are in healthcare and education. UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Greensboro, and Peace College are among this list, as well Campbell University, one of Intelligent Access Systems’ oldest and most loyal clients.
A majority of clients, however, are large multi-site companies such as Progress Energy and Dominion Power, and these clients come with their own unique set of challenges. Oetjen says you’re most likely to find his employees out on I-40 or I-95, which they frequent constantly in order to service their many remote client locations.
“The challenge with our typical client is that a lot of their facilities are in places that if you’ve lived in North Carolina your whole life, you’ve never even heard of this place” say Oetjen. “It’s because they don’t build power generation facilities usually in downtown Raleigh or in downtown Greensboro. They usually put them out in the woods. So we have to run a long distance. We call ourselves the ’long leg company’ because from Raleigh we go all the way to Wilmington to the Tennessee border supporting Progress Energy. And most of the time there’s no ATM, no gas station anywhere close to a lot of these facilities.”
Oetjen says it’s not the easiest thing to get prospective employees to buy into. Driving a company vehicle, being on the road 50,000 miles a year, and often working in the middle of nowhere are all less than glamorous parts of the job. He cites recruiting as his number one challenge, especially the younger generations who he’s interested in drawing in.
“It’s not as much of a challenge as my competitors in the other areas, but this industry is just not as ‘sexy’ as some of the other industries. It’s power companies, it’s gas and water companies. The technology is interesting and if you could do that and have all of your businesses in RTP, I think it would be very attractive to Gen X and Gen Y.”
When he does get good people, Oetjen works hard to keep them.
“We invest heavily in our employees,” he says. “We spend a lot of time and training and development. One of the main things that most people don’t realize is that as we’ve grown the company, we haven’t brought in a lot of high big players from outside. We’ve really developed from within and given our people a chance to grow with the company. Tim, the Raleigh Branch Manager, was the first employee that I ever hired. He was a guy that was working at UNC doing dorms in the hot summer, and he’s grown into a position where he runs the Raleigh market for us now.”
Oetjen says his employees respond well to this kind of approach. Their commitment is strong because they see the company cares and is invested in them. Oetjen also works hard to develop people’s individual strengths and not force them into boxes.
“Take people for who they are, not for who you want them to be,” he relates as important advice he’s received. “One thing I struggled with early on is that I wanted everyone to be this super technician that could do everything. I started the business saying everyone is going to do everything. One of my mentors said, ‘You know, Ron, there are great people out there that aren’t wired to do that, but they do what they do very well. They don’t all need to know how to run this business. They just need to know their piece of the business.’
While Oetjen did move to Atlanta for a short while to work, he says he much prefers Raleigh and is grateful to be back in the Triangle. “I like it because it’s a big market. You get the best of both worlds doing business in Raleigh. You get a great city with the availability of a lot of great people. And you have a lot of universities here where you can pull people from and give them a chance to get into the business.”
This is Intelligent Access Systems’ second year in a row on the Inc. Magazine 5000 list and Oetjen attributes the company’s growth and success to the quality of his employees.
“With the clients that we have, one person can’t do it all,” he says. “If you have a weak link in your chain and you’re running long distances, and you have these big clients who are very demanding and all your people are not higher level than most companies, you’re not going to survive very long. So I really attribute it to the people we have and their ability to understand the clientele we have and keep them very satisfied. They in turn bring us more business because they tell the other power, water and gas companies.”
Intelligent Access Systems has grown to be a ten million dollar plus company predominantly through word of mouth. Until two years ago, they didn’t even have a sales person on staff. Oetjen doesn’t equate size with success, however.
“We always said, we don’t want to be the biggest company, but you don’t have to be big to be great,” he explains. “You can be yourself and can dominate a region of the country. We always said between Atlanta and Washington D.C., we want to be the strongest player that people go to when they really need a strong technical team to service them.”
He points out that this kind of success takes constant work and evolution.
“I came from the military, so you always look for a mission. You get a mission, you get a mission execution and then you go to debrief when you’re done. Unfortunately, in business there is no finish line. It’s this continual thing.”
Expansion plans are in the works for Intelligent Access Systems, with cities such as Asheville, Charlotte, Hampton Roads, Chesapeake, and Norfolk all on the list of possibilities. As he’s done in the past, Oetjen plans to give current employees the opportunity to further develop their careers by taking on these new locations and growing them. Though his sightes are set high, Oetjen is grounded in the time tested approach that he believes in.
“Have a little bit of business, take our own people, don’t try to do anything fancy, try to stick to our core values” he says. “People are saying ‘I don’t know if you’re going to make it in Asheville.’
I keep saying, ‘Well, we’ve made it in every other place we’ve been to.’