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Supporting Security

May 12, 2010
Related Topics: Growth, Policies and Procedures, Strategic Planning, Featured Article

Private security guards outnumber police officers in the U.S., the largest security market in the world. The $16 billion security guard industry employs 1.1 million workers, with the vast majority working in low-paid jobs at high-turnover, low-margin companies.

AlliedBarton Security Services, part of the Blackstone Group’s private equity portfolio, is the third-largest guard company in the country, with 3,300 customers, including 200 of the Fortune 500. It is an extraordinarily flat organization. Of the company’s 53,000 employees, 95 percent are nonexempt, and 97 percent of those are security guards. Jim Gillece, chief people officer and senior vice president for human capital management, heads up the largely decentralized human resources function.

“The human resources model at AlliedBarton is organized for national support, local response,” Gillece says.

At headquarters in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, Gillece works with a vice president for human resources and three HR directors who report to him, and a staff of 30 who support 150 HR employees in the 16 regional business units. The human resources compliance group reports to the legal department.

In each business unit, a human resources director works with HR managers, recruiters and trainers. The human resources director reports to the business leader for the unit. Gillece communicates with these directors through bimonthly phone calls. All human resources tasks are handled in house. Gillece considered outsourcing some functions, but rejected the idea.

“We keep looking at costs,” he says.

AlliedBarton’s decentralized model leaves the bulk of human resources work in the business units. “It’s a very entrepreneurial culture, with a lot of autonomy for local leaders, but we must also ensure that our brand is handled properly,” Gillece says.

Recruiting and training standards are set at the national level. At headquarters, the HR staff monitors quality in the units with spot audits.

AlliedBarton’s security guard jobs pay $7.50 to $11 per hour and require a high school degree, general equivalency diploma or 10 years of verifiable employment history.

“For wage setting, we ask local recruiters to pass up business intelligence, and we work through the numbers with clients,” Gillece reports. “It’s a sophisticated process because the industry is highly competitive and low-margin. We need reasonable prices for clients, but we also must pay fairly to keep attracting officers and keep retention high.”

AlliedBarton’s turnover is well below 50 percent, less than half the industry standard, according to Gillece. The company has more than 1,100 open positions posted on its Web site; a large majority are guard jobs.

Gillece joined AlliedBarton in 2006 after 17 years with Pfizer Inc. “In pharmaceuticals, the career path for an individual is clear,” he notes. “The biggest HR challenge at AlliedBarton is translating the career proposition for entry-level employees. About 60 percent of our managers in Philadelphia came into the organization at the entry level.

Even if a security guard job is just a stopover for some employees, we let them know that we can help them prepare for the next stop.”

Workforce Management, May 2010, p. 22 -- Subscribe Now!

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