Erick Okeyo, CEO of Bedrock Security Services Limited believes in the words of author Anatole France, who said that “to accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” He shares with SAMMI NDERITU his story of rising from a night club bouncer to becoming a CEO.
Quote: “Rising from a club bouncer to CEO was a long journey mixed with hope, self-belief, challenging moments and a strong desire to excel.”
By SAMMI NDERITU
Every successful entrepreneur has a story behind his/her business. They are stories laced with hope, passion, failure, courage, commitment and dedication. They are termed as successful because they chose to follow their dreams and build their vision. Reflecting on his business journey billionaire Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Group of Companies, confessed that he was dyslexic and had no understanding of schoolwork whatsoever. “It was one of the reasons I left school when I was 15 years old and went on to publish my first magazine when I was 16 years old,” he says. The magazine failed but Branson went on to build a massive business empire; the Virgin Group. Branson’s story is one of starting small and believing in yourself to build a business empire.
Erick Okeyo has a similar story of starting a business from scratch and growing it to become among the leading players in the security industry. Bedrock Security Services, a security company based in Kenya has progressively embraced leadership traits that encourage change, innovation and embrace risk. Okeyo, who has created an organization that is comfortable with change and thrives on innovation, described himself as a change leader. This type of leadership, as described by Raymond Caldwell in a journal article published in Emerald, allows managers to perform the role of “facilitators, encouraging commitment and empowering employees to be receptive to change and technological innovation.
“I encourage creative thinking by motivating staff to generate ideas that can be implemented to enhance company growth,” says Erick Okeyo, the CEO and founder of Bedrock Security Services. He consistently achieves this by empowering managers to make independent decisions. No doubt he is the boss but more often than not his managers disagree with his ideas but he lets them have their way because it is their responsibility to carry forward the company’s vision. “I believe that every employee has an idea that can contribute to the growth of the business and managers should engage them at every available opportunity,” Okeyo advises.
Okeyo’s management and leadership prowess can be traced back to his formative career years. A few weeks after his final high school exam, he walked into a security company’s office to ask for a job. But why a security firm, of all the companies one would wish to work in? Okeyo’s love for this industry was developed after severally watching security guards conduct their drills at a training ground in Kisumu’s Kibuye market. He was amazed by the accuracy, consistency and excellence in the way they conducted their drills. This aroused the desire to be a security guard.
He got his first job before his high school exam results were released. A few weeks into his guarding job, he was posted to a nightclub as an assistant security officer, the equivalent of a supervisor, but he would later quit this job.
“When I got my high school results, in early 1994, I relocated to Mombasa to live with my cousin who worked with a security company. During this period, I did three jobs in shifts. I worked at a security company’s radio control room, at Kaluworks Limited and as a taxi driver. I slept in the car most of the time,” Okeyo reminisces.
In 1996, Okeyo relocated to Nakuru where he got another job at Modern Security. A desire to build a career in marketing drove him to pursue a Diploma in Marketing. He later moved to another security company within Nakuru, Patriotic Guards. “After the Diploma course, I was promoted to the position of branch manager in Nakuru. The company had offices in several parts of the country. I rose through the ranks to become General Manager and then Director of Operations before resigning in 2009 to focus on building my company. I had registered the company five years earlier but kept the certificate in my bedroom,” he explains.
Employees’ career growth
Okeyo believes that an excellent leader grows in skills and knowledge alongside those he is leading. “I encourage my employees to grow their careers through any available opportunities, which include enrolling for higher learning courses as well as attending high impact trainings. I am also passionate about learning and growing my leadership and management skills and I do this any time an opportunity presents,” he says.
People running businesses, he reiterates, must realise that change is inevitable. As such, they must be knowledgeable and ready to change with the tide. “Competition is intense and if you are not quick to change with market trends, you won’t last. Bedrock Security adopts to change by being innovative and creating partnerships.”
The entrepreneur cites patience as a quality that has made him a good leader. He cautions against being quick to rushing to decisions that affect employees as this will result to a high turn-over which will affect business growth. “Having a high turn-over of employees will slow your growth as you will regularly have half-baked staff who require training to carry out tasks well. A leader should appreciate each member’s strengths and weaknesses, recognising that even he has his own strong and weak points.”
In financing a start-up, there is no free lunch and everyone pays to raise money, argues Scott Shane, a professor at Case Western Reserve University. Okeyo agrees with this statement, lamenting that the situation is harder in Kenya because banks don’t like funding start-ups. In the formative years as he laid plans to begin his business, such stories did not make much sense until he was turned off by a bank because he was unable to meet the terms and conditions for acquiring credit. He was forced to sell property he had acquired in Kisumu and a boost from his wife’s poultry business came in handy.
David Goldin, CEO, AmeriMerchant and a financial expert observes that banks are reluctant to offer loans to start-up businesses because they lack sufficient operating history. He says financial institutions give preferential treatment to businesses with lengthy and significant track records. After all, they don’t want to fund a business that has been operating for a while, but hasn’t sustained a certain amount of success and credibility. “Banks demand a solid track record of generating profits over a specific time period in order to receive funding. Without that solid operating history, your loan requests will most likely be rejected.”
Okeyo advises budding entrepreneurs on the importance of having alternative sources of funding their start-ups other than bank loans. “When you are thinking of starting a business, have a good financial plan since raising capital will be a challenge.”
When Bedrock Security Services Limited began operations, the company did not have guards. Why would a security company operate without guards? Okeyo points out that without infrastructure, the guards cannot carry out their duties well. The company had to first acquire vehicles, motorcycles, security and communications equipment, a radio frequency license and insurance policies. “In this industry, when you bid for work, the first thing procuring entities ask for is evidence on insurance status. Getting these things in place gobbled up KSh 6 million.
Bedrock Security provides security guards, dogs and private investigators who focus on corporate issues and VIP protection. “We are also beginning to do events security management which includes having sniffer dogs on site and providing security to VIPs. Safaricom is one of our biggest client in this category,” says Okeyo.
Its subsidiary company, Bedrock Security Alarm Systems and Products Limited, focuses on providing electronic security gadgets, security fencing and intruder response.
Okeyo has developed the company on a foundation of best practices, and succession planning is one of Bedrock Security’s key pillars. He notes that excellent leadership calls for a well thought out succession plan to ensure that the business does not die with the founder.
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the professional body for human resource and people development, defines succession planning is the process of identifying and developing potential future leaders or senior managers, as well as individuals to fill other business-critical positions, either in the short- or the long-term.
In addition to training and development activities, succession-planning programmes typically include the provision of practical, tailored work experience relevant for future senior or key roles. According to the Human Resource Council of Canada, succession planning is a means of ensuring the organisation is prepared with a plan to support service continuity when the executive director, senior managers or key people leave.
With the understanding that succession planning forms part of the human resourcing plan which contributes to the overall business plan, Okeyo says the company has constituted a non-executive board that advises and guides on business continuity. “We have a succession plan in place and we are already developing other staff members to move the business forward. For example, I brought my wife into the business to manage its operations. I don’t want to die and the business dies with me,” he says.
Okeyo is optimistic that the company will become the preferred security provider in future. He believes that once the government forms the agency to regulate the security industry through an Act of Parliament, rogue security companies will cease to exist and the industry will be run professionally by all players. “When the agency becomes operational, we can even have a sober discussion on the need to arm security guards as is the case with Uganda; a move that may contribute to the reduction of crime in the country,” he says. Currently, several security companies are self-regulating through the Kenya Security Industry Association (KSIA) of which Okeyo is a member of the Governing Council. He is also a member of Kenya Institute of Management and the Institute of the Directors of Kenya among other professional corporate bodies.
The CEO emphasises that the registration of a security company is a security task in itself. It is very demanding and involves getting clearances from national security agencies including the National Intelligence Service.