Allied Universal CEO Bet On Himself And Won

Steve Jones, CEO of Allied Universal, a security services firm, talked with Chief Executive about growing the company from a small-time operation to a billion-dollar enterprise.
Steve Jones, CEO of Allied Universal
Steve Jones, CEO of Allied Universal

Steve Jones was betting on himself—big time.

In the late 1990s, he had taken a small security services company by the name of Universal Protection Service in Santa Ana, California and doubled its revenue in a few short years. By 2000, the owners of the company wanted to sell. Jones and a partner, who also worked at the company, convinced the owners to sell to them—even though they didn’t have any money.

“We said to the owners, ‘Give us seven years. We will not only pay you the $12 million, but we will pay you $24 million.’ We went to the bank, got a million in cash based on the company’s receivables, backed up by our houses…gave the owners a $1 million in cash, paid them interest on $11 million and owed them a one-time balloon payment of $11 million, plus the balloon payment of the other $11 million. We had seven years, with pretty expensive interest, to grow the company.”

The company doubled in revenue again by 2002 and by 2007, it had accumulated $150 million in revenue. Jones had twice figure out ways to recapitalize the company, once to pay off the original owners and another to pay off his partner. Each time, Jones was able to find ways to move the company forward and continue to bet on himself. Today, Allied Universal, as it is now known, is now bringing in revenues of more than $7 billion annually with more than 200,000 employees globally across 38,000 client sites.

Growth plans and pains

Jones says that growing the company from a small-time operation to a billion-dollar enterprise (through a mix of organic growth and R&D) came through a carefully articulated plan. “We spent a lot of time laying out the strategy and then we spent even more time figuring out how we were going to execute that strategy and what resources we’d need.”

The company’s ascension didn’t come without growing pains, he says. “When you’re growing organically, you want to keep up and promote from within or acquire great people to build your business. When we started acquisitions, it was making sure we had the right playbook to integrate those acquisitions. The successful integration becomes key.”

When the company made larger acquisitions, it wasn’t just a matter of processes that needed to be integrated, says Jones. But even more important was integrating the culture of the companies with Allied Universal.

“When you bring in a half a dozen people into your company, it’s easy to teach them your culture. When you bring in thousands of people, it becomes much more difficult. We had to spend a lot of time going through that.”

Greatest internship ever

More growth is in the works for Allied Universal, Jones says. In the coming year, he says the company will be announcing a handful of acquisitions—including one that will double its security and technology business. (Editor’s note: In April, after this interview was completed, Allied Universal acquired Securadyne Systems, a $73 million security technology firm)

Jones, who played college football, says playing sports at this level was the greatest internship in the world and prepared him for his business journey. “The persistence, the perseverance, the hard work, the determination, the devotion that it takes to be successful at a high level in sports is the same exact devotion that you have to have to build a business,” he says.

Jones wrote a book with a title that’s an homage to his previous life in sports, “No Off Season: The Constant Pursuit of More.” He says it’s about taking the principles you learn in sports and applying them to the business world.

“My belief in creating a game plan to get us to over a $1 billion was no different than the belief of creating a game plan that helped [my college football team] win a league championship. I’m a strong believer in the correlation between sports success and taking the lessons you learned there and applying them to the business world.”

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