Turning Touchdowns Into a Family Business

John and Cris Carter grew up with a dream of one day working together. It started as a desire to make a vision come true. Later, through old fashioned hard work and the right timing this childhood pact became reality. After taking two different career paths, their business future finally did cross paths again, the result of which is one of the most successful fire system service companies in the industry.

“When we were younger, John and I dreamed about and discussed the possibility of owning our own business. I had the opportunity to play in the NFL and John built a successful career in corporate America,” explained Cris Carter, chairman, Carter Brothers LLC, Atlanta. “But we always knew that we would eventually work together. John challenged me eight years ago with his willingness to step out from his career and start a company of our own and he believed in my potential off the football field.”

Making the transition from the NFL for Cris was easier by his brother’s encouragement and entrepreneurial spirit. “We realized early on that we could accomplish more together than apart. Our working together was never a question of ‘if’ but more a question of ‘when,’” said John Carter, president of the company.

“After my nearly 20-year-career managing more than $5 billion in construction contracts and Cris’ 16-year career as one of the most prolific players in football, we decided that it was the best time to start a business together.”

Since its inception in 2001, Carter Brothers has been known as an electronic security, life safety and fire alarm systems provider with a motto of putting the customer’s focus first. The company, the brothers added, has been providing complete project management solutions and installation capabilities to clients in the banking, communications, healthcare, hospitality, multimedia and commercial/industrial fields with locations located throughout the U.S.

While putting in the time and effort involved with growing a company and a successful brand, the brothers’ became recipients of the National Urban League’s prestigious Entrepreneurship Award in 2007.

Headquartered in Atlanta, Carter Brothers ranked in the Top Three Diversity Owned Businesses in the state of Georgia. Cris and John were recognized by the organization as the first recipients of an Entrepreneurship Award. “The award highlights our dedication to diversity and how it has positively impacted our bottom line. When we started there were few minorities in the security industry. This gave us a chance to do something that had never been done before—namely establish a multi-million dollar enterprise in an industry that has been challenged with a lack of diversity ownership,” stated John Carter. (Just this spring, DiversityBusiness.com, named Carter Brothers as one of the top businesses in the U.S.).

Also in 2007, the company acquired Edwards Service, a fire safety company, from GE Security. “We saw a real opportunity to grow the Edwards Engineered Systems platform based on our quality of people and our product and industry certifications including our commitment to NICET. Our goal is to leverage our reputation and long-term customer relationships to develop platforms in security and other engineered systems,” said John Carter.

Following their business model of making commitments and aligning themselves with quality businesses, the company in August of 2008 announced a strategic alliance with Johnson Controls. This alliance allowed them to expand service offerings in the fire/security platform for clients who require a certain level or percentage of Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) certified companies or workers on their projects. The company is a National Corporate Plus member of the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC).

The Carters recently discussed fire alarm installations with SD&I as an area of the industry providing unique challenges while also offering future growth potential. “In large scale, design-build systems every installation is somewhat unique and each has its own challenges. We have regularly worked with system installations in a variety of mixed-use campus and high-rise buildings. Most of these are occupied during the installation,” said John Carter. To make these types of projects work, he said, integrators need to be flexible and work around the businesses, guests or residents occupying the buildings with little to no interruption in their lives.

There is also a continued emphasis in fire on the value of service and maintenance, which the Carters verify as a main component to their company growth. “Our customers entrust us with the vital responsibility of protecting their lives and property. We work to continuously improve our delivery through our people and technology. That’s why we’ve partnered with BuildingReports.com for several years to provide verified testing and enhance our delivery,” explained Cris Carter. “Using Firescan our technicians are able to verify testing of each device and upload reports the same day to the customer.”

Success has come with a lot of dedication and for Cris he was able to parlay what he was doing on the football field into a business venture which presented plenty of challenges and a learning curve. “Businesses are a team made up of owners, general managers, coaches, players, trainers, etc. On a team, each player has a designated role or assignment,” explained Cris Carter. “Each player, while responsible for an individual task, must come together within the team framework to form a cohesive unit.”


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