Grillo charts bold course for Vanderbilt

Oct. 17, 2014
Vanderbilt’s CEO and industry veteran is having fun making big plans for his company’s future

When it comes to perspective, few security executives have a broader resume than Joe Grillo. His experiences range from entrepreneur and industry investor to marketing, sales and the C-suite. But the one constant that has colored his career remains an astute ability to recognize trends and capitalize on them.

As the Executive Vice President ASSA ABLOY AB and Head of its Global Technologies Division, it was his strategic approach to the market that helped each company achieve leadership positions in their respective technology sectors as each reshaped the access control landscape. So after brief hiatus from the security industry, Grillo recently returned as the CEO/Principal of ACRE LLC, which acquired Vanderbilt LLC in September 2012. Vanderbilt is comprised of the former access control company Geoffrey Industries, in addition to the Schlage SMS access control and video systems division of Ingersoll Rand.

“I’ve always had a lot of fun in this industry and my time at ASSA ABLOY was extremely rewarding. Some people tell me that they can’t believe I lasted seven years,” said Grillo, who ran an $800 million division, with more than 4,200 employees in 29 countries. “Did I enjoy my job? I loved the company -- I hated my job! My wife asked me one day why was I still doing it? She reminded me that what I loved about running HID was the fact I was always involved with customers, product development and helping create market and channel strategies. I had gotten away from that at ASSA and I really missed that interaction.”

The Vanderbilt opportunity has rejuvenated Grillo, providing him and his team a chance to follow in the footsteps of a company he admired from across the trade show floor years ago. He can relate to the struggles encountered by the old Geoffrey Industries as it went up against some of the access control giants, noting that his early days at HID where similar.

“Nobody wanted to sell HID when Motorola/Indala dominated the market. The guys from Geoffrey were in the same boat. But they were a little radical and pushed the envelope. In fact they were one of earliest and most loyal customers at HID,” Grillo remembered.

Geoffrey became well established and respected as technology solutions provider in the Northeast. Its ability to deploy large-scale, enterprise access control systems that also integrated with video was cutting edge and attracted such big-name clients as Barclays, Times-Warner Cable, the Prudential and the United States Postal Service.

“They might not have been as well known as Casi-Rusco or Software House back in the day, but feature-to-feature they were just as competitive. Unfortunately they never had the marketing budget or the marketing acumen to go head-to-head with the bigger names,” said Grillo, who added that when IR branched out from the lock business and was searching for a solid access control company, they acquired Geoffrey and renamed it Schlage SMS to capitalize on the branding.

Having left the security industry almost five years ago and then jumping back into the fray was certainly an eye-opener, according to Grillo. Walking the exhibit show floors of several of the last large conferences made him realize how much catching up he needed to do when it came to understanding the explosion of video management platforms and the level of integration with access control and other systems.

“No offense to the old access control guys, but the approach to access control really hasn’t changed that much. The explosion of video and integration of that platform across the entire security environment has become the most important aspect of today’s technology. We have a fun debate within the industry as to what are the fulcrum and the foundation in an integrated system. . It could be the fact that I’m the old access control guy, but I still believe in many situations the fact that an access control system revolves around identity – pure and simple – makes it the foundation,” Grillo stressed. “. An individual’s identity within an organization – my card, my self, where I can go, where I can’t go – remains the defining security principle in many ways and keeps access control protocols in the forefront. Now this is not to diminish the explosive growth of video and VMS software. When you look at the migration of some of the major video companies like Axis and their access control product, and the recent acquisition of Red Cloud by Avigilon, there is a converging trend that is still going on.”

So what does Grillo see for the future of Vanderbilt? His team’s vision is that of a cutting-edge software company that will facilitate the integration of access control technology across every conceivable security and building management platform. The fact that ACRE also owns Mercury Systems allows him lead an open architecture movement in the market.

“We call it open with a little ‘O’. There are more than 21 access control vendors, including Vanderbilt, that offer a Mercury hardware solution. This provides the user the ability to switch things up and mix and match a bit. There is a lot of cost when it comes to changing field hardware, not to mention the head-end software too, but at least all that cost can now be contained to a central location. You aren’t out on site with a forklift ripping out panels and readers from walls. So I think the Mercury solution provides that open option,” Grillo said.  

With that being said, in this highly fragmented world of OEMs, from big guys like Lenel, Software House and Honeywell, to the little guys like the Vanderbilts of the world, there is this common threat. All of us will have to focus all their R&D dollars on software,” continued Grillo. “That is clearly what Vanderbilt is doing. We don’t want to worry about hardware obsolescence – we will let Mercury worry about that. So our focus will be on application software, mobile devices and continuing to advance its sphere of video integration partners. Then outside of the business and technology development, you will see us build the company through acquisition. So keep your ear to the wall, your will be hearing from us in that regard.”

As the plan emerges and the strategic roadmap is set, what does Grillo look to as his bottom line? “Before I got back to the basics here, I was constantly flying around the world from one corporate meeting to the next, doing management training and directing instead of doing,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, it was all good stuff. But it was not as fun as being a hands-on boss. Now I’m having fun again.”

About the Author

Steve Lasky | Editorial Director, Editor-in-Chief/Security Technology Executive

Steve Lasky is a 34-year veteran of the security industry and an award-winning journalist. He is the editorial director of the Endeavor Business Media Security Group, which includes the magazine's Security Technology Executive, Security Business, and Locksmith Ledger International, and the top-rated website He is also the host of the SecurityDNA podcast series.Steve can be reached at [email protected]