This article originally appeared in Access Control Trends & Technology 2023, a special bonus publication to Security Business magazine, Security Technology Executive, and Locksmith Ledger magazine.
There have been some major changes these past few years at ACRE, parent company to well-known brands including RS2 Technologies, Open Options, ComNet, Razberi and Feenics. About a year ago, ACRE founder and longtime CEO – and voice and face of the company since its formation in 2012 – Joe Grillo announced his retirement. Grillo, who helped lead the organization’s growth to more than 500 employees in more than 25 countries, passed the reins over to new CEO Don Joos, who has held leadership positions at TPx Communications and PGi, both Siris portfolio companies, as well as at ShoreTel and Avaya. As ACRE’s Chairman of the Board of Directors, Tzachi Wiesenfeld, pointed out at the time, “Don joins the company at a pivotal time and is primed to deliver great leadership capacity.”
Grillo’s retirement followed on the heels of ACRE getting acquired by UK-based private equity firm Triton, which has approximately 50 companies in its portfolio with combined sales of more than €18 billion, with more than 100,000 employees. Since the Triton deal, ACRE has made several notable acquisitions, including bringing on cloud pioneer, Feenics, for example, further solidifying its foothold in the access control market.
In April, ACRE announced a new President, Americas, John Skowronski, a respected business executive and technology leader with more than 30 years of experience in senior leadership roles. He most recently served as President of Stanley Security North America, where he oversaw the company’s operations for the US, Canada, and Mexico. Over the course of his career, he has held senior-level roles with ADT, Tyco International, UTC and Stanley Black & Decker. In addition to Skowronski, ACRE added a Chief Technology Officer, Darren Learmonth, an experienced technology leader with a demonstrated history of product development and innovation within the security and the Internet of Things segments, previously holding executive roles with Nortek, HID, ASSA ABLOY and Silicon Labs.
Security Business magazine caught up with Skowronski to pick his brain on the future of one of the largest global access control companies in security, as well as his thoughts on how ACRE has been able to steer the ship through all these changes the past few years.
Security Business: ACRE has added several key executive positions since April, particularly with you and Darren Learmonth as CTO. Does this represent a shift in the company’s strategy moving forward?
Skowronski: This year, our focus lies on establishing essential foundations for our business and that includes investing in individuals who possess expertise in this field or related industries. Striking a balance is crucial. We recognize the importance of having a team well-versed in the ins and outs of the security industry while welcoming those from outside the market who can question our existing approaches and norms.
The ACRE security team was built to help us view things from diverse perspectives. We have the advantage of fresh eyes that bring unique insights. This foundation enables us to tackle problems more effectively, as people are encouraged to challenge the status quo.
Many companies in this industry (like ASSA ABLOY and Johnson Controls, etc.) are a roll-up of several brands, and each brand has its own identity within the company. What is your vision for the future of ACRE and its many different brands?
Skowronski: People have perceived ACRE security as primarily being a holding company. However, the fact is that ACRE is a fully operational global business. We offer a diverse range of portfolios that address critical verticals and essential business challenges for our customers. We possess a clear vision of our position in terms of cloud access control versus on-premises access control. And we have distinct strategies for market segments, visitor management, and intrusion. These areas represent the core aspects of our business.
At ISC West this year, we unveiled our refreshed brand and a mission to unify our product brands under the ACRE umbrella to create fluid solutions that are agile and responsive to the industry’s evolving needs. We're still committed to providing the highest level of security for customers, helping them eliminate customer risk with our expertise and experience. We still deliver a single, powerful solution set that aims to help customers protect what is most important to them – their people and assets.
Likewise, ACRE seemed to be a collection of predominantly access control brands – many of which (Vanderbilt, Open Options and others) had overlapping technologies and capabilities. What is the vision or roadmap for the access control technologies at ACRE?
Skowronski: Looking back at the company's history, it was originally established with a competitive mindset. However, as we strive for long-term, scalable growth, we need to cultivate a focused approach.
Our customer base is broad and where they are in their digital transformation efforts varies. Some of our customers still rely on on-premises systems while others are pure cloud. Therefore, our objective is to provide our customers with clear migration paths toward more advanced solutions, particularly in the realm of cloud technology. With ACRE, you have access to a single portfolio of intuitive on-premises, cloud, and hybrid security solutions. So, you have everything you need to keep your most important assets safe.
How does technology like Comnet and Razberi fit into that mix?
Skowronski: Comnet and Razberi play a significant role in the mix. Comnet offers valuable networking and connectivity solutions that enhance the overall functionality and performance of our systems. Razberi offers complimentary technology to ComNet's and its cybersecurity protection software, system health monitoring, and servers enhance the value of our brands. Both products allow us to optimize our operations, enhance customer experiences, and facilitate the migration toward more advanced and future-proof solutions.
What lessons from Stanley, Tyco, ADT, etc., will help you in this new role at ACRE?
Skowronski: Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to collaborate with numerous leading organizations. Many of these businesses have undergone the process of consolidating multiple brands and businesses into a unified entity. Drawing from my past experiences and active involvement in driving such initiatives, I am well-equipped to support acre security in its consolidation endeavors.
I’ve also been through industry changes before. As the physical security industry moves toward a software-centric approach, relying less on hardware solutions alone, I can help ACRE in navigating this evolving landscape. It is crucial that we understand the changing needs and preferences of our customers and dealers as the industry undergoes these shifts.
Do you foresee the same level of M&A activity moving forward for the company, and are there certain technologies or vertical market areas where you are looking to grow or expand?
Skowronski: We are actively focused on both organic and inorganic growth, with an active pipeline of opportunities in North America and Europe. We will continue to pursue M&A deals and remain engaged in the market as we progress through the next three years. Our approach is driven by recognizing the fragmented nature of the industry and evaluating opportunities for consolidation. Additionally, we are keen on leveraging innovative technologies that can expedite our time to market by seamlessly integrating with our solutions. We are also interested in technologies that can help expand our addressable market. These areas remain a constant source of interest for us.