PROFILE OF PROFICIENCY: A Partnership Built to Last

Oct. 27, 2008
Dealers ‘tie the knot' to become H&S Protection Systems

Sometimes a chance meeting can lead to great opportunity. That is what happened to two industry colleagues who found themselves working on the same association committee for a common cause.

The Wisconsin Burglar & Fire Association (WBFAA), a charter chapter of the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association (NBFAA) Irving , Texas , had openings for members to join a committee that turned out to be more of a task force to address Milwaukee 's verified response policy. It was a huge undertaking, but through the process Michael Horgan, third generation owner of Horgan Sales & Service based in Stevens Point , Wis. , and Chris Utter, owner of Sentra Protection Systems located in Waukesha , Wis. , decided they worked well together and certainly had mutually beneficial interests.  

The two men, whose companies served the commercial and residential security needs of customers in the Milwaukee area, had known and competed against each other on occasion over the years. Horgan and Utter respected each other from their chance encounters and information sharing at various industry functions and job sites.

“Working on the 2004 verified response policy committee so closely was the forum for how we got to know each other better and witness first-hand how we each handled ourselves during different situations,” explained Horgan.

For Horgan, a merger was a welcomed development that came about during a conversation with Utter two years into their intense committee responsibilities. “We were working with politicians, police departments from around the state and even national security industry representatives were weighing in. I had to hand over the reigns of the company during this time to my partner in the company, Stephen Garritson . It was that intense,” said Utter. The running of Sentra Protection was shared with 50-percent-owner, Garritson , who is still an equal partner today. What they learned during that time was that they had a great working relationship even in times of great stress. “When you work in the trenches with someone like we worked together you realize this should continue and work to benefit our companies as well,” Utter commented.

What started out in jest and a hypothetical “what if” soon ended up on paper: “I realized I really wanted to be in a partnership which would help my business grow and take some of the pressure off. A partnership that would bring in the resources for my company to grow to the next level,” said Horgan. As the discussions turned more serious, the men realized they had similar goals and an outlook for how the companies would move forward. When they realized that each brought the desired components to the table, it moved forward and was finalized in January 2007.

Because both companies had a loyal brand following, they decided to form a parent company. The company would be called H&S Protection Systems with two separate divisions. “When we entered into this agreement we knew we had a very special company in Horgan Sales with a loyal following that spanned over 40 years. It really didn't make sense to mess with the success that came as a by-product of its name recognition and reputation for service,” explained Utter.

“Stephen and I were very good at sales and the day-to-day operations. When Michael came on board we finally had ‘the guy,' the money person who takes care of the finances and the company's insurance needs; the fine details we really were not good at and he excelled at,” said Utter. “It was important that we streamlined and cut costs and we have made a big effort to do that. Merging with a solid company like Horgan helped us achieve that goal.”

Utter, Horgan and Garritson admit it hasn't been easy, no merger ever is. “We had planned and discussed some of the problems that arise during a merger and transition. Stephen and I had been through many mergers during our SecurityLink days. We really thought we had a handle on it and knew every problem that could happen. We were wrong,” said Utter. While nothing could de-rail their moving forward there was a period of adjustment for employees and for the Horgan family whose identity and history was very much a part of the company. “It was a little rocky but we have all been coming around and growing more comfortable,” said Horgan.

Mergers and acquisitions have to be well thought out and the basis is a good working relationship. H&S Protection Systems came out a stronger company because it worked hard to ensure that all of the pieces would eventually fit together.