This article originally appeared in the February 2021 issue of Security Business magazine. When sharing, don’t forget to mention @SecBusinessMag on Twitter and Security Business magazine on LinkedIn.
Successful businesses start with a clear vision and goal. In 2015, Huron Capital and industry veteran Terry Heath partnered to create a fire and security integration business built on a unique “buy-and-build” investment strategy. Instead of gobbling up entities, the strategy is more of a partnership approach, where employees and executives join the greater whole to share strategies and successfully grow the business as a team.
This approach has paid dividends for Sciens Building Solutions, and this clear vision and goal has enabled the company to thrive and grow – even in the current challenging business environment.
The story of Sciens begins with Heath, its founder and CEO, who served in various executive roles over 20-plus years with Siemens after serving in the Royal British Navy. Upon joining Siemens, Heath was put in charge of a small team focused on serving commercial customers and making their buildings safe and energy efficient through building automation, fire and security solutions. “Our team worked hard, had a lot of fun and was like a family,” Heath says.
Eventually, Siemens moved Heath across the country to head up its North America fire business. Although successful, his journey up the corporate ladder meant Heath “was spending more time looking at PowerPoint presentations” than he would have liked. Ultimately, he wanted to get out of a day-to-day office role to pursue his own entrepreneurial endeavor.
“I thought there was an opportunity to build out a platform business that would be the largest independent fire protection and life safety integrator in the country,” Heath explains. His goal was to establish 40-50 locations in the major metropolitan areas across the country, and to be anchored in the service industry.
In 2015, Heath took the next step toward that goal by uniting with Detroit-based Huron Capital to establish Sciens, with headquarters in San Francisco. “They shared my vision of investing and growing companies, and it’s been a phenomenal partnership,” Heath says.
Heath then focused on building a funnel and relationships. That meant looking at lists of companies to determine which would fit his vision. “I also was driving awareness of who we are, what we stand for, and our integrity and vision,” he says.
It wasn’t until the third quarter of 2016 that the duo of Huron and Heath would make their presence felt in the acquisition market.
The Acquisition Strategy
Even though other companies design, install, and provision fire and security systems, Sciens distinguishes itself with Huron’s “buy and build” philosophy – where the acquired business serves as a division of the larger platform, and in the end, brings together a variety of expert business owners, managers and technicians to combine decades of experience into a cohesive, national unit.
Heath and Huron Capital made their first acquisition in September 2016, with Boca Raton-based WSA Systems. As a testament to the Sciens vision and strategy, WSA owner Brad Golub is still with the company today. Heath says that he and Golub recently expressed amazement at what they built and their happiness to be part of it. “It is very satisfying that owners choose to remain working in the business and enjoy the accelerated growth trajectory of the businesses they initially created,” Heath says.
That first acquisition has paved the way for seven more, culminating in Sciens’ most recent additions of Plymouth Meeting, Pa.-based Electronic Security Solutions (ESS) in Sept. 2020 and AMSI in December. Now with locations from coast to coast, once a company joins with Sciens, interest grows in adjacent companies through word of mouth – the momentum Heath was aiming for.
Still, the clear vision around values and capabilities that has benefited Heath and Sciens allows them to stay disciplined and not make purchases purely for the sake of growing. “We start by determining if there’s a cultural fit and if they share our values,” Heath explains. “If that’s the case, it is a good place to start a conversation.”
Sciens studies acquisitions and focuses on those things needed to enable growth locally with an eye to serving customers regionally and nationally. Their experience running large companies allows them to work with sellers to identify growth enablers like professionalized sales tools, expanded service offerings, collaboration with other Sciens locations, operational effectiveness and IT platforms.
First and foremost, Heath and Sciens respects the owners of the businesses they acquire. “They have built successful businesses and are dedicated to their employees and customers,” Heath says.
Although their reasons for selling varies, many of the companies Sciens has acquired grew to a certain point but then needed support to reach the next level. Desiring more growth, they reach out to Sciens, which can offer these potential acquisitions a compelling narrative that focuses on the company’s vision of investing in and helping each business to accelerate growth.
Still, the M&A process can be emotional for owners. “We are extremely sensitive to the emotional roller coaster the seller goes through,” Heath says. “We recognize the business is like the owner’s child, and we appreciate that they entrust us with its future success. What makes this process easier is the trust, rapport and relationship we build early on from the first conversations.”
Most business management teams remain in place post acquisition – a clear indicator that the process went smoothly and that there is excitement to be a part of the future growth. It is also exactly what Sciens prefers since the owners have a unique knowledge of the market and their customers.
Once a company joins the Sciens platform, the goal is to build on the business practices that are already successful. “One key is to invest in resources and the capability expansion of these businesses,” Heath explains.
With five years of experience under its belt, Sciens has a well-defined playbook in terms of mergers, acquisitions and integration. Once Heath and his team have validated the fit between the parties and there is mutual interest, they move quickly – unlike corporations with many layers and bureaucracy. This helps close deals faster since potential sellers do not like to drag things out.
Another major aspect of the transition involves existing employees. When a company is acquired, there is understandable shock among employees as well as concerns about the future. The beauty of the buy and build strategy is that these employees hear from their owner, and see the trust already established with the Sciens team. Time passes and employees sees that their daily activities have not changed.
“They often ask why we don’t you make more changes,” Heath says. “That’s an indication that they are no longer concerned about change – rather, they are excited and eager to grow.”
Heath and everyone at Sciens are passionate about what they do and believe fire and security work is essential to protecting people. Heath says they strive to keep the focus on service, “because at the end of day, the performance of our systems during an emergency event is paramount to keeping people safe.”
Solid Foundation Enables Adaptation to the Current Times
In the first months after COVID became a national crisis, Heath says: “No one was thinking about selling a business; instead they were focused on how to guide their business and employees through the crazy unknown while continuing to serve their customers.”
Now, as vaccines roll out and a possible end to the pandemic is in sight, M&A activity has quickly increased in the security and fire services industry. Making purchases in the era of social distancing has led Sciens to have more virtual meetings and phone calls as the team evaluates more potential acquisitions.
Heath expects that integrating an acquired company during COVID will involve the same challenges as before – working together with sellers and their employees through the initial integration before focusing on investment and growth.
As they endeavor to keep growing and scaling out the company, Heath is focused on protecting company culture by having fun and “giving Sciens’ employees an opportunity to be fulfilled in their current roles or taking on new challenging opportunities.”
“We want to keep doing what we’re doing – growing, investing, having fun and making owners proud,” he adds.
Larry Bernstein is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. Learn more at http://larrydbernstein.com.