SDM spoke with Kimberlite President and CEO Joey Rao-Russell about a variety of topics, from what it is like to be a female leader in security today, to her role at PPVAR, the riots and her future plans for the company.
SDM: How did you come to work for Kimberlite, and what was your path to the top?
Rao-Russell: This was supposed to be a temporary job. I was recruited to work on credit and collection policy 19 years ago. My mentor hired me in December of 2001. I remember him looking at me and saying he didn’t think I would be aggressive enough to be a credit collector but I had a great personality for sales so I should give it a try. I have a degree in criminal justice and intended to go to law school. Then I got there and didn’t like it. I didn’t have a very high opinion of security companies, having worked in law enforcement. So when I found out this was a security company I almost turned down the job. I pictured predatory door knockers and sirens that never stopped going off. I called my uncle who was a sheriff and told him it was Sonitrol. He told me that is the only company to work for if you are going to work in security.
Once I got here I quickly changed roles and worked in a lot of positions. I have been a seller, done operations, done design and service. I was promoted to general manager in Bakersfield. I opened the most recent franchise in Northwest Los Angeles. In 2012, I was made COO. Then in 2013 I was promoted to president and CEO.
I personally find it vital to have held all those jobs. I am making decisions that will affect how my people can do their job, so it is very important that I have a material understanding of everything they do. Also from a motivational point of view it helps develop a culture where nobody feels they are stuck in a box. There are not a lot of ceilings or boundaries in our company. It shows there is no limit to what you want to achieve.
SDM: What has your experience been like as a woman in security, and what do you do in your company to foster diversity?
Rao-Russell: I was in a very safe, insulated bubble being mostly in Kimberlite. My early positions were internal to our company, not in leadership positions. I was able to feel safe to express my opinions and to grow and assert my ideas. By the time I started selling and designing and being outward facing, there were a lot of years where I had to bring a [male] tech with me — who I’d trained — because the customer felt better hearing it come from his mouth. I was lucky, because I had been in a nurturing environment, that I understood it was them and not me.
What is fantastic now is there is becoming an understanding that you don’t have to do that anymore. The industry is not where it should be. I remember at my first SDM gala they put Pam (Petrow) and I in the middle of the picture as the only two women. Now there are more and more women growing in their companies in diverse jobs.
With Kimberlite, we live in California, which tends to be a pretty diverse place anyway. But what is deliberate is a safe environment where people feel comfortable in who they are and, frankly, succeed. We want to mentor anyone who wants to grow. It has just led to that inclusive, open door environment that continues to organically do these things.
SDM: You were the immediate past president of PPVAR and are still on the board. What did you bring to that organization and what are your hopes for it now?
Rao-Russell: One of the things I believed I helped with during my tenure was standardizing and developing best practices, and working with other associations on education as well as how to liaise and work with law enforcement. That was really what I was able to accomplish during my tenure. Tom Nakatani (who was named PPVAR president last summer) is doing a really great job bringing in more diverse public safety reps into our board to help diversify our message not just to dispatch and PSAPs. He is expanding on the building blocks of priority response to verified alarms and what that might mean.
He has a different background than mine. With that, he has brought in a lot of technology stakeholders. We are looking at all these new technologies, trying to get bigger and better with AI and big data. But just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should, and we don’t want to end up with bad relations with law enforcement. They are so under water right now. As an industry we have provided a patently bad product. It is very important to get right with the fact that we need to improve and utilize everything in our resources to work collaboratively to protect our community and our subscribers.
SDM: You have some acquisitions planned for 2021 and beyond. What can you tell us about those?
Rao-Russell: We are actively searching for an acquisition but want to make sure it is a good cultural and territorial fit. Our culture and how we interact and our values and missions are core to who we are. Finding, as an extreme example, a company that just wants to sell a bunch of contracts to me with no consultative services or thought to the quality probably wouldn’t be a good fit for who we are. There is a reason why my average customer has been with me 16 years.
We always try to fund organic growth as well, but this is a prime time for acquisitions. RMR is the gift that keeps on giving. For some in the security industry it became a lifestyle business; but as technology has evolved and complexities have come into our business, the days of simplicity are over. I started pursuing acquisition over the past few years. There is a perfect synergy between people that have built nice businesses but don’t want to put energy in it, and are looking to retire.