Tom Bell joins SecurAmerica

By Maria Saporta
Friday, December 18, 2009

One of Atlanta’s top real estate executives is teaming up with one of the city’s top security executives in a bid to build the top U.S. security company.

Tom Bell, who served until July 1 as CEO of Cousins Properties Inc., is joining forces with Frank Argenbright’s fast-growing SecurAmerica LLC, a provider of contract security services.

“We want to build the largest security business in the United States,” Argenbright declares.

“We certainly want to build the best,” Bell says, “and the best often turns out to be the biggest.”

SecurAmerica began operating in 2005 and is now a $40 million to $50 million company. Argenbright said he expects SecurAmerica to grow by at least 15 percent to 20 percent a year.

The security industry in the United States is a $50 billion market that’s growing 7 percent to 8 percent a year. Internationally, it’s a $100 billion business. The industry currently is highly fragmented, and the two largest companies operating in the United States are based outside the country. So that means there are great opportunities for acquisitions and consolidation.

“That really got my attention because there are not many markets that are growing like that,” Bell said. “The most compelling reason to me is that you can’t have a free enterprise system in a democracy if you can’t sustain a secure environment. Let’s face it, the world is becoming less secure.”

Initially, Bell is serving as the company’s executive chairman, but Argenbright is looking to Bell to eventually take over the role as SecurAmerica’s CEO.

“When we first talked in August, I was looking for investment opportunities,” Bell said. “Frank told me, ‘I’ve got plenty of people who want to invest in the business. I want a partner who will help me grow this business.’ ”

The more they talked, the more Bell became intrigued with the opportunities for SecurAmerica to become a leading contract security firm in the country.

In his new role with SecurAmerica, Bell will help steer the growth of the company — both by growing internally by building and expanding relationships with major corporations and then through complementary acquisitions.

“The truth is that I’m not a CEO, I’m not a numbers person,” Argenbright said. “I can get a company to be so large, and at that point I’ve got to bring in a serious executive and CEO. I’m a security professional. I’m not a business executive. I’m clearly counting on him to make the big decisions.”

John Adams will continue as chief operating officer of SecurAmerica as Bell and Argenbright focus on growing the company.

Bell anticipates spending about 50 percent of his time working with SecurAmerica. He also is serving as vice chairman of the Goddard Investment Group LLC, a privately held real estate investment firm, where he is spending his time as an adviser. Also in May, Bell will begin a one-year term as chairman of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Bell had no shortage of opportunities after he left Cousins Properties, having joined the company in 2001 and becoming its CEO in January 2002.

Before joining Cousins, Bell spent 10 years at the Young & Rubicam advertising and communications firm, retiring as its chairman and CEO.

Bell also served as vice chairman of Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., executive vice president of the Ball Corp., president and CEO of the Hudson Institute, and chairman for the Center for Naval Analysis.

After looking at opportunities in New York and on the West Coast, Bell and his wife, Jennifer, decided to stay in Atlanta. Bell also didn’t want to go back to running a public company.

So Argenbright’s offer to join the privately held SecurAmerica fit all of Bell’s criteria. Bell has become a “substantial” investor in the company, but Argenbright remains the majority owner.

As a co-owner, Bell said the financial upside for him and Argenbright is to build the company’s value.

Argenbright has a track record of building companies. Back in 1979, he invested $500 in a security company that grew into AHL Services Inc., which provided services to major corporations. A division of AHL was known as Argenbright Security, which provided airport security.

In 2000, Argenbright sold the airline security firm to Securicor. Then when the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks took place, the spotlight was put on Argenbright Security, and Frank Argenbright had to explain he was no longer associated with the company.

Also in 2001, Argenbright founded Air Serve Corp., which provided services to aviation clients. Three years later, Argenbright founded SecurAmerica, which had 180 employees in 2005 and grew to nearly 2,000 employees in 2007.

As corporate CEOs begin to pay closer attention to which firms are providing their security, Bell believes SecurAmerica will benefit because it is a domestically owned company.

The company recently won a major account to provide security for Dell Inc.’s facilities across the country. SecurAmerica also has growth opportunities with increased security needs at nuclear power plants, university campuses, and sports arenas.

Both Bell and Argenbright said that despite their strong personalities, they will be able to work well together.

“I have great respect for Frank and his ability to build things,” said Bell, who turned 60 in November. “On major decisions, we need to be in the same place.”

But Argenbright, who will turn 61 in March, said he plans to defer to Bell.

“This is the first time in my life that I’ve worked for someone younger than me,” Argenbright said with a smile. “I know where my strengths are. That’s the great thing about our partnership, here is someone who has run four to five public companies. When it’s all said and done, he’s the top guy.”

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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