Something that many of us take for granted in our office is the safety systems that are in place. Years of advancement has caused fire protection, safety and security in buildings to blend seamlessly into the structure, out of sight, but highly effective when called upon.
Headquartered in Phoenix, Telgian is one of the industry leaders in services ranging from fire and life safety consulting for business and government agencies, to fire and building code interpretation, risk analysis and hazard evaluation, fire and building plan review, fire sprinkler system design and industry training.
As President and CEO of Telgian Holdings, Inc., James Tomes is responsible for the fire, life safety and security industry-leading company’s overall operational success. He is also a leader in the advancement of the fire protection and life safety industry, and has served on numerous global code development committees. As Telgian celebrates its 35th anniversary, Tomes sat down with AZRE Magazine to look at what’s ahead this year for the fire, life safety and security industry leader. In addition, he offers his thoughts on the unique challenges facing businesses of all types in the Valley throughout 2021.
AZRE: Can you share some of the unique challenges and benefits of running a business in Arizona?
James Tomes: There are several benefits to doing business here in Arizona. First, the political leaders and the people of Arizona have a general understanding of what drives business success and that allows business leaders to make grounded, confident decisions. This applies across party lines. I like to use Senator Sinema as an example of a politician who has reached out to the business community to build consensus and has therefore been widely and consistently lauded by the US Chamber of Commerce, going back to her time in the US House of Representatives. Second, Arizona has excellent infrastructure throughout the state. Sky Harbor is a great example of this, with its forward-thinking planning that has allowed Arizona to leverage its climate to become a hub or important destination for airlines. The positive effects of this are easy to see; ease of travel throughout North America for Arizona businesses, gateway for the hospitality industry, and an important reason for company relocation. Third, an important benefit to Telgian specifically has been our proximity to Arizona State University (ASU). We partner with them almost every year on internships, and they are a terrific source of talent for us. As far as challenges, I think the effects of Prop 208 may be a challenge for general economic growth going forward, as companies look to relocate or expand in states that have a better and more business-friendly tax structure.
AZRE: Why did Telgian choose Arizona for its headquarters?
JT: We initially started our service business, Telgian Fire Safety, here in Phoenix in 2002 to take advantage of the talent pool that already existed. Because of the financial and travel service centers (i.e. American Express and Bank of America), there was a solid field of potential employees who knew the service industry. Our headquarters at the time were in San Diego, where the company was founded in 1985. After our very positive experience in Arizona, we decided to move all of our administrative functions to Arizona in 2008. Key drivers were more sensible regulations and tax structures, housing affordability, and quality of life. We compete all over the country for national accounts; therefore, our pricing cannot be adjusted much for regional variations, which also locks in our cost and compensation structure. Being here in Phoenix versus San Diego gives our associates better housing opportunities and a greater quality of life.
AZRE: What makes Arizona business friendly?
JT: In some states or large metropolitan areas, business is seen as something to be highly controlled, or even as an adversary. Here in Arizona, business is valued as an innovator, employer, and partner. As a private citizen, my own interactions with state agencies are refreshing in that they put a premium on service, whether it is ADOT, State Parks, or Game and Fish. The climate is also an asset. Unlike many other areas of the country, we simply do not have weather events that shut down plants or impede the commute to work. This cannot be overstated. Finally, as Arizona State University (ASU) continues to grow, the partnerships between the business community and the university will continue to provide great benefits as well. ASU has been instrumental in many innovative community outreach programs that I believe are becoming a big factor in business relocation decisions.
AZRE: As an essential business, what have you learned during Covid-19?
JT: Reinforcement of our philosophy that great people and good leadership matter…It is one thing to be allowed to operate, but it is another to have a team that is dedicated to overcoming their own fears and obstacles to continue providing the services required by our customers. With proper planning, attention to detail and, above all, a culture that values our employees, we have found that operating safely even in these extreme circumstances can be accomplished. This is not to say that this year has been business as usual, it has not. But I do want to acknowledge, and thank, my entire Telgian team for what we have been able to accomplish this year.
AZRE: Tell us about assembling a workforce in Arizona.
JT: I think all the right ingredients are here not only to train and develop our own citizens but also to attract talent from all over the country. We have several universities in the state producing graduates with solid skill sets that will either strengthen existing companies or who will go on to create their own. We look to hire that talent and imbue them with our values and further their skills with ongoing training. On the recruitment front, Phoenix is attractive to out-of-state candidates because of affordable and quality housing and a fantastic outdoor lifestyle. There is so much to do here that supports a healthy and invigorating way of life, and we use that to sell Arizona.
AZRE: As businesses around the globe have had to adjust to reopening and staying open during Covid 19, how has this impacted Telgian?
JT: COVID-19 has been brutal. Even though we are an essential business, revenue has taken a serious hit. While our Fire safety inspection and service business saw some decline, our engineering services took a significant hit as several large national customers put CAPEX projects on hold. We are just now seeing demand begin to return to normal levels. Another impact was a slow-down in our pipeline as firms were either disrupted in their decision-making or were reluctant to make a change amongst the chaos. Credit worthiness of new prospects, due to the damage of COVID on their businesses, caused us to withdraw from some large deals as well. We continue to see schedule disruptions due to lockdowns, increased costs from overtime pay, and increased supplier costs as we try to navigate getting to service locations. As with all industries, we continue to see a shortage of parts because of supply chain disruption.
AZRE: Telgian is in the business of emergency preparedness: are there challenges and solutions you have identified as we enter 2021 that businesses should be planning for?
JT: We began planning to send our associates to work from home in February by making the necessary IT changes. Much of the infrastructure was already in place in case we lost access to our facilities. We have back up power and of course full fire protection, but we always contemplated returning to the facility in a matter of days, not months. Good planning contemplates recovery of facilities and redundancy in supply chains.
What is new about COVID is the cultural impact on an organization. What does it mean to lead and motivate your people when they no longer have the social connection of seeing each other daily in person? When your team is meeting virtually, it is difficult to feel that team culture that is integral to the well-being of our associates. I think that will be the biggest challenge for companies in 2021. Each company has its own unique culture, and leadership needs to figure out how to regain it once people return or, alternatively, create a new culture with either a flex or remote workforce.