Leo Guthart

A Conversation with Leo Guthart

Despite the fact that Leo Guthart "left" the security industry eight years ago, he still leads the group that is dedicated to reducing false alarms because he believes that this is critical to the future health of the industry.

Leo Guthart is senior managing partner of Topspin Partners, L.P. and Topspin Partners, LBO, L.P, Venture Capital and LBO funds, based in Roslyn Heights, N.Y. The Tri-Association recently named him the recipient of the George R. Lippert Memorial Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the security industry.

The Tri-Association is comprised of the Security Industry Association, Central Station Alarm Association (CSSA), and Electronic Security Association.

Guthart began his career in 1964 at Ademco and left the security industry to form Topspin after Ademco (Pittway Corporation) was sold to Honeywell. He stayed on with Honeywell long enough to help with the transition. He said he still maintains the chairmanship of the Security Alarm Industry Association (SIAC) because of his deep conviction of its importance.

"The false alarm problem is very, very important to this industry," Guthart said. "The whole economic basis of our industry revolves around monitoring. If the police won't respond because there are too many false alarms, it weakens the industry. SAIC is sponsored by all the major industry associations, including the Canadian Security Association, CSAA, National Burglar & Fire Alarm Association and SIA. It is a nonpartisan, nonpolitical group that is focused solely on solving this problem." Guthart has been SIAC chairman for the past 13 years.

He took a few minutes to talk with Security Products.

Q: What is your greatest contribution to the security industry?

A: "My greatest contributions revolve around those of my company, Ademco ─ now Honeywell ─ which pioneered many things. Among them are:

  • the use of wireless devices to replace wiring in alarm systems,
  • the establishment and growth of ADI, the largest distributor of security products in the industry, and
  • the creation of AlarmNet, the largest long-range wireless communication network in the industry.

Q: In terms of technology, where do you think the security industry is heading?

A: "I think the security industry will continue to parallel and make use of technical developments that occur in the economy at large. As the Internet expands, as personal communication devices proliferate, as video becomes more and more widespread, and as new forms of advanced computation and communication become possible, the industry will leverage these developments and use them to increase its capabilities and offerings to customers."

Q: What advice would you give an up-and-coming security professional?

A: "When all is said and done ─ not just in the security business but in every business ─ it all starts with a complete understanding of who your customer is. When you know what he is and what he wants, then you have some rational basis for figuring out what you should be doing. A big mistake a lot of people make is not paying attention to the customer."

Guthart's Topspin companies comprise a $345 million venture capital and buyout group of funds that was founded in August 2000. The fund has several security investments, including Security First Corporation, which has developed "a whole new paradigm for securing data on computing networks" to protect computers from cyberterorrism and Passport Systems, Inc., which concentrates on scanning cargo containers or vehicles at border crossings for fissile materials.

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