As told to Stephanie Clifford
Bruce Moore chooses his words carefully, and he uses the same slow-brewed deliberateness in arranging his business, which provides security guards for the federal government. Year after year, he's pushed growth by chewing over every detail. For example, realizing that guards look unkempt after a couple of days in an unwashed uniform, he buys them a pair of pants and a shirt for each day of the week. It's fine points like that that have turned ARES into a service master--one that brought in $25.9 million last year.
I was in the military eight years, a counterintelligence agent working in security. It got me interested in protecting information. I got out of the Army and went to work for a contractor in Washington, doing security. It was interesting, but in the Army I was working for colonels and this was run by retired colonels. I was an enlisted guy. I said, something tells me I can do this on my own.
I started my own company in 1996. It did technical security services--document control, secure transmission, and vulnerability. I won a small contract with NASA, then teamed up with another company. They offered to buy my company and merge capabilities. I took it, not really understanding the stock-ownership agreement. I took that company from one contract to 12 contracts doing $20 million a year. But I got the wrong end of the stick when it came to payday. The other two partners enlightened me as to the difference between stock options and actual ownership. I asked for my share; they said, We're not willing to do that.
I decided to start my own company again, in 2001. I had to start from scratch; all those contracts belonged to them.
I targeted smaller pieces of work that larger companies weren't interested in. The first contract was with the Army. It was one guy guarding a building 24 hours a day, seven days a week--which means you gotta hire like 12 guys.
People don't go through high school saying, "I can't wait to graduate so I can be a security guard." They're security guards because of life experiences, whatever brought them to this point. But this is what they can do, and maybe the best they can do. It's kind of like in the military: It's the underprivileged and underpaid people who protect the overpaid people.
Morale is probably their No. 1 challenge, because wages aren't as high as they need to be since 9/11. I can't negotiate with the employees for the wages--the union has to do that. So I have an incentive-awards program: employee of the month, of the quarter, of the year. I do spot awards for good service, and probably 25 percent of the guards get one every single month. We have tuition assistance for guards who want to pursue careers in criminal justice. That's like $1,200 a year, and with almost 900 guards, that could really ruin me. But the $1,200 really helps them out.
I put my money into the field. I have four full-time quality assurance monitors--they're checking the guards out there. I have plenty of uniforms so the guards always look good. I visit every contract once a quarter. That's 26, in seven states.
The government builds your proposal into the contract. Say you said you were going to provide X amount of supervision. They expect that level of supervision. You said you'd have brand-new weapons or an extra 20 hours a year of security training for your officers. In the past, you were able to say all these great things to win the contract, then when you won the contract, you wouldn't have to do it. Now, you have to deliver what you propose. That's what I do.