Executive survives PR disaster

To many, Frank Argenbright Jr. is a pariah for founding the company blamed for lapses in airport security right before the Sept. 11 hijackings.

To others, he was a convenient scapegoat, since no one knows how the hijackers got weapons onto the airlines.

To me, Argenbright is a survivor. He’s also a savvy Atlanta entrepreneur who has been able to start over and flourish, despite this recession.

But it was touch-and-go for awhile after the terrorist attacks. Then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft had lashed out at his company. An e-mail from someone else told him “to burn in hell” — a common opinion back then. He considered suicide because of the fallout but, in the end, decided to prove he was worthy of living.

“As depressed as I was, my wife told me to get off my butt and go build a great company, and prove everybody wrong,” he said.

Argenbright, now 61, started over by sticking with what he knew — providing security. He launched two companies, one for airports and another for Class A office buildings.

Since the recession has pummeled commercial real estate, I decided to focus on Argenbright’s office security business, SecurAmerica, to gauge his comeback. One person who had bet on him was Waffle House CEO Joe Rogers Jr., who loaned Argenbright money.

“This was a second chance to catch him on the way up,” Rogers told AJC reporter Bill Torpy nearly two years ago. “You bet on talent. We were betting he’d do it again.”

Rogers appears to be right, at least so far. Argenbright’s Buckhead-based SecurAmerica has been growing consistently, despite high office-vacancy rates that prompt building owners to cut costs, such as security.

But Argenbright and John Adams, his No. 2 at the privately held company, have been able to convince owners of top-notch buildings that it would be short-sighted to scrimp on security.

So-called “office creepers,” they say, are roaming around partially empty buildings, looking to quickly grab laptops, purses and other valuables that can be pawned or sold on the street.

Annual revenue for SecurAmerica has risen from $3 million in 2005 to $45 million today, Argenbright said. Recently, the company won a national contract to provide security at Dell buildings around the country. Argenbright hopes to use it as a springboard for other contracts.

With 2,600 employees, SecurAmerica provides guards, electronic access control, videocameras and monitoring.

The key to growth, Argenbright said, is hiring and training good employees, and knowing what motivates them.

“The Holy Grail is, it’s not the money,” Argenbright said. Most security officers, he said, are more inspired by recognition, titles such as lieutenant or captain, and feeling like they’re part of a family.

Argenbright has big dreams, hoping to grow SecurAmerica into one of the largest firms in the industry. By the end of next year, he hopes revenue will double to about $100 million. Eventually, he wants to reach $1 billion, although he acknowledges he will need help to do it.

“My plan is to bring executives on board who are comfortable building a billion-dollar business,” Argenbright said. “I’m an entrepreneur. I’m not a sophisticated billion-dollar CEO.”

He is, however, a survivor.

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3 comments Add your comment

Oh Really....

August 18th, 2009
8:47 am

He considered suicide because of the fallout but, in the end, decided to prove he was worthy of living.

This is a whacky and weird sentence. Way too prosaic.

Miriam

August 18th, 2009
10:33 am

Enter your comments here

jwhenry

September 2nd, 2009
1:49 am

Check out http://www.obamamortgagerelief.org/ . There needs to be a program for the elderly but not quite to retirement age for mortgage modification when the have lost their job during this particular recession. I made a decent wage because I put my time into a company and now have no job. I am looking at $10 – to $12 hr jobs after working all my life. You can’t make a mortgage payment on that kind of money. I will eventually lose my home.