Why Are There So Few Young Execs In Security?

The 'old boy' network seems to still dominate security, with company executives typically in their 50s and 60s.

Part of this is simply that the industry is older in general. Another part is the lack of successful startups to disrupt the status quo.

We have been talking about Should Talented Young People Get Out Of The Security / Surveillance Industry? One of the big negatives, to me, is that it takes a long time for even talented people to get into leadership roles. In other tech fields, 30s makes you a veteran, in security, you are still clearly 'young'.

I wish the 'old boy' network would retire as soon as possible.

What do you think? A problem? Not a problem? Fair? Not Fair?


Personally speaking, I think that it really has to do with the experience and knowledge base the individual has. If they have been lucky enough to learn from someone that has been in the business for years, then bring that knowledge with them. And for me, thats a bonus. But I also think that you have to remain pretty progressive in what technology has to offer while understanding what has been in the past. Only because on the odd occasion you may encounter a situation where experience is going to get you thru it. Perhaps this is holds through for more than just the security industry... regardless, the truth is that security is more than just "slapping" a device up. Its understanding the customers needs. If a younger person has these skills/qualities then age really shouldn't determine ability IMHO.

You might be right if talking C-level or Exec. VP type positions, but there's still plenty of opportunity to lead and make great money. Putting in your time is pretty normal for those types of positions, but to compare it to the big tech companies where the young execs have founded or co-founded startups that went big isn't really the most accurate comparison. Also, compare the number of kids clammoring for the next big tech startup to the number of young folks in the security space -- which one do you think provides the best chances for six figure incomes statistically speaking?

Again, I have nothing to base any of this on other than my gut. And I STILL say it's a great industry for young people to get into. Unless, of course, they are master Ruby / Python coders. :-) Then, you should move to the Bay Area, Portland, Seattle, Austin or any other of the tech hot spots. But even then, competition will be huge, so the days of being the best in your HS at this sort of thing won't even get you close.

"Also, compare the number of kids clammoring for the next big tech startup to the number of young folks in the security space -- which one do you think provides the best chances for six figure incomes statistically speaking?"

Absolutely, the tech sector. Six-figure salaries are for interns and junior people. Yes, there's a bubble now but even in more normal times, six-figure salaries in tech are not a big deal at all. Making 150k or 200k as a 30-year-old is not exceptional in the least. For example, one of the biggest pluses of 3VR was that they paid on a Silicon Valley pay scale, which amazed the security people who had never made anywhere near as much in their lives.

And yes, there are more people going for tech startups but there are more succeeding, which means a talented person has better odds outside security.

"where the young execs have founded or co-founded startups that went big isn't really the most accurate comparison."

Not only is it accurate but it is necessary. I agree with you that there are less startups in security but that's a negative for young people, no?

Flat out...the security industry is a grind for someone who is GREEN to the industry. I started in the security market and didn't even know what a cat6 cable or 18/2 cable was. Let alone the difference between 12V and 24V. I took a stab at the industry and was having a tough time. It was only until I made a decision to make security my profession, did everything turn around for the better. I learned the trade, went out in the field, latched on to successful colleagues and found a good company to go and work for. No matter if you work for a manufacturer or integrator, a "security sales person" needs to have some foundational knowledge of the business.

Is it tough for the young crowd, yes it can be, however with persistence and a developed interest in the business anyone can rise to a solid rank in the business.

Dear John,

So you want us old farts to retire as soon as possible, to free up office space for you in the C suite? Well I am all for retiring as soon as possible. However! I for one, will not be hanging up the old spurs, until we get you young, drippy nosed, whippersnappers shaped up to fill our oversize egos ... ah - I mean shoes!

Touche, Rob!

I am already ok :) I am more looking out for my 30 something brethern.

I started IPConfigure in 2004 at 31 with an ambitious attitude and general optimism about how quickly the security industry would adopt IP based video surveillance as a standard. A decade later I look back at the journey (marathon) and can think of two other VMS start-ups with CEO's that were in their 30's. Like IPConfigure, both Video Protien and D3Data entered the market as outsiders and were both bootstrapped. While traditional security folks snubbed us we had to fight for the attention from the likes of Axis and Sony for leads. More importantly it was clear the IT community would be our immediate path to success. Needless to say both Video Protien and D3Data were unable to “clear the trees” and ultimately shut down.

Today, the average age of the IPConfigure team is 35, I’m the oldest at 42. When customer and partners visit our headquarters they respond positively to our youthful, energetic, and innovative team. My advice to young people who want to successfully break into the physical security industry… Find a mentor/friend who knows the ropes (my guru is John Stroia). Then include “Integrity, Perseverance, and Tenacity” in everything you do!

But does your advice really help people become an exec? i.e., get a mentor.

It would seem your more direct advice would or should be to start a company :)

I was selling flowers on the side of the road at 13, does that mean I was a CEO at 13? My goal wasn't to be an executive at IPConfigure, it was to start a company that would fix a problem and be successful. That being said, I wouldn't focus on the title.

To your point... step 1 "start a company". ;)

"My goal wasn't to be an executive at IPConfigure"

Sure, and when I say 'exec', I mean 'leader' or whatever name you want to call for people who have 'power' in companies in the industry.

Today, the average age of the IPConfigure team is 35, I’m the oldest at 42.

That would seem to put most everyone else in their thirties then.

It obviously was a good ten years for you, but do you feel that the thirties are the make or break decade for the go-getter?

Looking back I don't think it's an age question. The better question is when you can you afford (financially, family, health) to take the risk and recover in the event of a failure?

In my experience it is prevelant in all integration, not just security. My thought is that perhaps it is because the baby boomers (in the US) are just not retiring, pushing the average age upwards. I have read quite a few articles about this occurring everywhere, not just security.

I did work at a sizable company in which the General Manager was in his late 30s. Other than that sole GM I have not see any security or integration companies which have a Director, VP, or other executive level employee that is younger than mid-50s*.

More distressing is those examples when the executive level ranking does not appear to be based on merit. It appears that sometimes those titles are awarded based solely on longevity with the company, family members, or personal relationships with the company owner(s). To me, that situation results in both managing field personnel and managing upwards.

* Statement does not apply if it is a family owned business or a very small integrator.

I Own a security integration company at 27, I love having the old farts in the field...too many are afraid to learn or tackle anything ip related, and are stuck in the stone age of analog cctv and hardwire alarms. The ones guilty of this are probably afraid to even tackle getting an ipvm membership because it's new and foreign to them, so I can get away with saying this ha ha. Me...I love it. Self taught via research, internet, and buying stuff at a very young age. Constantly looking for new knowledge...having invested thousands of $$$ in education for myself and employees, not just in security, but in self empowerment and other sales aspects has paid off. The security industry is technology, which is something you continuously have to learn...it's not like 20 years ago where an alarm panel was an alarm panel, and a analog system was a analog system...industry is going great places and you are either on the bandwagon or not.

Hang in there Rob!!!!!

Early 20s and at least partial owner of an integrator, here. When I think of the "old" security industry, pre-IT, the words that come to mind are ones such as "slow" and "stagnant". I was trained as I imagine many were, through in-field experience with some mentorship from the older techs, and that especially fell very solidly into the "slow" category. This is only my limited, local experience, but I doubt anyone would argue that IT isn't one of the most fast-moving fields in existence, and that anything that gets mixed up with it will be dragged along for the ride whether the incumbents like it or not.

There are two big components to that, in my mind. The first is that the scaffolding/infrastructure/lower layers are already well-developed and standardized in IT, helping to prevent vendor lock-in and making it so that companies are competing only on the higher layers, where they can actually innovate and add value. The second is education. As with many specialty trades, there's not much in the way of support from institutionalized education. Personally, I didn't even know that this was a career choice. It wasn't even on the table for me coming out of high school. This is why companies that actively seek talent, and support their employees with continued education, certs, etc., end up being so successful. The reason people in their 30s are still seen as "young" is because that's how freaking slow the training/mentorship method standard at so many companies is. What's the youngest master electrician you know of?

All that aside, I have to disagree with your desire for the "old boys" to retire. Except in those cases like Integrator 2's where people are getting positions based on anything other than merit, those people earned their positions. I personally work with many who would fall into the "old exec" category that can still not only hold their own with me, but who have on more than one occasion prevented or fixed a mistake I made due to inexperience. They have their own strengths, I have mine, and we work together for a common goal rather than cutting each other down for being an "old boy" or a "young whippersnapper".

And most of all, nothing is "fair" if your idea of "fair" is anything except "you get what you earn", nor should it be. I still believe in exceptionalism and meritocracy.

I don't see any young talented people entering this market at least on purpose. Head hunters tell me younger talented candidates are opting for the data side given the pay is better and career path more attractive. Would not be at all surprised if young candidate attrition is attributed to the recruiters too as several of them place for both industries and get paid either way. For example, better for their commission if they can place an A player at a high salary in the data side.

This industry is definitely a vortex and it seems it's the SAME people are at evvveeerrry show. I cannot remember any differences between ISC West and ASIS for all the years I've been in the industry exhibiting at each - each show is total deja vu.

However, someone made a point about being a big fish in a little pond on the other discussion and there definitely is money to be made in this industry - if you know what you're doing. Pelco, AXIS, ExtremeCCTV, and NVT are just a few examples I can think of where the owners exited with a lot of money, and were all making a lot of money before the sale too.

Given this planet's current political state, demand for security will never diminish, but I do worry the brain drain on the industry will diminish the innovation it so desperately needs right now.

Take a look at Digital Monitoring Products, many in leadership at that company are early 30's. They turn out an incredible line of products. Including their most recent offering of 96 access control doors off their intrusion panel with cloud management and full reporting. While the lack many features included in more robust platforms. They're constantly adding features setting themselves up to be a serious contender.

I don't think young people are interested in our industry because they see it as an old boys club unwilling to change. It seems that many manufactures and their execs ignore the reality of the connected world we live in. While it's obviously important to maintain security of these connected security devices in high security applications. There's a huge market that wants it, that isn't getting it from us. They're going elsewhere because we're ignoring what they're asking for. When an industry ignores the market, the people looking at that industry as a career ignore the industry and move on.

Last year, I had multiple offers of 100K+ (turning 28 this month). Those jobs are out there, but they're few and far between. There's little competition for some of these jobs, yet little opportunity all at the same time. Few companies are choosing to move forward and develop innovative products that the market wants and hire young people wanting to push that change forward. Those companies that are progressing will attract the talent, they're small and insignificant now, but they will grow.

To quote one of my favorite book titles, "If You`re Riding a Horse and It Dies, Get Off".

"Take a look at Digital Monitoring Products, many in leadership at that company are early 30's."

Like who? A quick Google search shows a young VP, though he is the owner's son, correct?

"Last year, I had multiple offers of 100K+ (turning 28 this month). Those jobs are out there, but they're few and far between."

But 100K+ is not huge money these days. Even 10 years ago, 100K+ was not that hard.