ADT CEO: My Daughters Better At Installs Than Most 20 Year Techs

Author: John Honovich, Published on Feb 27, 2017

Times have changed.

At the Barnes Buchanan conference, ADT's CEO Tim Whall made an interesting and, surely to some, controversial observation. Here he is explaining it:


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Vote / ****

Comments (50)

I agree with his premise, but not his ham-handed presentation where he manages to insult both his daughters as well as hundreds (thousands?) of professional ADT technicians.

Do ADT technician hiring and training emphasize personality and artisanship -- or just to minimize time on site?

If Mr. Whall is advocating change, I agree. However, the clip presented (which may be out of context) is an awful way to illustrate it.

...where he manages to insult both his daughters as well as hundreds (thousands?) of professional ADT technicians.

Not to mention several billion females...

Did he insult women? He didn't say "you install like a girl." Maybe his Daughter isn't technically inclined? Maybe you're the one adding negative connotations to the gender non-sense?

Did he insult women?

Yeah, I think so. He said:

"I would argue that any of my three adult daughters is (pretty?) qualified to do an install tommorow. And in most cases would do a better job than the techs I've had for twenty years."

Maybe because they have more technical expertise?

No, because women "simply have a far greater emotional intelligence than men..."

"You used to have to choose [a old school installer] because it was a skill, but now" technical skill is not as important as social skill, which is why his daughters can out perform his techs today.

I guess you can't even sneeze these days without insulting someone... so sensitive!

I guess you can't even sneeze these days without insulting someone...

Correct :)

I don't care if people get their feelings hurt. I also don't care what people think.

I am Darth Vader, I will force choke you out!

Women, on average, do have more emotional intelligence, though. This is a well-known fact: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_differences_in_cognition

It's a sad world where you can't even acknowledge reality without offending someone.

Women, on average, do have more emotional intelligence, though. This is a well-known fact...

Do you really think that this statement, in and of itself, is what might be considered offensive to women?

Not really.

Why not just 'acknowledge reality' and state that which the flip-side of the back-handed compliment implies?

And that which your link also claims, that males perform better on many visual-spatial tests than females.*

That is what might be considered offensive by women.

But why don't you come out and say that? Were you afraid of offending women?

*Which may be less important a skill today for intrusion installers as installs require less customization than before, as Whall argues.

I think that the interpretations of a comment are more insightful into the listener's/interpreter's mindset and values rather than the speaker's...

Agreed, thanks for the insightful interpretations :)

Why not just 'acknowledge reality' and state that which the flip-side of the back-handed compliment implies?

Because I prefer to focus on people's strengths rather than their weaknesses?

That is what might be considered offensive by women.

Why?

Because I prefer to focus on people's strengths rather than their weaknesses?

Is that how you 'acknowledge reality'?

Yeesh, why so combative? Yes, you can be aware and accepting of reality without being a dick to people. Is this news to you?

#7, #1, I respect both of you. Please just agree to disagree on this and we can move on.

Maybe he only has daughters and therefore used that example...just saying...

In other words, my eighteen-year-old daughter can articulate this concept better than he did.

Do women cook better than men? Can an apple be an orange? Whall is correct and incorrect depending on your perspective versus Whall's minds eye. If we lived to be 1000 years old why not say; "My 20 year old daughter installs a lot better than a 500 year tech". I would love the hear what that Babel fish in Whall's ear is not telling him. Another note is that the correct terminology is Technician, Specialist, Engineer with a preceding identifier such as Systems, Project and Applications. Show some humility Whall, I am quite sure your daughter is emotionally intelligent, we all are; however which method are you using to measure it?

One day she is an apple, the other day she is an orange but never both.

Now, back to those wireless residential installations with plug n play hardware. Is ADT actively training new "Emo Intellect-nicians" to do the future trade off in your residential sector and if they are how are you taking care of that 20 year veteran?

Before the total impact of wireless detectors, wireless sounding devices, wireless keypads and wireless communications there was a lot more technique and art in the installation of a residential system. (Wireless doesn't always mean no wires, just not wired to a central location)

Now you have the summer knocker programs where the same sales guy does installs and in the case of my daughters friend....he was dangerous with a screwdriver but had a great personality.

It took me 3+ weeks to wire a Frank Lloyd Wright home with a full perimeter, smoke detection and keypads. If the owner would have accepted the look of transmitters my helper could have finished it in 2 days without me provided current technology was available.

You worked in a Frank Lloyd Wright home? Wow.

I would have held your ladder and carried your tools for free, just to be able to tell the story later. 3+ weeks!

Storer Residence, Hollywood CA.

I had Eric Wright looking over my shoulder since it was "on site manufacturer block walls and wood.

2.5 stories with a floating central floor.

I chose not to install the Auldbrass Plantation and arranged for a National Guardian branch to do that work.

It is true that, thanks to wireless everything being far more reliable today, that you can lick-and-stick a small resi job and have it come out looking and working fine.

It is also true that installers are the alarm company employees who the subscriber probably sees the most, and is in a lot of cases the person who teaches the subscriber how to use the alarm. It follows, then, that 'soft skills' and being a people person probably leaves the subscriber in a better position to use the alarm correctly with fewer false alarms due to user error. It also follows that friendly and communicative installers probably leads to more upsells and service contract agreements.

But I feel that artistry is and always will be required for everything but the lowest end of the market. High security jobs, larger residential, and high end residential all require the installer to hide the wires and make the devices look good. Alarm companies charge real money for those jobs- they have to, if only to pay the techs.

We're seeing the same trend in technology. The lowest end keeps getting better, affording access to security to those who previously couldn't afford it. But those with more complicated needs still have to get high end product, and that includes technicians with the skills to install it properly.

Ari this is a very good point.

I started out in 1994 as an installers helper. We had two technicians on a basic residential installation. Now we charged more for the systems then but this also allowed me to learn the proper way to install an alarm system as we had more time in the job. Fortunately I have very good mechanical skills and electronic skills but still doesn't make me a great installer unless I am shown how and why the job needs to be done.

Shortcuts and technique are a huge part of an installation as well as getting a job done efficiently. At one point I owned my own business back in the heyday of selling monitoring contracts. Either installing my own systems or subcontracting systems we typically did two to three basic installations a day and these were mostly hardwired installations. Wireless was much more expensive to add to a system unlike now. We got to the point where we could knock out 3 hard wired jobs a day per person and not have an inch of wire showing other than in the attic. Hard work for sure but a job well done and high customer satisfaction. Unfortunately not good for the back by the way.

A good friend of mine works for one of the major security system manufacturers and sent out a survey to his vendors a while back and asked how long a typical wireless system takes and how many they could do in a week. On average they could do two to three a day. He couldn't believe how they responded. He told them I used to work with a tech that did three hardwired systems in a day, not wireless. Even with wireless installations you still need good skills to make the installation presentable and not just thrown together with double-sided tape and bubble gum. This just reiterates my point in that skilled technicians are lacking in our industry today. Actually not just our but many others.

I do mainly large commercial government work now but in talking to electrician, plumbers, carpenters and such they all say the same thing. In this day and age whether it be residential, commercial, industrial or government we don't take the time to train new technicians properly. One reason being is that there isn't enough money typically in a job to properly train someone and also the fact that there is such a technician shortage we don't have time to train a new technician properly. It goes like this: Oh you have computer skills and can operate a screwdriver. Here is a box of parts and a van, go figure it out. New technicians typically get thrown to the wolves.

Another issue is we don't due much quality assurance of our technicians work anymore because the project managers are having to spend too much time in the field to finish up the loose ends. I always liked someone coming and checking on my work. Many times, especially early on, I would learn something from mistakes I had made or was shown a better way to do it.

One more thing is that with the aging of skilled and qualified technicians they typically don't want to share their knowledge. Now some of that is attributed to not wanting a younger tech to push them out of a job and some of it they don't have the patience to deal with the younger generation.

I have always tried to part as much knowledge as possible. If someone can do it better than me so be it.

Sorry if I went a bit off topic from the original post. ADT if actually the cause of hurry up and get the install done. They made the incentive of selling an alarm system contract to appealing in the late nineties that our industry had a black eye for a long time due to trunk slammers.

I don't think he was insulting anybody. I think most are missing the point he is making by getting sucked into the PC rabbit hole of gender. ADT is facing the same problem many tech-sector companies face: the technical/physical install person is generally not suited to do customer service, and those suited for customer service are generally not particularly willing to climb ladders, drill holes and crawl through attics ( yes I stipulate there are exceptions). But now that the actual physical portion of the install is greatly diminished, that creates a problem - they are in effect sending the wrong person to the house.

So what he is really getting at is that the next generation of "installer" in the residential market will be more of a customer service/ PR rep than a technical/physical installation person. Whether that person is male or female is immaterial.

You can still screw up a "wireless" install because a power wire is still involved for the keypad. In a residential install I saw the work of the installer afterwords. There was the Honeywell keypad with the power wire going into the wall 1-2" below the keypad down to the power wall wart on the opposite side of the wall in the family room.

I know if it was my house they would be paying for repatching and painting plus relocating the power supply. I would also request the tech is equipped with a stud finder.

I wish these companies spent more time on training. Based on observation in the field, often times training seems non-existent. To that point, I believe many don't know what a good install from a bad one is. I know reducing the time allowed on site is part of the problem as well.

I agree, most of these installer's are just trying to find a way to make ends meet. We have people calling us for the SAME PROBLEM on multiple installs... That's why the market is going to Costco and the DIY people. The specialists are dead.

He is conflating salesmanship with technical acumen. His argument is that homeowners are more demanding of their techs nowadays and want to feel empowered during and after the installation. In his opinion they need someone more into the "app" culture of it. I get that but at the end of the day, you need to be a craftsman to do a proper security installation (unless you want the house to look like hell when you leave and you want to revisit the property every three months because one of you wireless sensors has lost connectivity. Anyone can slap up large wireless sensors like ADT and leave the house in 3 hrs. We beat those guys every time by presenting this to our clients. Security needs to be in the background. Not a huge insecure ridiculous looking device like simplisafe or a battery hogging toy cam like Arlo or three inch door and window sensors everywhere.

Wireless alarm system are not the cakewalk people think. Motion detectors can be misapplied generating false alarms. Door and window sensors can be improperly installed in null spots or interfering with window coverings, can be installed in a way that can be tampered with, destroyed or prevent window maintenance.

Wireless alarm systems, many times, do not include outdoor audible devices, relying on indoor sounder and reporting. Law enforcement response in many jurisdictions can be delayed for long periods, enabling intruders to work their crime indoors while neighbors hear nothing, see nothing. I think this is a big problem with the lick and stick alarms.

I recently met up with a friend of mine who just bought a new house and was having her cable & internet installed.

The tech set up the cable box, gateway/wireless router easily enough, but we couldn't get signal upstairs in her Master Bedroom.

The tech went on and on about how the gateway should be relocated upstairs. When I suggested a Powerline solution so she could get Internet upstairs, he just stared at me blankly. He'd literally never heard of it before. He then stammered and said powerline was a gimmick and he'd never seen it work right (I've installed Powerline in half a dozen homes and it's worked flawlessly every time.)

He then installed some no-name dropcam type wireless camera which looked like hell, but which I guess did the job. He attached to the wall with a sheet metal screw into the drywall with no anchor. When I challenged him on that he stared at me blankly again and commented "that's how we do it."

I asked him for the camera manual so I could access the camera web page to tune it and again he had no idea what I was talking about.

Granted, I know more about security cameras than the average cable company tech, but the guy was almost literally useless.

This is the era of "Bring Your Own Device". They just want to plug it in and have it work, and aren't interested in the alarm guy being there all day or multiple days carefully installing and explaining complex pro-grade intrusion systems.

The day of the average customer willing to pay for expert installs and/or be locked into multi-year contracts to subsidize said expert install is on its way out. Of course we decry this because we know it will be a lesser product but unfortunately we don't get to control what people want. This is what the ADT CEO is trying to say.

As with everything, the high end is the only way to insulate yourself from this seemingly endless process of commoditization in the tech sector. There will always be high-end houses and condo's in which the owner is not only willing to pay for expert installations and service, but expects and demands it. And of course the commercial intrusion client remains.

It is very difficult to find technicians who have the full gamut of the skills necessary to install, configure and service an IP-based integration project, particularly when that install includes mechanical gates, automation, and server-based recording, let alone being able to correctly install, terminate and test a Cat6 direct-connect cable.

It is very difficult to find technicians who have the full gamut of the skills necessary

Just pay more money? :) I suspect that's part of the challenge, limits on what customers are willing to pay vs how much it costs to get those skills, yes/no?

If only it were that easy. Then just charge more?

Some installations and customers are so easy that almost anyone can satisfy the installation and the customer. Remember those fondly!

Some installations are so easy BUT the customer is so difficult it doesn't matter, they will never be happy. Remember those before you make the sale ;)

....and some are bad no matter what.

Just pay more money? :)

Or less, at least by Whall's account, owing to the greater skill of the historically underpaid gender.

i do not think it is a matter of money, although I agree that most technicians are underpaid, particularly the good ones.

It is more that we have made the techs become specialized when we need generalists with more than an inch depth of experience.

It takes faith for a company to invest in a technician, or maybe a contract, but that is what is going to take to get a holistic mechanic/IT administrator/cable dog/electrician on the team.

Integration is just that - the melding of different technologies, and we can't afford to have a huge team of installers and service staff, each with the specialized skill set to handle just one aspect of the system. On the other hand, it doesn't look like we want to or can invest in tech education, either.

I don't know the answer. I just know what I need and can't find.

I'm happy to upset some by stating that inexperienced "engineers" are massively overpaid whilst seasoned engineer's are underpaid. In the UK there is simply not the breadth of salary that truly reflects the chasm of experience. Lets start by dispelling the inflated myth of calling a new technician an engineer - they are light years from being one. The skill set from knowing how to program a myriad of panels without tech help and google, based on intuition, confidence and experience is being degraded to a level where a school leaver can do it with no prior experience. But basics are being lost - detectors installed in wrong places not taking into account light, heat and motion variables - understanding how the homeowner will actually use the panel and so many other nuances.

I saw this years ago whilst training ADT engineers on how to set up an adaptive DT. They looked at me as if I was from Mars and said they just take out of the box and screw the wall (using one screw in the centre). There was no perception of adjusting the microwave range, pulse count, mounting away from windows or adjusting for mounting height. This was in 2007 - and it's only gone down hill since with ADT leading the way. Any ADT "engineer" responding to a FA would turn up - swap out the DT and charge the client. A real engineer would ask if there was a correlation with any outside event (lightning, power failure, building works etc), check for induced AC or other common causes and place on soak test.

There really are very few engineers who can grasp the full range of security technologies whilst also applying years of experience into understanding peripheral integrations, constraints, influences and environmental issues. These guys are gold dust and have largely been un-recognised - with the incoming techs being massively over-hyped and over-rated by recruitment agencies.

NOTICE: This comment has been moved to its own discussion: Inexperienced "Engineers" Are Massively Overpaid Whilst Seasoned Engineer's Are Underpaid.

I whole hardheartedly agree with what you've said, granted judging by your post I think we may be on opposite sides of the world.

I started as a tech around 2009, there were still enough "old guys" to teach me some of the "old ways" but still a lot I probably didn't learn. I guess I was lucky in the sense I prefer to understand why I am doing things a certain way, rather than just doing what I am told.

What you've said about people not understanding how motion detectors work, or smoke detectors work, is why I was against wireless systems for so long. I could see with the management of the company I worked for it was promoted less skill, quicker installs. No kidding one of the telecom contractors they hired to do security installs for us, installed the motion detector right behind and above the fridge. Couldn't figure out why it kept falsing all the time. Or why the "pet friendly" motion installed in the living room, looking right at the couches, kept going off during the day.

It's like they all thought it just worked by magic.

Not to defend the ADT CEO, without having seen the video myself, I believe he would just mean that wireless installs are easy, and with a little bit of background knowledge about how sensors work, and best placement guides his young daughter could do installs, no problem.

It's just a big slap in the face to his large group of tech employees, really should have been a comment to come out of the mouth of a manufacturer, not from the CEO of the largest residential alarm company in north america.

There is a great precedent for this and in the UK its famously called the Ratner Effect.

The man who destroyed his multimillion dollar company in 10 seconds

A clear case of the CEO not engaging brain before opening mouth. You could forgive him - but why? He is paid $m's to get these basics right? If an employee spouted off to a customer like this - he'd be fired. There is no excuse for the comment and his ignorant, arrogant refusal to accept the insult to his team is not forgivable at any level - let alone CEO level.

It's good we share the anecdotal experience that forged a generation of security engineers that has seen us move to more technological solutions whilst still applying a bedrock of knowledge. The sad thing today is that the bedrock has been eroded and Whall's comments do indeed have substance - even if he and ADT may well succumb to the Ratner Effect as a result of his thoughtless articulation of the trends.

Funny to quickly glance through the comments of this polarizing header. So old-school. As female owner of a tech company with a lot of female engineers in R&D and Operations, I must say I didn't even waste my time looking at the video.

Maggy, thanks for the feedback. Can you elaborate a little more on your experience in the industry and recommendations here? I think it would help others.

John thanks for the question, but no time to answer with long experience. I have a business to run and want to focus my energy on that. Just some small advice: Don't sulk, do what you like, like what you do, be good at it and just do it. And then it doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman.

I agree with Maggy wholeheartedly. Do what yo love and be good at it.

And I really don't think there's as much difference between men and women as is being described in this thread. My own experience:

The worst police officer I ever partnered with was a woman.

The best police officer I ever partnered with was a woman.

The worst manager I ever had was a woman.

The best manager I ever had was a woman, and she wasn't even a manager -- she was a supervisor, and out-performed the managers I've worked for.

Most of the women I know have less emotional intelligence than the men I know, but the ones who have more far outshine the men.

I read the wiki article linked above about women's greater cognitive and emotional abilities, but I don't buy it based on my personal experience. And apply a little critical thinking -- check the reference material authors -- the overwhelming majority of authors are women (where the names would seem to indicate gender), so are the conclusions really objective and unbiased?

I don't think that women are less capable than men, emotionally or otherwise. Nor do I think they're more capable.

I just think there is more equality among men's and women's traits than is being represented by some in this thread.

It's pretty typical these days to make men the enemy or the lesser sex. It's funny how things have changed. If you insulted women the would be in big trouble. Since men are now looked down on he knew he could get away with this. He is not a leader - just running out of ideas.

Mr. Whall's comments dovetail perfectly with the ADT notion that home security installations are now nothing more than 'Lick 'em and Stick 'em'. If you can't do it with double-sided sticky tape the job simply can't be done! What he doesn't say is that quality employees cost money. If you want a technically competent employee that also has a personality that makes the customer 'feel' good about the installation - well then you're going to have to pay more to find them and to keep them. Personally, If I hire a professional to work in my home my FIRST expectation is that he/she has the knowledge and experience to complete the job to my satisfaction. As long as they are not outwardly rude, I could give a damn about their personality! I also feel Mr. Whall could be called on the carpet for the sexist nature of his comments. Women are much better at emotional skills, where as the traditional installer is just a bunch of guys in trucks. What?

Politicization has penetrated social media, the news, every aspect of life. Now this cancer has entered business. This thread is a perfect illustration of how politicization spurs people to find their bottom.

I don't follow your meaning. Can you elaborate?

The thread has devolved into name-calling and in some cases irrelevant political correctness discussion which is often the case found in the "comments" section in any clickbait article or political "meme" on social media. The arguments found in such threads are for the most part mindless and I would hate to see a great technical and business forum like IPVM devolve into something like that.

#10, I agree about the political arguments issue. I do not think it is productive to go there.

The point of the original post was that it provided an interesting glimpse into the thought process of one of the industry's largest player's CEO as it relates to hiring and staffing employees.

We posted this video to Facebook, embedded below:

We noticed that alarm techs are quite active on Facebook. Our share there is getting a lot of engagements.

Did you take this video/is there more of it?

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