Ben Cornett, President of Honeywell Security, has worked in the security industry for decades. His achievements include receiving the 2006 Stanley C. Lott Award from the Central Station Alarm Association one of the most prestigious awards in the U.S. security industry. A&S sat down with Cornett in Beijing to discuss his career and business philosophy.
Ben Cornett became president of Honeywell Security in November 2002. Earlier, he has served as President of Ademco Group, Executive Vice President of Sales for Ademco Group, and President of Ademco Sensor Co. (ASC). Before joining Ademco in 1995, Ben Cornett held the position of President and CEO of IntelliSense, and Executive Vice President of Blue Grass Electronics. His first entry into the manufacturing business was with Solfan Systems in 1980; the company later became C&K Systems. In December 2007, with acquisition of Hand Held Products, he also was put in charge of the newly formed Honeywell Imaging and Mobility business.
All About People
With ample experience in leading several successful companies, Cornett shared his philosophy on how to succeed in the business. "It is all about people. I believe that there is no one anywhere who can know everything. The most important thing is to surround yourself with very smart and intelligent people. I need people who are ambitious and passionate. To me, it all comes down to passion. We love people with lots of passion, and people who really enjoy what they are doing."
First, Cornett selects out the leader and asks leaders to do two very important things. "One is to run the business successfully, working closely with our partners and helping us grow in the process," said Cornett. "The second is asking them to become a mentor to determine their successor. It is just like hoping that your kids achieve more than you have. When everything is based around powerful individuals, businesses crumble when leaders leave. This is not a good way."
According to Cornett, a great leader is one who leaves the company with a successor that can achieve even more. Second, a leader should build up the team. And character is the most important criteria among all. People can be taught how to sell, how to market, but not character. "So I think these are the keys to our success in China," said Cornett. "And it's the same everywhere else in the world."
Security is a challenging niche industry. To remain competitive, companies need to understand their partners' needs. To Cornett, therefore, one of the most important things is that travelling all over the world all the time; to go every place as he possibly can.
"I am convinced that I should go where the business is," said Cornett. "I know a lot of business leaders sit in their offices in Shanghai, New York or Taipei. They talk on the telephone, sending e-mails to find out what is going on in the world. I do not think that works. I believe that going and seeing for yourself is the most efficient way to truly understand the market."
When Cornett comes to China, he tries his best to go to places where he has never been. "I get more chances to meet large local system integrators, authorities, sometimes the mayor and a lot of key people," said Cornett. "Furthermore, I also get a chance to meet all the employees and learn how the company is represented."
Cornett prefers to listen to partner requirements, instead of developing in-house products based on his own schedule. "We do our best to learn everything that we possibly can to offer them the right solution." He wants Honeywell Security to be a partner-driven one.
Helping partners grow is a very basic principle in the commercial world while noting that partners are not the same as customers. "Customers are people who sometimes buy our products," said Cornett; "sometimes, they buy from our competitors. In fact, they buy whichever product is convenient based on their needs and price at the time. Partners, on the other hand, are people who always do business with us. They know that our products might not have the lowest possible price. However, when comparing price, quality, delivery and support, they still find us to be the best value overall."
The other difference is, with customers, Honeywell designs products. "We simply put them on the shelf," said Cornett. "We put them on the catalogs and hope our customers to buy them, and providing our support afterwards." On partners, Cornett would stress the importance of listening to partners' needs. He pointed out that talking about the products that are available today is not a point. "We talk about what the problems are in the existing security industry, then work out a possible solution for our partners."
Cornett gave an example. In Beijing, business is different than in Shenzhen so two versions of the same product may be needed to satisfy local market conditions regarding appearance and the like.
Partners also have responsibilities. "It is important that our partners work closely with us to know about our sales organization, engineering personnel, marketing strategies and, even, general management." To him, true partnerships mean mutual benefits.
China and the Asia-Pacific
To Honeywell, China is not the largest market today in terms of pure dollars as the United States is clearly the largest market. However, the largest market in terms of percentage of growth is in China. "I believe that China is a land of opportunity," said Cornett. "China will be the largest part of our business, for both dollars and cents standpoints."
In China, he initially hired only sales and marketing people, while keeping R&D people from all over the world, such as in the U.S., Korea and India. Three years ago, however, Cornett set up an R&D center because China is "definitely a place for next-generation engineering." Moreover, a new quality assurance laboratory was established at the Pudong, Shanghai R&D center, occupying a floor space of 1,000 square meters to handle quality assurance functions from Asia Pacific and worldwide.
This proves that China is not just a manufacturing base; it is shifting to another level. A few years ago, he added, people did not want products with made-in-China labels. Today, however, big companies have been working on quality.
"The situation has changed," said Cornett. "China is no longer an emerging market. Providing the best total solution has become a big issue. People realize the cheapest is not the right way to go and they should compare price, quality, delivery and support for the best value overall."
Honeywell is also investing in a R&D base in Bangalore, India. Meanwhile, through its ADI subsidiary a leading multisecurity product distributor Honeywell enjoys large sales in the region. Another R&D base in Asia is in Korea as one of Honeywell's centers for video and home system engineering. Hong Kong is an area that Honeywell has invested in for years and in Macau, the company is finding great opportunities in casino applications.
As IP becomes mainstream, it has brought challenges to conventional CCTV system integrators. IT people own the network and bandwidth, but have little to next-to-no experience about cameras; on the flip side, security system integrators lack proficiency in network technology and applications. To IT, security is only a small part of the big picture, involving mostly transmission of video signals.
"To me, the important thing is traditional CCTV system integrators need to form very close partnerships with the suppliers," said Cornett. "They also need to work with the technicians who have computer and software knowledge and are able to understand the network."
Cornett also pointed out that it is equally important to use products that do not take up a great amount of network bandwidth. In the video world today, there are many different options regarding to how much bandwidth is consumed.
So that is one of the important parts of choosing the right partner who has the ability to offer the suitable option for you based on your applications. "The supplier should also have some educational services," he continued. "They should be able to provide proper training to your people."
Cornett's best advice, therefore, is "Do not try to become a system integrator or grow larger in scale until you have the right partner, the right people and the right training. Once you have those, then the world should be totally open, because these are what it is all about."
"People always ask me how I can be so passionate about my work. Even my wife has trouble understanding this," said Cornett. "The answer is simple: I love being able to help the younger generation grow and succeed. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to work with many young people over the course of my career. When I look back at their success and think that, in some small way, I may have played a part in helping them, it is highly gratifying." Cornett devotes himself to the industry, as the security industry has brought him to where he is today. He now wants to give back from his knowledge and experience to help the next generation. This is the most significant goal that motivates Cornett.