Honesty Meets Security

Sicada Fire and Safety

Now the Managing Director of Sicada Fire and Safety, Mr Sellar explains that at that time in Australia, smoke detectors were included in fixed systems in commercial buildings, but were not widely available for residential use. His inspiration led to the creation of Australia’s leading fire and safety services company.

With a small stroke of genius, Mr Sellar approached insurance companies with an offer that would help them save money on lost life and property. “I believed that insurance companies had an interest in protecting their clients’ property,” he explains. “It was something that was reasonably inexpensive for them to do; they could just give them away to new policyholders. Then the clients would benefit from something that had practical application.”

At first it was a challenge for him to get others to believe in his idea, but after a year of cold calling, pounding the pavement from broker to broker, it all paid off. The first insurance company that accepted Mr Sellar’s offer purchased 200 smoke detectors in 1993, giving him even further inspiration.

He was also looking into the implications of having the smoke detectors manufactured in Australia, and even though he had no capital at the time, it didn’t stop him from looking toward the future. “I spent quite a lot of time doing research, trying to understand what exactly you could use the device for.”

Mr Sellar discovered that once a smoke detector activates, it can also activate other processes. A smoke alarm can turn on a light, or even initiate a voice message, for instance. One popular option is used for combating smoking in lavatories. A smoke detector can detect cigarette smoke and then with the use of a small speaker attachment, “it could tell them to extinguish the cigarette and inform them that they are in a no smoking area. I spent a lot of time looking at how to get those things to work, and trying to find other angles that would make the project feasible.”

At the time of his business’ startup, Mr Sellar had only recently immigrated to Australia and didn’t have any contacts, necessitating that he build the company from the ground up. “I didn’t have a network of friends or colleagues or anybody, so I didn’t have any help with any of this,” he recalls. “It was very hard to keep going, but my beautiful wife supported me through the period and she’s still with me now.”

Sicada Fire and Safety now has several locations around Australia, most of which are located around the nation’s coal mining areas, with its head office in Brisbane. Today, the company deals mostly in commercial fire protection, and can also service marine customers. According to Mr Sellar, “for people who have ships, from fishing vessels right up to the thousand ton container freight or oil or whatever, we offer marine services all over the eastern seaboard.”

In Emerald, the company also has a branch right in the middle of the Bowen Basin that focuses on the area’s mining industry; Sicada services fire and safety equipment for some very high profile mining companies in the region. These contracts include service on heavy mobile equipment as well as other portable fire equipment and permanent fire installations. This includes fire extinguishers, fire hydrants, sprinklers, lay flat fire hoses, and alarms, among other products.

Sicada Fire and Safety equipment has a distribution agreement to supply the whole of New South Wales, parts of Queensland and all of Western Australia. The company also provides consulting services to businesses around Australia on an ad hoc basis. “We can go out and speak to those people about their fire protection equipment, about what we do and whether their equipment is being maintained properly,” Mr Sellar explains. “We can also give advice on how they can reduce the cost of their fire protection equipment needs and improve the efficiency.”

The business has about 60 staff including teams of fire suppression technicians, alarm technicians and portable fire equipment technicians. In Brisbane the company has an administrative staff of nine, who make up the backbone of the company.

As well as providing maintenance, the company sells a range of high-end fire equipment from local suppliers with whom Sicada keeps very strong ties. “All of my suppliers have worked with me for a number of years. I think that it’s important to support your suppliers as much as they support you. That’s been reflected in the relationship that I’ve had with them. On occasion when business is difficult or something has changed they are able to provide a greater level of understanding and equally you provide to them a faithful and long standing client who is less likely to default on payments,” says Mr Sellar. “With a number of our suppliers as well, we are either their number one or number two biggest client in the country.”

Fire suppression equipment maintenance is mandated by law in Queensland, therefore it needs to be maintained to a specific standard. The company is responsible for around 100,000 fire extinguishers alone, and each one has to be inspected at least once every six months. The work can be unceasing, as in between those inspections there may be calls to have other equipment repaired or replaced.

What sets Sicada Fire and Safety apart from the competition is that it strives to maintain a very close relationship with all of its clients. In fact, Mr Sellar tells us that he has had a lot of the same customers for a very long time, some even since the company started in 1994. “I treat my customers as if they were a business partnership, and that’s a pretty common expression, most business probably tell you that; but I’ve been brought up very polite and courteous. Having a close relationship with my customers is one point of difference, but to be able to have that standard of behaviour reflected by your staff can be very hard. I’ve tried very hard to discipline my staff to agree that the customer is always right.”

Many other fire safety companies will pay bonuses or commission to make sure that staff will sell more. Sicada Fire doesn’t take this approach and never will, says Mr Sellar. “I think that if you’re going to pay your staff on commission in a state that is regulated by law, you are then encouraging people to sell more equipment than what is necessary. You’re also encouraging an environment where it’s cheaper to replace an item rather than to repair it. The amount of equipment that some businesses have is ludicrous and it’s because the technician is actually a salesman.”

Sicada, clearly, is a little bit different – an honest company that diligently promotes proper health and safety while discouraging waste and overspending. It’s about what the client needs rather than what will make the most money for seller. It’s an all too unpopular business model, but one that has served Sicada Fire and Safety well over its history.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

September 26, 2018, 10:01 AM AEST