“We Sell Peace of Mind”
Telgian, with headquarters in Phoenix, offices in San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta and Delaware, and inspectors in thirty-five states, has been providing comprehensive physical plant fire protection, life safety and security to commercial, industrial, medical and educational facilities since 1985.
In his groundbreaking 1943 article ‘A Theory of Human Motivation,’ American psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs, including the essential physiological need for safety and security, which he theorized must be met before an individual, or by extension, a business, can move on to fulfilling higher level needs, including acceptance, respect and achievement.
Since 1985, Telgian has been assisting businesses reach all of those higher level needs by helping them achieve safety and security though its comprehensive services that address physical risks to employees, customers and facilities.
Telgian provides services relating to fire, life safety, building security as well as consulting, engineering design, risk management and business continuity. It does so in a way that is both practical and personal, realizing there is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach since its clients represent all business sectors: retail, hospitality, manufacturing, warehousing and industrial, including petrochemicals. Other clients range from government and public services to medical and educational facilities, including hospitals and university campuses. But while the facilities are all very different, the results for Telgian clients are the same: productive and profitable environments that keep them safe.
“Peace of mind is what we sell,” says company Chief Executive Officer Jim Tomes. “I’ve had business clients tell me, ‘I sleep well at night knowing you guys are out there. There’s peace of mind in knowing that my facility is safe and peace of mind knowing that I’ve done my job right in looking after my company’s assets.’”
Telgian was founded in 1985 as Tomes & Associates by Bill Tomes, who continues to sit on the board of directors of the company for which his son is now CEO. “My father was the fire marshal in the city of San Diego,” Tomes says, “and he had developed a reputation as being a real expert in fire codes, and he built up a national reputation through teaching and conducting seminars. So he decided to take early retirement and start his own business with his first client Home Depot, followed by Price Club, which was later acquired by Costco. Business quickly grew from there as he’d developed a reputation for taking a rational approach to risk – looking at what was possible and taking a positive, real world approach to it.”
However, at the time, the younger Tomes was not interested in joining his father’s company. “Not at all,” he says, recounting how he was going to be “Gordon Gekko (the fictional character in the 1987 film Wall Street, whose portrayal won Michael Douglas an Oscar) but Gekko with a conscience. I went to Brown University, and I was all set to go right from Brown to Wall Street,” something he probably would have done had it not been for his professor, Dean Hazeltine.
“He used to get on us for going to Wall Street to make a fast buck instead of going into the real economy and creating jobs, and that resonated with me. Then we had to do a McKinsey style analysis on a company as one of our semester-long projects, and he told us that if there was a small family business ‘you’d better damn well write on it because you’re bright fellows, and your family might get something out of it. And it beats me having to read yet another boring report about Ford or another big company which I’ve read ad nauseum,’” he says.
“So I wrote the paper in my senior year and developed a business plan for the company and realized it had some serious potential as my dad was doing about $1M in revenue, and I said, ‘Dad, I could forecast this business growing to $12M in the first five years.’ I had other job offers, but this one had the most upside to it, so (upon graduation) I joined my dad.”
Not long after, Russ Leavitt (the current Chairman of Telgian), who had started a small design company, approached Tomes about doing the company’s design work, “and in a matter of a few months, we decided to merge our companies. I literally pulled over on the side of the freeway one day, at a rest stop between San Diego and LA, and proposed a merger after a difficult meeting I’d had with a client about our design services, and in a matter of weeks, we put our two little companies together.”
Choosing the right name for the company took longer, years in fact. Some of the names that were used for a while, such as TVA Fire and Life Safety and Fire Materials Group were indicative of the company’s purpose but easily forgotten or confused with competitors.
“We wanted a new name, and from a marketing standpoint, we wanted it to be unique, and we wanted a new URL that would be one word dot com. So we went through an old English dictionary looking for words that would say something about who we are, and we came across ‘telgian.’ The literal translation is ‘to branch out and become leafy,’ and we realized that our whole history has been branching out to new markets in response to customers’ requests.”
At the beginning, the focus was on all aspects of fire protection engineering and consulting. Testing and inspection of fire alarms, sprinklers, pumps and extinguishers was added a few years later as well as an in-depth understanding of compliance with the codes set by the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA). That portion of the business has continued, with Leavitt sitting on the board of the NFPA and other engineers employed by Telgian active on over thirty committees where they are helping to promulgate the codes and standards.
“And like any code or standard, which is essentially a law, they are subject to interpretation,” Tomes says. “So when we’re meeting with a new client about what they need to do to mitigate their risk and be compliant, we understand the intent and what the code is trying to say and what the loss history or the things that have happened that are driving the issue in the code, and we can come up with more cost-effective or creative solutions. We understand what is driving that code, because we sat at the meeting when it was put into place.” That is just one of the things that sets Telgian apart.
Many companies do inspection and maintenance but they do not have an engineering side, while engineering companies do not provide inspections. In fact, according to Tomes, Telgian is the only company in the industry that has both. “We can do high-level risk management and evaluation and help the corporation develop its whole approach to risk. Historically, we were about fire protection, but we’ve added environmental health and safety, physical plant security, and we have business continuity and disaster recovery planning.
“Not only do we work with clients to develop risk profile and strategies, we also perform project services to make sure that if a client is doing a major plant expansion or ground up construction, we engineer the facility so that it’s done in a manner which keeps the building safe, fits the customer’s risk profile, keeps the occupants safe and meets compliance standards in a way which remains cost effective,” he explains.
“One thing I learned from my dad is a sense of urgency. If a customer has a need, we drop everything to meet requests. And his other lasting legacy is the idea of ‘real-world’ practical solutions to complex risk issues. We don’t ‘oversell’ or capitalize on clients fears, but we do want to keep them safe and compliant. So those two things are still the guiding lights to who we are as a firm.
“The other cornerstone that Russ and I brought to the company centers on the ideas of being a good employer and taking care of our people. We’ve created some three hundred jobs, and we’ve built a good company with a product that matters, because if we screw up and don’t do our job right, people get hurt.”
The company, however, has been ‘doing its job right’ which brings everything back to Maslow’s hierarchy, because as Telgian helps so many other companies realize their basic need for safety and security, it in turn, is getting its own needs met judging by the glowing reviews from satisfied clients.