Correctional News Feature Story: First Families: Building Business Since 1982
As seen in Correctional News: March/April 2015 Issue
by: Ahavah Revis
It is the complementary skillsets of father and son that have made Accurate Controls the security equipment contractor it is today. Since its inception in 1982, and its first justice contract was landed in 1989, Tom and TJ Rogers have used their respective engineering and people skills to steadily grow the business.
“The beautiful part about our relationship is that we have two different skillsets,” said Tom Rogers, 72, CEO. “We don’t interfere with each other. I am an entrepreneur. He is very good with people and I am very good with engineering.”
Tom is not shy to add that he could not do what his son TJ, 48, president, does, that is, concentrate on one business. Currently, Tom is an owner of two other businesses, Gallagher’s restaurant, which he co-owns with his wife in downtown Ripon, and Advanced Paper Enterprises, a sheeting supplier operating in a 60,000-square-foot factory.
“Between the two of us — my business prowess and his ability to run a business, Accurate Controls has been very successful,” said Tom. Trained as an industrial electrician in the 1960s, he built a successful client roster of 27 industrial plants. In the late 1970s, he decided it was time for a change and went out on his own to start a business. It was then that he picked a town that had a large industrial base but did not have a controls electrician — namely Ripon, Wisc., where Accurate Controls is still headquartered today.
Where as Tom had done some work in the penal institution market in the 1980s it was only lighting controls, but as the 1990s dawned, that all changed.
It was TJ, who upon graduation from college, had a friend reach out to him from the State of Wisconsin in 1989, with what would be the company’s first security electronics corrections job, on the juvenile side, through the State Dept. of Health and Human Services.
“Back in those days, almost every system was proprietary by nature and the State of Wisconsin wanted to make a change from not having the ability to service the equipment to having the ability to service the equipment and as a result that is how we got involved in the corrections market,” explained TJ. “They were having real problems with a proprietary system, and they called us and said can you do this with a non-proprietary approach?”
That is how the company came to have the philosophy, and competitive edge, of offering non-proprietary equipment and software. And from that time, as TJ became known as the face of Accurate Controls, its corrections market share steadily grew and grew.
At present, Accurate Controls has security systems in place at more than 400 correctional facilities across the United States, including Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Indiana, North Carolina, Mississippi, Colorado, Hawaii, Texas and Arizona. Closer to home, the security electronics contractor (SEC) is proud to have completed the design and installation of a $1.2 million security system in Wisconsin’s first high-rise correctional facility, the Milwaukee Secure Detention Center. The company has also installed its integrated security systems at the U.S. Military’s Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba as well as in Canadian justice facilities.
All of Accurate Controls’ systems are non-proprietary. Its non-proprietary security automation systems for courts, jails and prisons, are designed with components that are simple and less expensive to maintain or replace, explained TJ.
“With non-proprietary systems, you don’t control by components, you control by expertise,” said Tom.
“We do not over complicate our equipment or the process,” said TJ. “Rather, we implement equipment that is easy to understand and service independently. We use recent, proven technology, not experimental products.”
Over time, not only the State of Wisconsin but also much of the corrections industry, as a whole, has adopted a non-proprietary hardware approach.
“Technology is moving really quickly and there are always changes in our market,” said TJ. “But the tasks of the systems are generally the same, we are controlling doors, monitoring doors, cameras, intercoms, access. The concept of control has stayed relatively stable, how you accomplish those things is changing daily.”
The company designs and installs systems for occupied facilities, new construction, and/or additions, and is continually looking for new ways to provide a more cost-effective and reliable approach.
In 1993, Accurate Controls started developing touch screen applications or video graphic user interfaces, with the philosophy of taking a standard package and creating open architecture language so that even the software part can be considered non-proprietary.
“We also bring people who once worked in the field into the office and that has really given us an advantage,” said TJ. “We have people who understand what it is like in the field but also, how these systems really work. So as they move through different roles in the company they really can bring a level of expertise that I think a lot of integrators don’t have.
“Our biggest challenge, and I think it is the industry’s biggest challenge, is trying to transition from construction to occupancy. Where security electronics lies within the construction process, is where construction ends and occupancy occurs. And that timeframe is arguably one of the more stressful timeframes in the construction process. Managing that is probably the most challenging part of the industry for anybody in our industry.”
In this day and age, where some detention equipment contractors are looking to become SECs and visa versa, Accurate Controls is a stalwart security electronics contractor and continues to do what it always has done as it steadily grew over the decades from a regional integrator to a national integrator.
The company is one of the largest privately-held employers in Ripon. Interestingly, Tom’s first customer was UniMac (at the time, Speed Queen), which has a strong presence in corrections, and is sited in the same town.
It is not just blood relations that makes Accurate Controls the “big family,” it is, in the words of TJ. Although one other relative, cousin Steve Mancl, head of the software development department, started working at Accurate Controls when he was 16. He is now 35 and still an integral part of the company.
“Our key individuals and people grew up in this industry and have a strong understanding of the systems used in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s,” said TJ as he rattled off a bunch of names.
“It is more than just an employee-employer relationship. It is like a big family. Everybody cares for everybody here. That how we have gone about business,”said TJ.
People stay around a long time at this company. To which, TJ replied, “A long time is an understatement.” As TJ went through the list of folks who started with the company when they were in college and are now senior leaders, he noted that every department is the same way.
Perhaps it is also because Ripon is not your typical small town.
“In Wisconsin, people are extremely well educated, progressive and hard working,” noted TJ. “People truly care about the quality of their trade, whatever that may be, and that is unique, you don’t see that in all places.”
When asked about his first choice for a new career, TJ said I’ve never thought about that. And he thinks that may be one of the reasons he’s been successful. It helps that Tom, who handles the finances and business plan, but stepped back in 2006 from the day-to-day, is not looking to slow down anytime soon. TJ explained he’s tried to retire four times and is not good at retiring.
TJ started work with his father when he was 10 or 11 years old. He grew up around business since the early 1970s.
“The hobby that my father and I have always done, together, is work,” said TJ. “That is what we do. It is what we have always done. Even outside of business, it always migrates to business.”
That seems to have paid off. “After 25 years in business together, we are closer than we have ever been,” Tom reflected. “I could not go out and be the face of the company, that is not what I do. TJ has done a great job. Though he has no formal training in electronics [his degree is in business and communications], he knows the systems inside and out.”
Then there is the question of the third generation, as TJ has a 14-year-old son, Luke. “My dad and I have talked about it, but that is yet to be determined,” said TJ. “We are going to get him a drivers’ license first.”