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Assistant Editor, IFSEC Insider & SHP

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Rhianna Sexton is IFSEC Insider's Assistant Editor. Rhianna manages and uploads content, carries out interviews with leading figures in the fire and security sector, and reports on the latest news and events from the industry. Rhianna is also Assistant Editor of IFSEC Insider's sister title, SHP.
December 8, 2023

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‘There is a real opportunity here for security companies to show leadership’: In conversation with Simon Giles, CEO at City Group Security

IFSEC Insider recently spoke to Simon Giles, CEO of City Group Security, on his outlook for 2024, upcoming challenges for the sector, and his career in the industry so far.

With a beginning in chartered accounting and move into security, Simon also explains why now is the time for the security companies to take the lead, and why people are the most important asset in a company for this. 

IFSEC Insider (II): Hi Simon, could you tell us how you became CEO of City Group Security?

Simon Giles, CEO of City Group Security

Simon Giles (SG): I am strong believer that in business and life in general you need hard work combined with a little bit of luck – both of which lead to my coming into the security industry.

My background is as a chartered accountant, with a focus on retail and especially franchised retail. This was an excellent footing for the security industry as it meant that I had worked for companies with large numbers of hourly paid frontline staff working shifts and seen what good can look like in terms of how you energise, motivate and help get the best out of people whilst delivering great customer service.

I started in security when I head hunted to join Axis Security back in 2014 as CFO. Soon after joining Axis though four of us had the opportunity complete a management buy-out of the business, which completed in 2015.

Over the next six years we grew the Axis business, more than doubling the revenues and trebling the profits, eventually selling it to Bidvest Noonan in 2021. I stayed on for a year to help with the integration of the Axis business in Bidvest Noonan and left in 2022. Soon after leaving I was approached by the two main shareholders of City Group Security who asked me to take on the business as CEO – unfortunately I was contractually unable to join them until February 2023, but thankfully they were happy to wait!

II: City Group Security had a few separate businesses; what was the most important factor when integrating them into one?

RiskPeopleManagement-JacekDudzinksi-AlamyStock-22SG: When I joined City Group Security, the business was comprised of four companies. Whilst the back offices had been combined, they were all trading on their own names. In my mind we were really ‘hiding our light under a bushel’ as individually the businesses downplayed the size we are and the strength we have, as together we generate over £30m a year in revenues but no-one had really heard of us.

Whilst legally and financially its not difficult to bring four businesses into one our industry and business is all about ‘people’ – they are our customers, our teams and our strongest assets, so for me ensuring that everyone felt part of the journey and understood it was vital. When I say ‘everyone’ I mean all our stakeholders, so we spent time sitting down with our team members as well as our customers to explain what we were doing and why.

I’m delighted to say the change to ‘City Group Security’ went live from the start of July and every single customer and team member has come on the transition journey with us.

II: Why is diversity and inclusion important to the security sector in particular?

SG: The security industry in my opinion has lagged behind other industries in recognising the huge benefits that being a diverse business can bring. I think this is more to do with the fact that too many security companies, especially in the top 30, have had little female representation at a Board level, or perhaps at best just someone there in the ‘HR’ seat and little ethnical diversity and have sadly just replicated in their own image.

The security industry is principally there to safeguard ‘people’ and therefore needs to be an integral part of local communities and their culture and values across the country. Without having a fully diverse company from top to bottom I think its impossible to get that engagement.

I am so proud of the fact that at City Group Security our Exec team of 5 has a female majority and management team of 25 also replicates this being comprised of 14 women and 11 men. Each one of those people is there because of the skills that they have and that they are best person for the role. This does mean that we do look at things differently and are therefore ‘doing different’ in the industry.

II: What trends will you be looking out for in 2024 in the security sector?

CyberSecurity-Hacker-PhysicalCyber-23SG: Clearly one of the biggest changes in security for many years will be coming over the next few years with the introduction of the Terrorism, protection of premises, Bill – also known as Martyn’s Law.

I had the honour of recently sitting next to Figen Murray at a charity dinner. She is a very humbling and inspiring person and the ripple of change she has helped start will continue for many years, as whilst unfortunately and sadly no one law is going to be able to stop terrorism what this will hopefully do is to make everyone think more about safety and how we can all work together to prevent attacks and also deal with any incidents to try and save as many lives as possible.

There is a real opportunity here for security companies to show leadership and help customers consider their sites and address ‘risk’ now through training their own staff and building the links with industry experts who can lean in and help advise on more higher risk sites.

I also think that we are starting to see cyber and physical security converging and that this will only continue at a faster pace over 2024 and the years to come as both are in effect all about ‘risk management’. As the security industry changed many years ago and became more professional and established, ‘cyber’ will develop in a similar way and no-longer just be seen as part of the ‘IT department’.

Focussing back on diversity & inclusion for a moment what is encouraging is the recent news that the Prince’s (King’s) trust is running a campaign offering free training to bring more females into being licensed which a significant step in the right direction and hopefully allows more females to join the industry, feeling supported from day one by an organisation that is all about creating change.

II: Do you expect to see any particular challenges next year?

SG: Whilst I am a firm believer in continually looking to try to improve the conditions for our team members and we are a Living Wage Foundation company, the recent significant increases in living wage to £11.44 puts more pressure on many companies who are already struggling themselves to see how they can cut security costs. It does concern me that these price pressures mean that less scrupulous security providers have more of an opportunity and people turn a blind eye as to whether officers are who they say they are, vetted correctly and paid what they should be rather than cash in hand.

I therefore really support the Security Industry Authority (the ‘SIA’) in their work to try and root out these companies which give the industry a bad name and keep wages low through their actions for all.

We need to do more about educating customers and buyers of security, especially for temporary and events work, to challenge their providers to make sure that they are getting a quality service from professional officers.

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