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‘Statesman of the Industry’ Interview: Sir William Gallagher

NZ Security Magazine, June-July 2018

Chairman and Chief Executive of the Gallagher Group, Sir William Gallagher.Chairman and Chief Executive of the Gallagher Group, Sir William Gallagher.

As Hamilton-based Gallagher celebrates its 80th anniversary, Chairman and Chief Executive Sir William Gallagher talks with editor Nicholas Dynon about the past, present and future of the iconic New Zealand company.


NZSM: As this year is Gallagher’s 80th, can you provide some insight into how the company got into security?

SW: My father started it... I’m not quite old enough to have started it 80 years ago! Father started life as a farmer and was more of a tinkerer-developer than he was a farmer. Developing things got his wheels turned.

He and his brother had an Essex car very early because they were mechanics, and ‘old Joe’ the horse used to rub his behind on this car and bend the fenders. They were of course playing with motorbikes and magnetos, and they’d wind one up like a model airplane with a rubber band so when you rocked the car it would unwind and produce a high voltage. 

They’d wait for old Joe to set this thing off. They’d never see him set it off, but they came out one morning and it had unwound. Well, they couldn’t get old Joe to come around to that side of the house near the car again, so that had done the job! That was the start of electric fencing, 

The number-one industry for electric fencing is agriculture. With electric fences you could afford to have a hundred subdivisions for dairy, beef, sheep and managed grass, whereas if you’re going to do it with a physical fence you can’t afford a hundred subdivisions. So, the first application and still the biggest one is managing grass.

The number-two industry for electric fences is wildlife. We can stop elephants and rhinos, anything with a nervous system from rats to elephants, and that makes a whole business from parks to zoos. We have got most of the zoos around the world.

The third one is keeping people in and out. It’s uncomfortable to touch but it’s perfectly safe – we have a perfect safety record in security with our Monitored Pulse Fence.

From a security point of view, it’s super. It’s an active deterrent, and that’s unique. Nearly every other system tries to detect the person; fences don’t. They’ve got to start cutting it or throwing something over it because it basically puts a pulse out, it travels up and down the fence, and the voltage is measured at the end. Rain, weather events, storms and animals don’t set it off, somebody’s got to actually attack it. 

So, the nuisance alarms are at least an order of magnitude less than any other detection system. 

And the petty criminal doesn’t set it off either. He normally gets such a belt that he takes big steps in the other direction and no crime is committed – and you don’t need an alarm for that! You could have other sensors, but if no crime’s been committed why bother?

Initially, we got about 35 monitored pulse fences in Australia before we got any in New Zealand prisons. We’ve got over 100 prisons in the USA. Today there are 19 prisons in New Zealand, and we have 14 of the 19. Here, it’s commercial applications that are quite common.

We’re in a US federal prison in south Texas on the Mexico border and it was only partly done with monitored pulse fence and the rest was razor wire. And the warden told us “these guys [drug gang inmates] are crazy – they’ll take on the razor wire – and you get bits of fingers and body parts below the razor wire – but they won’t touch the electric fence!”

With a monitored pulse fence there is no loss of life whatsoever.

Our best market for security monitored pulse fences is the UK. We’re not in UK prisons, but we’re in gas terminals, we’re in all the North Sea gas comes ashore, we’re in oil refineries, most of the power stations – and certainly the atomic power stations. 


NZSM: Where does security fit within the Gallagher portfolio?

SW: We have three businesses. One is animal management and that includes electric fences, live animal weighing and electronic identification. 

Electronic identification for animals is relevant because the piece you put in the cow’s ear is similar to the one that opens doors. Our [animal identification and security] R&D is combined, and we have about 130 people on this site in R&D, 60 percent of which is in the security business. The product is different but the technology underneath is the same. 

The second one is security.

The third one is fuel systems. We’ve got about 85 percent of the New Zealand market. The meter unit is a pump in reverse. You push fuel through it and that makes it rotate, and in late 70s early 80s a digital counter was placed on the meter unit that generated a digital stream, and that means you have a measure of the fuel coming out of the service station. 

But the main thing is you could go to a window and you could pay your 10 quid for your fuel and a pump would deliver it and then stop. This basically enabled after hours service. The communication between the pump and the service station was, in fact, the first protocol in access control, believe it or not! That’s where the connection came from.


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NZSM: What proportion of Gallahger’s business is export as opposed to domestic?

SW: We’re 80 percent outside New Zealand as a group. In security, it would be higher than that. The security business is more like 90 percent export and 10 percent New Zealand, although New Zealand is still very important for us. Agriculture is nearly double security, but the bottom-line result is that security has been a much bigger investment in R&D and that’s coming through as a bottom line result very satisfactorily.


NZSM: Tell us about what you’re doing with Waikato University. I understand Gallagher sponsors a scholarship in the Master of Cyber Security programme.

SW: The technology side is moving towards integration – perimeter integrated with access, and integrated with intruder alarm. Those are the three main pieces we have, and then we integrate with best of breed in video management, HR databases, biometrics, offline (wifi) doors – which are basically low-cost doors – and then you can basically bring your whole workstation onto iPhone or Android. 

Instead of sitting in front of a screen, guards can be walking around a site and bring up everything that’s going on – all the alarms and events. Early access control was all standalone systems, but now you’re very much on the web, you’re very much in the air, so cyber security is extremely important.

The level of cyber security really has to be the highest. The great thing is that we have this scholarship and I think the last three winners are still on our payroll. We get the pick of the brightest students!

We’re very happy with the university’s cyber security programme. Those guys have a license to have a go – benevolently – so if they find anything they tell us first… don’t tell the bad guys. 

One of the features of our product is that it’s mostly automatic testing, which makes writing software expensive because you write the routine you’ve got to achieve and then you write all the test routines. The boys and girls are writing code all day and then they compile it and run it all night and you get a log in the morning. 

So today you’re fixing yesterday’s mistakes instead of the normal development pattern where you’ve got three months of coding and then you’re trying to fix something that was written three months ago, whereas if you did it yesterday it’s much easier. 

There’s a limit to how complex you can have software if you’re manual testing. We still go through full regression testing, but it’s much quicker than it used to be, and the good news is that there’s not too much to find.


NZSM: Is that a point of difference for Gallagher going forward?

SW: I think it is, because a lot of our followers are in a much more immature state and getting away with ‘build it and hope’, whereas automatic testing costs more and makes our software expensive initially, but it’s much cheaper in the long run because we can get a complicated product that’s reliable. 


NZSM: There’s a lot of talk these days about security by design, what’s your view on it?

SW: One of the saying’s we’ve picked up is “security’s got to be baked in, and not sprinkled on.” You’ve got to build it in the core.


NZSM: You mentioned biometrics earlier – how far down that track are you?

SW: We’re full service, but we’re not the frontline. We’ve got a very good team with Morpho, or IDEMIA as they’re now known, and we have close integration – it really looks like our system but they’re doing the identity engine. 

One of the things we’re big on is close integration, and in some places where there might be 15 different systems three or four of them might be ours. From the integrators’ point of view it looks like 15 but from the customer’s point of view the 15 look like one.


NZSM: There’s an identified skills shortage among qualified cyber security professionals in NZ. What’s your take on that?

SW: Good embedded developers are still very scarce, and I’ve certainly made enough noise about it with the universities. The other thing that’s becoming very important is encryption – cryptology – we’re seeing that particularly.


NZSM: You’re known as quite the travelling salesman. It sounds to me that that’s an aspect of your role that you’ve really enjoyed.

SW: Yes. It was six times around the world last year , and six this year too. The scarcest part about the business is still the marketing. Yes, you’ve got to have a good product, but that’s really only the football to play the game. Getting your product into the hands of the end-user is the biggest challenge and that’s where most of the screw-ups occur.

The marketing and presentation and the whole communication world is a pretty crowded place – how do you make yourself look different? And that’s why I give it attention. Some time ago, the companies where the head guy was driving it did miles better than those where it was done by the delegated functionary down the line.


NZSM: What’s the future direction for Gallagher?

SW: Integrated solutions and the high security end. High security access, high security intruder alarms, high security perimeter and then integrating with best of breed – up to 15-20 systems. 

Also, customer-directed development: if there’s something missing in our product and the customer wants it and he wants it bad enough to make a significant contribution to the development we’ll do it, and we’ll include it in our core product and it becomes a licensable feature. We’ve been doing that for about 10 years now.

And global growth, because one of the things I’ve learned from a New Zealand base is that you try to become the best in the world in your sector and then you take it to the world. That’s really what I did with agriculture and we’ve been number one in the world in agricultural electric fencing from quite a while.


NZSM: What do you attribute Gallagher’s success to over the past 80 years?

SW: Innovation, persistence – don’t give up too easy. But then the opposite of that is that you’ve got to know when to quit – I’ve been in a couple of industries that I didn’t quit out of quick enough. And build a team of course… and we’ve got a great team.


NZSM: You’re got a relatively non-hierarchical approach to leadership. Any words of wisdom for leaders in the industry and people coming through?

SW: Delegate. There’s a difference between delegation and abdication. Delegate and monitor, but you’ve got to train people to make decisions. Don’t make decisions for them. Somebody comes to you with a problem and it’s just so easy to blurt out an answer. You’ve got to try and get the answer you want out of them. 

Ask them have they thought of this and have they thought of that. And if they give you the right answer quite a few times then you can buzz off and leave them to it. And then you can monitor it. Don’t make the decisions for them, because then you’ve got to keep making decisions and you’ve got to be there to make decisions. Don’t become a one-man-band.

I have three sayings about making mistakes. One is: in our organisation don’t be afraid of making a mistake – he who doesn’t make a mistake doesn’t do anything. You don’t get fired for making a mistake, you get fired for not achieving. 

Number two: don’t make the same mistake twice because then you’re a slow learner with a relatively short future. 

And finally, life is too short to make mistakes – go out with your eyes and ears open and watch the other guys make their mistakes and learn from them. You don’t have to make your own mistakes.


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