26/06/2014 - 11:33

ERS raises the bar, then clears it

26/06/2014 - 11:33


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A series of (un)fortunate events led to the creation of this year’s Rising Stars winner, emergency response and security services provider Executive Risk Solutions.

ERS raises the bar, then clears it
BUSINESS MAKER: Scott and Fiona Houston’s ERS has undergone a period of rapid growth since winning a two-year contract with the Roy Hill iron ore project. Photo: Attila Csaszar

A series of (un)fortunate events led to the creation of this year’s Rising Stars winner, emergency response and security services provider Executive Risk Solutions.

SCOTT Houston’s path to business success had several unusual milestones – serving in Afghanistan with the Special Air Service, crashing his motorbike at Barbagallo Raceway, and losing his first major customer.

The SAS experience gave Mr Houston skills that allowed him to get a start in the security and emergency response industry.

The bike crash meant he was unable to take up the offer of a salaried job with a national insurance company.

“It was literally in hospital that I changed my mind and decided not to leave Perth,” Mr Houston told Business News.

In 2008, after recovering from the accident, Mr Houston set up Executive Risk Solutions, which won the top prize at this year’s Rising Stars awards. A few months later ERS, which provides emergency response and security services, lost its first major contract, which meant Mr Houston and his wife, Fiona, had to think hard about whether they wanted a salaried job or the opportunity of their own business.

They stuck with ERS, which now has about 80 staff and annual turnover of approximately $15 million.

When the business was established, Mr Houston had about five years’ experience as an employee and consultant in the industry, including with Rio Tinto subsidiary Argyle Diamonds.

ERS started with a small cash investment and a handful of people, but was helped, Mr Houston said, by the reputation he built and contacts he established over the previous five years.

In particular, Mrs Houston told Business News, ERS always set high standards for its staff and the delivery of its services, after trying early on to sub-contract security services.

“We had really high expectations,” she said. “We decided we would rather have our own people rather than sub-contracting.”

Mr Houston added that the professionalism of his staff was evidenced by relatively small things, like always being clean shaven, wearing ERS polo shirts when they travel to mine sites, and having mandatory six-month fitness tests.

“We have lots of ex-military and emergency services guys who work for us. They understand the standards that we want,” he said.

The business’s big break came when it won a two-year contract with the Roy Hill iron ore project.

In contrast to established mining operations, which have a handful of emergency response coordinators who train staff volunteers, Roy Hill outsourced the entire operation to ERS.

“It’s probably the largest single emergency response contract in Australia at the moment,” Mr Houston said.

“Second to that we won the security contract as well.”

The Roy Hill contract led to rapid growth in the ERS business, and highlighted the need to build systems and processes.

“We’ve just been so busy over the past two years, it was good to sit back and look at what we’ve done and the gaps that we had initially that we’ve filled,” Mr Houston said.

Key steps included recruiting an experienced general manager and a human resources manager, and engaging a business consultant to coach key staff.

The company has also developed a marketing strategy and is implementing a quality management system.

Another initiative was to send selected staff to a specialist-training program at Texas A&M Engineering, based in Houston.

“I wanted to grow the kind of business that I would want to work in,” Mr Houston said.

ERS has also invested in new equipment, including a fleet of seven purpose-built rapid intervention vehicles.

In addition, the company has just taken delivery of a $600,000 fire tender, which will be stationed at the Roy Hill airport.

Mr Houston said the company was not contractually required to buy a new fire tender but chose to upgrade the equipment it had on-site.

“We’ve decided we want to provide Roy Hill with that level of coverage,” he said.

But with an eye to the future, he also knows that large numbers of big contractors are currently flying into Roy Hill.

“When they get off their aircraft, we want them to see our vehicle, and that it’s new and modern and top of the line,” said Mr Houston, who is focused on chasing more growth, having recently appointed an international director who lives in Dubai.

“We often see businesses like us getting bought by international companies. We want to do it the other way around; we want to take our product international,” he said.


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