From US Marshall to hospitality security

July 20, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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Fifteen years ago, John R. Kendall and Robert C. DuHadway decided to take the plunge and start their own business — DK Security — but first they had to "de-federalize" themselves.

Whatever the precise treatment is for de-federalization, it must have worked well for the two former lawmen because DK Security, based in Kentwood, is one of the largest and fastest growing security companies in Michigan.

Today, DuHadway is retired from DK Security, but Kendall is still going strong as president and CEO.

In March, DK acquired Lansing-based Joseph A. Young & Associates, a security and investigations firm with $2 million in annual revenues and 150 employees. That brings total employment by DK to about 750, with a client roster of more than 200 businesses and organizations.

In June, DK landed a five-year, $9.7 million contract with the state of Michigan to provide unarmed security guard services for multiple state agencies at approximately 31 sites in the Lansing area, including the Capitol complex downtown. The contract will enable the company to add another 100 employees. Earlier this year, DK was awarded a state contract for security services in southwest Michigan, which added 15 employees.

DK also has the security contract for a major theme park that will open in Arizona next year.

"We are a corporate security company," said Kendall, although the government is a growing slice of its business. It used to be about one percent but is now around 10 percent.

Despite Michigan's declining economy, DK has enjoyed a 63 percent growth in revenues over the last five years. Kendall said it is possible DK will take in $10 million this year, which would reflect 20 percent growth over last year.

He said DK has not been "deep" in the auto industry business, although he said that the company has lost a couple of client that were automotive-related.

Kendall is a native of Windsor, Ontario. He moved to the Detroit area with his parents when he was 12; his father had an industrial business there. Kendall became a U.S. citizen at age 18 — when he was drafted for service in the Vietnam War. He was given the chance to enlist first, so he did and chose the Air Force, where he was trained as a military policeman and assigned to help protect the U.S. air base at Da Nang in the 1960s.

"That's where it all started," he said, in reference to his career as a policeman.

After military service, Kendall went home to the Detroit area and landed a job with the Grosse Pointe Park police, serving four years as a patrolman and another four years as a detective. During those years, he earned a bachelor of science degree in police administration and a master's degree in public administration, both from Wayne State University.

In 1975, Kendall landed a job as chief of police in Harbor Springs, a Lake Michigan resort community in Northern Michigan with many wealthy and influential summer residents from other parts of America.

Kendall, who served almost five years as chief in Harbor Springs, said he once met up with the police chiefs of Martha's Vineyard and Bar Harbor, Maine, at a police chief's convention. The three compared notes, he said, and all agreed humorously that summer residents in resort towns "behave differently" than they do at home. He discreetly declined to provide any details.

After Harbor Springs, Kendall served for almost three years as the Grand Traverse County under sheriff. Then he got the big break of his career: President Ronald Reagan appointed him U.S. Marshal in the Western District of Michigan, headquartered in Grand Rapids.

At an earlier period in U.S. history, the appointment of U.S. marshals was often regarded as a political reward, and some obviously unqualified individuals were named to that post. That had changed by 1981, when Kendall was appointed. He said Reagan's administration required candidates to be experienced police officers with "strong credentials in police management."

Kendall said landing the U.S. Marshal job was partly the result of knowing a summer resident of Harbor Springs who often played tennis with William French Smith, who was U.S. attorney general from 1981 to 1985, and a longtime friend and confidant of Reagan. Kendall also knew former Michigan governor William Milliken from his time in Traverse City, and that didn't hurt either, he said.

When Kendall went to Washington to be interviewed for the job, his interviewer was an associate U.S. attorney general by the name of Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani was somewhat distracted during the interview because, he told Kendall, "those damn Tigers swept my Yankees" out of the pennant race.

Federal marshals direct the enforcement arm of the federal courts in 94 districts in the U.S. They apprehend federal fugitives, protect the federal judiciary, operate the Witness Security Program, transport federal prisoners and seize property acquired by criminals through illegal activities.

Kendall’s future business partner DuHadway was the supervisory agent for the FBI in the Western District of Michigan while Kendall was marshal, so they often worked together and eventually became close friends.

A bomb dropped on Kendall's career with the election of Bill Clinton, whose administration "encouraged me to resign," said Kendall. With his military service, he would qualify for a federal pension — at age 62. But that was little solace.

"I was 50 at the time," said Kendall, with 31 years in law enforcement. "I had been carrying a badge and a gun since I was 19 — and then it was over," he said.

He received some offers from communities seeking an experienced chief of police, he said, "but I didn't want to leave the Grand Rapids area."

Meanwhile, DuHadway had retired from the FBI at the same time Kendall left the U.S. Marshal post. The two talked about their futures and pondered what to do next. They decided to start a security service.

"Two 50-year-old cops going into the business world," recalled Kendall, chuckling at the thought. "We'd had careers of putting people in prison, and now we had to go out and become businessmen."

In June 1995, Kendall and DuHadway hired five brand new graduates of GVSU with degrees in police administration, and their first job was providing daytime security patrols on the former pedestrian mall on Monroe Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids.

He said he and DuHadway soon learned they had to "de-federalize" to make it in the business world.

One of the most challenging aspects of his federal job had been managing the federal witness protection program, with "half of the mobsters in the country trying to kill your protectee." Every day had meant dealing with a serious potential threat, but now Kendall and his partner realized there was no significant threat level at the annual home-and-garden show.

From being in high-profile positions of responsibility and authority that were backed up by the immense power of the U.S. government, they had to do an about face and learn a different style of management. They had assumed they could transfer their valuable investigative skills to their business, but they learned that what businesses and organizations needed most was security, not investigations.

"We didn't realize that," said Kendall.

DK provides security at Grand Rapids Griffins games and Lugnuts games in Lansing, and at many entertainment events in the Van Andel Arena and DeVos Performance Hall. DK had the security contract at the Rothbury music festival for last year and this year, where they deployed about 300 of their employees for four or five days.

"We're not there to create an adversarial environment," said Kendall. His security guards are there to maintain a "hospitality environment," by being helpful and polite to everyone they meet and by being vigilant for any threats to that peaceful environment.

"Our guards are taught how to communicate with people in a non-threatening way," he said. "I call it ‘hospitality security.’"

Each DK security guard is trained to always keep in mind the "GIFTS" of their work. The acronym stands for greeting, information, friendly environment, thank you and security.

While DK does have 24 armed and specially trained employees who serve as plainclothes "executive protection," the vast majority of its employees are in uniform, working at doorways and at public events.

Lately, Kendall has formed a house of worship security network.

"Aren't we the church capital of the U.S.?" he said, joking. But the reality is, he said, "We think churches are vulnerable to crime."

A couple of notorious killings in American churches lately seem to back that up, but much of the threat is less evident, such as thieves and pedophiles.

DK has church clients, but "we're doing a lot of it for free," he said. "It" means consulting: giving church officials advice on how to avoid criminal activity.

DK Security also avoids a lot of problems with its own employees by doing extensive testing before hiring, and provides testing and screening services to its clients, as well.

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