Down on his luck, he found financial security building his own security business

Down on his luck, he found financial security building his own security business

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Rob Ord was out of options.Divorced, broke, in his early 30s and living in his parents’ basement in rural Virginia, he knew he had to push the reset button.“My total life savings was $600, a 1972 Land Rover and very few personal items,” said Ord, who served as a local deputy sheriff in Culpeper County at the time. “I had enough of the way things were going. I saw how negativity and poor decisions can change lives and prevent a person from having a decent life. I was driven, hungry and wanted a change.”In 2003, he started Falken Industries, a $2 million-plus security company that helped him achieve the life he hoped for. The 47-year-old martial-arts aficionado pays himself a $200,000-to-$300,000 income that affords him a sprawling home, 40-foot boat and a green 1961 Triumph sports car.

Falken’s 40-man full-time workforce soars to more than 100 employees if you include the part-timers. The company’s bread and butter is guarding embassies, stores, corporations and government operations. His most lucrative business is watching over high-security government buildings. The clients include names familiar to many in Washington: the Embassy of Austria, U.S. Library of Congress, JBG, Mervis Diamond Importers, the Kennedy Center, National Symphony Orchestra and Hitt Construction.

Falken does other security work as well, such as protecting executives or sweeping vehicles for listening devices.

Ord’s big thing is hiring veterans, their friends and families, not only because many already have training but also because he wants to give them a boost and find their way in the workforce, just as he found his way.

“We don’t want people who want to be security guards for rest of their life,” said the businessman. “We don’t just hire morons. We hire the best and people who are pretty sharp, looking for a stepping stone, and looking for their next good paying job. We want to keep them just a year or two. They leave and hire us to be their security firm.”

“I have people that work with us part time who make $100,000 in other jobs,” he said.

Ord said he pays a few dollars more per hour than many of his competitors because it makes it easier to maintain his workforce. About a third are college graduates who park themselves in security work until they can find a job in something like information technology.

“Paying more affords me to have less direct supervision due to the higher-quality applicants,” he said. “It requires less management and less input by the office when you have a better person. It comes out better financially than if you have 10 guys making minimum wage. They can afford a decent vehicle. They are not struggling as much. They are more responsible, happier, never late and don’t require micromanaging.”

Ord said the key to his business is maintaining a healthy profit margin between what he charges a client for his security guards and how much he pays the guard, which is between $14 and $19 an hour, depending on experience and the kind of security they are doing.

“The margin is gold,” he said. “My dad taught me that. He was a lawyer and contracts administrator. He always said you needed that margin outside of payroll.”

Ord’s annual payroll is by far his biggest cost. During the first nine months of 2015, he said, he grossed $1.7 million and paid $945,000 of that in payroll. The remaining cash covers the rest of his expenses, from training to travel, equipment, insurance, his lease and the dozens of other things you spend money on to run a small business.

Ord grew up in an upper-middle class family in a gated community in Annapolis, where his father was an attorney and businessman. His mother worked at an airline.

His father’s shipping business failed in the 1980s, and the family struggled after that. Ord moved from private school to public and began building and fixing boats for extra cash.

“My entire life was changed,” said Ord, whose only constant was his interest in martial arts. He attributes his interest in martial arts to keeping him driven, focused and out of trouble.

After the University of South Carolina, he worked in various law-enforcement jobs in Florida and Virginia before he hit bottom. He watched as his mother’s pension was stripped away when her employer of 37 years defaulted. His mother’s pension and his family’s earlier financial travails hardened him and instilled a sense of determination.

“I saw what happened to my mom, and I wanted to make sure I have a decent life.”

He launched Falken by driving 145,000 miles around Northern Virginia, cold-calling businesses and construction sites asking if they needed security.

His first contract was protecting a bunch of expensive racehorses. A former employee had threatened to harm the horses. Ord moved in for the next two months, keeping close watch on the horses and collecting a $10,000 fee.

He found early successes with DPR Construction, as the company was remodeling a former nuclear fallout shelter into a Library of Congress site. The work helped establish Falken’s credentials.

“That helped me a lot because they paid me weekly,” Ord said. The cash flow helped him pay his employees, including his father and former sheriff’s deputies, and allowed him enough leftover capital to cover his overhead.

“You make $700 and pay out $300 and I could see I was making a nice profit. That was rewarding.”

Another big “get” arrived in 2007, when he won a contract protecting a Lockheed Martin site in Manassas, Va. The job established Falken’s bona fides as a security firm for sensitive locations, enabling him to bid on similar high-security contracts.

“I was taking any and all work, including providing private investigation services for over 100 cases during this time frame,” he said. “I finally put my drive and energy into the right direction.”

He likes owning his own business for reasons that are similar to why I love journalism: You get to do fun stuff sometimes.

Like the time several years ago that someone paid him to sweep their car for listening devices.

“I saw a brand-new Toyota with its sticker on the window still,” Ord said. “They wanted me to sweep it for bugs. They thought someone was following them.”

Ord did not find any bugs, but he told the owner that if he was really nervous about owning the car, Ord would buy it from him.

Six months later, he bought the $30,000 vehicle for $10,000.

For a while, Falken supplied security to one of Donald Trump’s Virginia golf courses, which gave Ord the opportunity to meet the businessman.

“He was actually pretty cool,” said Ord. “He always remembered my name.”

I like writing about scrappy people, and Ord is just that. He just signed a multimillion-dollar security contract with a federal agency, which could give the business a presence overseas.

“I’m not a billionaire, but I’m doing okay.”