Lessons From The Past

George Banks acquired an appetite for entrepreneurship as a young boy in Africa. After his mother died, Banks spent much of his youth with his uncle — a storeowner in a small community in Liberia — who instilled in him a strong work ethic and business sense. Now, more than 30 years later, many of those lessons are applied to Banks’ business.

These days, Banks, 47, runs Sentry Security International Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based firm with clients that include Kmart and Wachovia Bank. With a staff of three full-time employees and 10 to 15 security guards working on a contractual basis, the firm generated revenues of $328,000 in 2002.

Starting Sentry was not Banks’ ambition at first, but rather a combination of happenstance and a deliberate pursuit of success.

After coming to America in 1989, Banks earned a bachelor’s degree in justice/criminal studies at Rhode Island College while working full time as a security guard for a Tennessee-based security firm.

After six years with the firm, Banks says he was never offered a high-ranking position. He resigned and directed his attention toward working as an independent contractor for the Washington, D.C. Superior Courts in Maryland and Virginia. By early 1999 Banks had successfully incorporated his own firm. In order to secure payment for the almost $45,000 in startup costs, Banks combined $11,000 in loans from friends with his own savings. “All of January, all I was doing was spending money. I literally spent nights in my office and at the beginning I didn’t take pay,” says Banks.

His first experience as an entrepreneur wasn’t positive. A contract had been signed, and Banks had already hired and begun training guards, when an official in the client’s company told him that unless he increased his liability insurance from $500,000 to $1 million then all deals were off. Banks did better and took out a $2 million policy, but the client still broke the contract. Banks decided not to pursue a lawsuit because he wanted to focus on landing contracts since he had guards but no place for them to work.

In June of 2001, Banks’ fortune took a turn for the better when he landed a contract valued at more than $90,000 to provide security services at a construction site for Kmart.

Despite a 40% increase in general liability insurance and workers’ compensation amounting to $16,000 this year due to homeland security, Banks still reports a progressive outlook for 2003. Banks projects revenues of more than $500,000 by the end of this year, but he is in the process of bidding on two contracts, which, if acquired, could guarantee the company revenues of close to $1 million.

Banks provides tuition reimbursements to employees who have worked a year or more. Sentry Security’s motto, “We look out for you,” reflects his attitude toward employees. “Most companies only help themselves,” says Banks, who plans to help his guards’ professional development. His uncle must be proud.

Sentry Security International, Inc.; 7705 Georgia Ave, NW, Suite 212, Washington, D.C., 20012; 202-291-8030; www.sentrysecurityintl.com.