Tom Donaldson was officially honored as the 2017 Morris F. Weinstock Person of the Year at the Electronic Security Expo (ESX) in Nashville. The Weinstock Person of the Year Award, sponsored by Interlogix, acknowledges the outstanding achievement of an individual and his or her continued efforts on behalf of ESA and the industry.
Donaldson entered the electronic security and life safety industry more than 30 years ago, after a sour experience with an alarm installation in his home.
Burglars broke in while his family was on their first trip away, so Donaldson hired a company to install an alarm system in his new home. When he discovered the work that had been done, he was shocked.
"They ripped me off worse than the people who broke into my house; they used equipment that was used, they sent out a guy that had had about a month of experience and brought his brother to do a split-level home ... they did so much damage – it was unreal. They even put a hole in the roof that caused water damage,” Donaldson said.
After this experience, he decided he could do better.
"I thought if they could make that much money ripping people off, then I'd open a company and get rich not ripping people off,” Donaldson said.
And so, he set out to start a security business.
This was no easy task, as Donaldson had only the technical knowledge he had gained in a high school course and “no concept of how to sell anything.”
Knowing that he would have to learn these things, Donaldson sought teachers. That was when he discovered the power of an association.
“Those were major obstacles to overcome, and through the industry I met people who were great with business, spreadsheets and accounting … and they trained me,” Donaldson said. “Back then, I was interacting and networking with people in my own community. Eventually, I became more active at the national level and found even more sources. This industry has helped me gain most of my business acumen. As far as my technical background, of course I sought NTS [National Training School]. ”
Further cementing his bond to the industry, Donaldson joined the Ohio Burglar and Fire Alarm Association soon after its inception, a decision he says was made after his peers urged him to join. He was soon elected President of the Ohio BFAA, then became more active in the Electronic Security Association (formerly NBFAA) on the national level in 1991.
“My whole idea was to go find out what national was about. I went for the purpose of looking to understand — and to see what I thought about it for myself,” Donaldson said.
When he attended his first board meeting, Donaldson said he had no idea what he was voting on.
“I stood up and told [the President] I needed to abstain. Right after I did that, three other representatives stood up and said 'We'd like to do the same thing,’” Donaldson said.
This group who abstained from voting had lunch with Donaldson later that week, and they set a time to meet and discuss the board book prior to the next meeting. They studied, researched and made calls so they could be well-informed and prepared for upcoming board meetings.
The group’s “meeting before the meeting” grew year after year, until eventually a motion was made in the official board meeting to set aside time for states to talk in an established meeting. Donaldson served a considerable tenure as the elected chair for this newly-formed meeting for the states, where his goal was to make sure that everyone’s voice was heard.
“I didn't want anybody to be shut down because their voice wasn't as loud as mine, because a soft-spoken person can have an awful lot to say if you take the time to listen to them,” Donaldson said. “By the same token, I tried to give the hotheads a reason to calm down and make certain everybody was listening to them. They got their say, and that helped a lot."
“He has a really dynamic way of leading meetings,” said Jon Sargent, the 2016 Weinstock Person of the Year. “He really helped unify what had been unorganized. I always call him the Friendly Giant, because he’s always been so thoughtful and good to people.”
Sargent announced Donaldson as the winner of the Weinstock Award at ESX 2018, where he joined him on stage in the Country Music Hall of Fame to accept the coveted honor.
This award recognizes Donaldson’s many years of service to the industry through his dedication to the Chartered Chapters Meeting – where he holds the distinction of being elected chair more often than any other member – as well as his service as a former president and current Board member in the Ohio ESA and as a member of the Elections Committee for ESA national.
Upon receipt of his award at ESX, Donaldson was visibly moved. He thanked those in attendance; his wife, CJ; and the Association’s leadership and members who have worked with and supported him throughout his career.
“When you look at what this Association does for people, it is amazing. I came here with such a lack of knowledge, but I was able to realize how much knowledge was in the room around me, and people that were so willing to share,” Donaldson said. “I am really, truly amazed that I won this. I appreciate it more than I will ever know how to tell anybody. I am proud of this award.”