Drawn to a Spark in the Industry
Every passion begins as a moment of curiosity – an interest sparked by a reaction to something unexpected or unexplored. For Merlin Guilbeau, CEO of ESA and industry veteran, there have been many moments along the way where his interest was sparked – and he in turn sparked others.
This Louisiana native found his roots in Texas, where he now guides the Electronic Security Association. His career path has prepared him to lead at this level by allowing him opportunities throughout the years to master the required skills. Guilbeau attended University of Southwestern Louisiana and has a strong military background from the Louisiana Army National Guard. By the time he was honorably discharged as a Sergeant First Class E-7 in 1993, he had earned several military honors including a Louisiana War Cross for service during Desert Storm and an Army Commendation Medal (twice decorated).
Down in the soulful city of New Orleans in 1986, a young Guilbeau was selling the latest and greatest in technology of the era: carphones. Due to the evolving nature of technology, Guilbeau knew his career in the carphone industry was temporary. Soon after this experience, he got a call from Eagle Electric Security in need of sales representatives in Harvey, Louisiana. His innate desire to help others with a specific need drew him to the alarm industry. Shortly after his time there, his experience working with customers victimized by burglary sparked his interest in serving security to his local community.
Individuals like Don Brown, elder statesman and small business owner, inspired Guilbeau to stick with business ethics of integrity and honesty. He attained advice from leaders like Brown and not only applied it to his work ethic, but to his life as well. Guilbeau was soon promoted to operations manager.
“There is a lot of problem solving in what we do. You walk into a business and they’re trying to handle a situation. Maybe it’s internal theft, external theft, wanting to provide a better environment for their employees,” says Guilbeau. “Your job is to begin to pull together a solution that meets the needs of that customer — there’s a lot of value in that.”
Early on, his networking and natural connection to people allowed him to get in contact with volunteers and security professionals to mentor him along the way. He understood the value of a security system for a family in need, and that sparked his dive into the industry.
Guilbeau became co-owner and president of Alarm Detection, Inc. in Lafayette, Louisiana, where he led a small team while wearing many hats to meet company needs. His work with the company would later serve as a launching pad. While leading Alarm Detection, he stayed active and engaged with the security industry by serving as a secretary, vice president and twice chapter president of the Louisiana Life Safety and Security Association.
He made his voice heard, gathered resources and skills from each volunteer person he encountered and put advice to good work at his company — Guilbeau had found his niche.
He joined the Electronic Security Association (ESA) board of directors in 1996 and was elected to the executive committee as a vice president in 2000. In 2002, the executive committee of ESA hired him as Chief Executive Officer of ESA. Guilbeau would spend the next nearly 20 years, serving the industry he had grown to love so much. His background and ability to spark passion in other people made him the ideal candidate to lead the organization.
“The one advantage I had moving into the role at ESA was my knowledge and love for the industry. I knew who the players were and I understood the jargon,” says Guilbeau. “I needed to learn more about the association, and I think to a certain extent, the time I spent as president of a chapter helped me along the way. I got to understand, from a chapter’s perspective, what running an association and a nonprofit would look like.”
His commitment to understanding non-profit associations — to best lead the industry forward — brought him to a program from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called the Institute for Organization Management. It wasn’t long until Guilbeau earned his I.O.M. certification, giving him the opportunity to network with other association executives from around the country. He also served on the UL Security Council and on the board of directors of several industry organizations.
Passion for the Industry
Today, Guilbeau is a successful CEO of the largest and longest standing association in our industry – empowering staff and unpaid volunteers to engage with the industry. He leads ESA with the same business ethics that drove his success in that small alarm company in Louisiana, wearing multiple hats in order to serve the needs of the organization — and help the organization achieve its goals.
His ability to progress his career and unwavering passion for the industry have sparked others to pursue similar paths. “It’s about finding your path and aligning yourself with people who are wanting to help you progress in your career,” says Guilbeau. Through hard work and drive, Guilbeau found his calling at ESA. He encourages others to be open to new opportunities — refuse to let fear hold them from taking their next big step.
“Understand that the electronic security and life safety industry is a BIG industry. There is a lot out there and a lot to learn — but the possibilities are exciting,” says Guilbeau. He believes the future of the industry lies in all of us having the curiousity and courage to dive into new possibilities — to step forward, toward the spark.