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Fireside Chat with Derrick Hall
My name’s Derrick Hall, I turned 50 recently, so a big milestone for me. I’ve been in the industry since about 1996 so about 26 years. The funny thing about it is that I remember coming in as a young sales guy, probably the youngest in the industry and looking around at all of these monochrome people all of a certain age and here I am now, being one of those monochrome certain aged individuals. It’s quite frightening because I never thought I’d actually get there.
From a personal point of view, I’ve been married for 28 years, and I don’t know how she’s put up with me, we have 2 grown up kids. our daughter is 27 and son is 21. I started early of course!
How have you been affected by Covid-19?
I got covid back in September of last year and I was wiped out for about 10 days, so trying to continue to work and manage the symptoms of covid was difficult – but I got through it, I had one of the less pleasant variants which didn’t help but consider myself fortunate to not have any longer lasting ailments. My family has had it as well, and we were nervous about the recovery and being able to pass a PCR test for a holiday which was only 3 weeks away, thankfully we were negative!
From a professional point of view, it’s been such a challenge for all of us at Kentec. We employ around 240 people and the factory has nearly 150 people working in. These guys worked continuously throughout the whole of covid and the lockdown. You realise in these tough times just how remarkable and resilient people are and how tolerant they are of each other, thankfully they were able to keep up and also the brilliant work under really tough circumstances. That’s something I take out as a positive from covid is that we’ve seen a remarkable performance from our people in the most difficult time and I take my hat off and thank them hugely for that.
Do you have any pets?
We have a dog called Max, he’s an unusual little fellow, and is a 9-year-old Patterdale (basically a small terrier-type dog). We inherited/rescued him when he was 3 years old. He’s our first dog and it seemed like a good idea at the time to get one but then after a couple of weeks you then start to do a bit of research on the breed and “read the instructions”. It would be fair to say you would never get one of these dogs, because they are bonkers, and he has bags of character.
What started off as being the family dog overtime turned into my dog. Initially we set some ground rules like he was not allowed on the furniture or go upstairs, and they had to take him for walks every day, well that was short lived and within 4 weeks he was snuggled up in bed next to me and I mainly take him for walks, he also likes to go to the pub, and it is one of his favourite words.
What’s your favourite movie of all time?
Saving Private Ryan. You don’t have to watch the whole film, it’s that first 30 minutes or so where you sit back in complete awe. The film is 20 odd years old and during those first 30 minutes, you sit back in your chair and just think ‘what a horrific experience for those young men but how incredible the cinematography is to make it feel so real life’.
Describe yourself as a teenager in 3 words?
Sporty, confident and average. Confidence can get you a long way even when you’re not the best academically.
What is your biggest pet peeve/hate?
Bad manners and people that can’t queue will always grind my gears.
If you could be from any other decade (or era), which would it be and why?
I definitely won’t be going forward because I think about my kids and the challenges for them are going to be difficult so I probably would go backwards. Although I was born in the 70s, I quite like the idea of being a teenager in the 70s as well. I think that’s the decade where people started to become a bit more affluent and had a little bit of extra free time, the music was great anyway back then, I shouldn’t really admit it in public but there are some pretty good tunes around from that decade and you can’t deny that disco era would have been fun.
What is your favourite quote and why?
This has been with me for a long time and it’s “I think therefore I am” I found out it was René Descartes, and it turns out that we share the same Birthday. He’s a 17th century philosopher, mathematician and scientist and it got me thinking about what that quote really meant. To me, it means about having a conscience and being able to make decisions. Even when I was a young boy and teenager, I was able to make my own decisions and if you made the right ones then brilliant, sometimes you don’t get them right but as long as you’re not harming anyone in the process then it's probably not too far wrong.
If you weren’t in the fire industry – what would you be doing and why?
I’m absolutely convinced I’d be a brewer. I’m an amateur brewer and I don’t make as much beer as I’d like to but if I could afford to quit my job, I would start a micro-brewery. I think that beer and brewing is a big part of English culture.
What’s on your Spotify or iTunes?
I have an eclectic taste of music and I can listen to anything from opera and classical to hard rock. I grew up in the 80s, I can easily listen to bubble-gum pop and hairspray rock but can easily flip to Rossini and anything in between. The genre that I didn’t really get was reggae music. Over covid, we spent a lot of the time in the garden and the paddling pool was out on those really nice sunny days and my wife just put on some reggae, whilst sat there with a beer in my hand in the paddling pool having a splash around and I was thinking ‘you know what? I could really get into this.’ and it has also developed into ska and rock steady. My favourite song of all time is ‘Video killed the radio star’, by the Buggles
If you could have any three people (dead or alive) over for dinner – who would they be?
Harry Hill, Al Murray and Jimmy Carr. I’d just be on the floor laughing and crying and maybe not much eating would be done.
What two things would you take to a Desert Island?
Sunglasses and suntan lotion, forget about the survival part and just enjoy the sunshine!
Name a book, movie or tv show that has positively shaped you and why?
One of the first books that I read, when I got into sales, was a book called ‘Psycho-cybernetics’ written by a guy named Dr. Maxwell Maltz. It does link back to René Descartes a bit because it is about being able train your brain and understand where you are, but also, where you want to get to. Once you set your path and decide where you want to get to its then trying to work out what you have got to do to put things into place to reach your goal and destination. I found that useful while I was new into sales as it helped me to realise that if you make a mistake, don’t worry or get hung up about it, just learn from that mistake and then refine what you do.
If you were animal, what animal would you be and why?
I’m going to come back as my dog Max. He has the best of everything and I’m glad to say that we do spoil him. He has a brilliant job, bark at the postman, sleep for 16 hours a day, gets cuddles and his tummy rubbed every night and decent food as well. I can’t think of any better life than that.
What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
For my 50th Birthday I got a very large quantity of beer from a lot of people and what’s nice about it is that they really understand me.
What's your favourite thing in your closet right now?
A Ralph Lauren Hawaiian shirt, it was a bargain and out of work it is “so me” but I wish I could wear it for work as well.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
The power to heal. The ability to make people feel better.
Where’s the most interesting place that you have ever been with the Fire Industry?
I’ve been very lucky to have travelled to many places and been inside many impressive buildings – new and historic.
There are a couple of ex-colleagues that if they read this, are going to laugh about what I’m going to say. I remember trying to convince a customer that our solution was going to be the best thing ever and they basically challenged me with the most horrid project. They said “right, we’re going to take you to a waste recycling plant, and it had better work.” So, myself and a colleague went and carried out a survey with our partner and it was truly horrific, I can only describe it as the place where you go from Earth to Hell and this place was that bit in between. The smell was like nothing I’d ever experienced before and one that I’ll never forget, it was so grim.
On our drive back home, we stopped at a service station to grab a burger, and it must’ve been about 9.30 pm and in the queue people started to move away from us and leave because of the smell, which by then we were then immune to. I remember getting home and I opened the front door and my wife said to me “What the hell is that smell? You’re not coming in the house, go in the garden, take your clothes off and throw them in the bin.”
So, it wasn’t the most glamourous place I’ve ever been to but certainly the most interesting from an application point of view and definitely the smelliest – Oh The jet set lifestyle of the fire alarm industry!
What's the best piece of advice you've received?
Live without fear, hatred and a bit more love. If I had learned that a lot earlier, then it would have helped me out with a few things.
What time did you get to work this morning?
What does your usual day look like?
I don’t have a usual day. Working in sales and with an international team and customers means you mornings and the evenings depending on what time zone you’re in. On Tuesday, I needed to be in the office for 7 am and that meant I left home at 4.30 am and I didn’t get to bed until midnight after doing some work on a project. The following day I’m up at 6 am, at work for 7 am and then I might finish early at 6.00 pm, It can be very diverse in sales. I like the diversity, that’s why I’ve stayed in sales and the fire alarm industry for so long as I don’t like routine.
How does your work and family life come together?
Going back to the earlier question about how we were affected by covid, I spent a lot of time at home and that’s unusual for me because I’m normally away 2 or 3 nights a week, maybe a week at a time and my family have developed and grown up, often without me being around, it’s not a good thing to say but that’s the reality of how it was. Over the covid period, because we spent so much time together, my kids and wife both said to me “We’re glad that covid’s over because you can go back to work, and you can leave us alone in peace.” I’m not too sure what they meant by that, but I’m sure it was in a positive way.
What makes you excited about the future of this industry?
I think now, there’s going to be lots of pressure on manufacturers, to change things a lot quicker. That’s because component manufacturers are going to want to end the life of processors, chips and electronic components quicker.
In the fire industry, we go through evolutions not revolutions and I think that this will make us, as an industry, look more quickly to the future in terms of what products and what components are going to be available for us to manufacture panels and devices.
I also consider wireless fire detection to be an exciting technology development. We launched K-Mesh last year which is a wireless mesh detection system. I was always a bit sceptical about wireless systems and 20 odd years ago the fire alarm mentality was “wire where you can” and “wireless where you can’t”. Wireless devices helped to fill a gap where you couldn’t get a cable to the installation point or where aesthetics were important in historical buildings. I think now that 3rd generation wireless mesh technology it might become the norm, rather than just the exception and even new buildings will go wireless.
What does the fire industry need?
Most opinions expressed are for some form of regulation, which I tend to agree with but I’m also convinced that training and formal qualifications for designers, technicians and engineers will become much more important.
I’d also like to see a much clearer definition in our industry regarding technicians and engineers as I think the term engineer is used to loosely – just in case, I still proudly regard myself as an ex-technician.
What do you like about the fire industry?
It is a great mix of engineering, standards, compliance and contractual elements. There are so many aspects to our industry and a lot to learn, so you don’t get bored. The best part about it is, ultimately, we are saving people’s lives and protecting people’s assets and property.
Over the years I’ve worked for some large corporations where they talk about the big environmental topics relating to green energy, smart metering, energy reduction and management of costs. Fire alarms generally doesn’t fit this agenda and I like to remind them whilst they go and save the world, we quietly go about our business saving people’s lives – which is my opportunity to put on a cape!
What matters most to you?
In the industry, doing it right.
The industry is evolving and now I’m the 50-year-old monochrome bloke, I don’t think we are investing early enough in young people and not attracting enough females into our industry as well, that’s the part I’d like to see change more quickly.
I was fortunate enough to come from an engineering background and completed an apprenticeship with Ford Motor company, it gave me a really solid engineering background, but I knew nothing about fire alarms, and it seemed there was no real education pathway other than learning from the company’s “guru’s” and I’d like to see this be made more available to all.
What would you tell yourself at the age of 21?
Now, with a little bit more experience I’d tell myself to live without fear, without hate and with love. Now I’ve got it, it really helps me.
What motivates you?
There’s no denying that I’m highly competitive, I don’t like losing but actually I’m very respectful when I do. If anyone beats me then I’ll be the first to put out my hand and congratulate them and let them know they are a worthy winner.
Where do you want to be in 5 years?
Either doing that brewery or on that island with my sunglasses and suntan lotion or a combination of the two. Joking aside, I really like what is going on at Kentec and being part of a great leadership team that is making a lot of changes and difference to all of our employees in Dartford and around the world.
Why is the FIA important to you and the industry?
When I came into the industry, I couldn’t see a gateway or path forming in terms of development for people within the industry and the FIA re doing the right things by giving structure to businesses and individuals.
We must get new blood and new talent into our industry, but we must do it in the right way because you can’t cut corners. It’s something that we’re focussed on achieving at Kentec and it’s all about training. I know that from experience you could spend one-day training and get it right first time or you can spend 5 days scratching your head and it becomes a complete pain for you.
The FIA is certainly helping to provide that gateway to learning and like many countries around the world individual certification is becoming a necessity to demonstrate knowledge and competence.
It is great to see that the FIA is helping to develop our industry to enable it to become more professional. For me, 20 odd years ago, it was a place where you met up for coffee and spoke to other monochrome 50-year-olds from the industry but thankfully that is no longer the case.
What do you want to say to the readers?
Most of the people that will be reading this will know me in some form or another, be it good or bad, I can take it on the chin. I’ll always stand at a bar and have a beer with you and reminisce over the good old days.
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