Closely guarded – how Heather Jones has survived the security business

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People-watching is one of Heather Jones’ favourite things to do. As a Fieldays security team member at Mystery Creek, one year she stood in the rain for 16 hours, and didn’t mind a bit.

The Principal and Managing Director of Aegis Private Security, she’s built a highly successful business over the past 17 years.  Clients who came on board in the beginning have stuck with Aegis, and the company manages security for a number of sites and key events around the North Island. It’s a long way from her first job, working in a bank.

Like many of her contemporaries, Heather got married young and stopped working once children came along. Husband Brian also worked in the bank, and the couple lived in five cities over 10 years, before settling in Tauranga 32 years ago with their three daughters.

A casual job in the TAB led to a part-time job offer from Armourguard and she worked on its cash floor for six years, with the occasional stint as a security guard. When the cash floor closed suddenly she went to work for another security company run by two former senior police officers. That company was sold to a bigger company, and Heather was urged to go out on her own, by her former employers.

A woman on the job

The security industry has always been male dominated, and initially there was serious resistance from other companies; some men even refused to work with a woman. It was a tough time, but with client support Aegis became established and the company has gone from strength to strength, in no small part due to the stubborn nature of its owner, who describes herself as ‘firm but fair’. “You have to be strong to survive in this business,” she says.

She attributes much of this strength to her late father. “My father was a huge influence on my life – he was so honest and had so much integrity. I named the company Aegis as it was a word my dad used in Scrabble. It comes from Greek mythology – Aegis was Zeus’ shield of protection.”

As a woman, Heather’s approach to security is a bit different to the norm. “I was the only female security guard in Tauranga in the beginning and I still work on the theory that everyone’s got a mother and there are very few men who would hit a woman. I never argue, swear or raise my voice and it’s a strategy that works,” she says.

Cool, calm and communicative

Having the ‘best staff in the world’ has helped the company maintain its reputation for a high quality service. Aegis has lost very few clients over the years, and those that move for a cheaper price generally end up coming back. “It’s a service that event managers need, but they don’t appreciate its value until after the onsite thefts, for example.” Aegis has managed event access for Fieldays since 2001, with Heather coordinating 95 staff over the four-day event each year.

“Communication skills are the single biggest factor in our staff, and we have a great team of men and women with Black Belts in communication. Public relations skills are far better than heroics,” she says.

The role of a security guard encompasses more than standing at the entrance.  “We are called on to ‘put out fires’, handle a lost child, manage intoxicated people, pick up rubbish, park cars, drive a fork lift and even administer CPR at times.  Respect for people is absolutely crucial,” she says.

Creating life balance following setbacks

She loves the event contracts, as every event has different challenges. “It’s full-on for a few days, then you get a few days off afterwards. It creates a good work/life balance.”

It hasn’t all been plain sailing, with serious hiccups like a near fatal car accident and two bouts of cancer within two years. A big chunk of her lower leg is missing, thanks to a Grade 3 malignant melanoma in 2007 which returned in the same spot two years later. (In typical fashion, she tells people she burnt it on her Harley Davidson). Losing her beloved dad in 1996 was another blow.

Having her children and grandchildren nearby is a joy, and with Brian recently retired she loves the time between jobs to focus on family and the garden. There are two retro Minis in the garage, and a boat for when she has time to go fishing.

Heather is a hands-on business leader and she is usually on site with the team at events, maintaining a robust audit trail, standing on duty and keeping an eye out for potential problems. To those who think this might be a bit boring, she says, “boring is a state of mind. You are only ever as bored as you want to be; besides, I do my best thinking at a guard job.”