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Business stokes leader’s competitive fires

If you were to do a Google search for Joe Kirmser you would see words like outstanding, amazing, leader and winner. Yet, most of it has nothing to do with the solid professional career that led Kirmser to the president’s seat at Lenel Systems International Inc.
 
The Pittsford-based security company provides software and turnkey security systems for the corporate and government markets. Lenel has 92 of the Fortune 100 companies as clients. It has 395 employees, with 100 in the Rochester area.
 
Lenel is a division of United Technologies Corp., a manufacturer of high-technology products with headquarters in Connecticut that reported a net income of more than $5.3 billion in 2011.
 
Kirmser would not give revenue figures for the company. However, IMS Research Ltd., an England-based electronics research firm, ranked Lenel No. 1 in global market share for access control software. Lenel has 10 percent to 15 percent of the industry’s roughly $1.8 billion market, IMS says.
 
Kirmser, 38, was named president and general manager of Lenel in March after less than two years with the company. Yet, most high praise associated with Kirmser on Google stems from 15 years ago when he was the standout goaltender for the Duke University lacrosse team.
 
Kirmser was named a first-team All-American for Duke in 1997, the year he helped lead the team to the NCAA Tournament Final Four. He graduated from Duke the same year, holding the school’s career saves record.
 
He is still a huge sports fan. He displays memorabilia from his days at Duke on the walls in his office, along with a photo of the New York Yankees, his favorite baseball team, celebrating one of their World Series championships.
 
Julie Shanahan, director of marketing for Lenel, says Kirmser’s love of competitive athletics often shows up in his leadership in the workplace.
 
"We see that daily," Shanahan says. "It’s all about a team approach. That’s how Joe leads everyone. He fires us up and gets you going after that same goal together."
 
When Kirmser was first named president of Lenel, he says, he felt pressure to live up to the company’s impressive history of success. Lenel was founded in 1991 by husband and wife Ruvin and Elena Prokupets. In less than 10 years the company worked its way up to more than $10 million in annual sales.
 
The couple sold Lenel to UTC in 2005 for roughly $400 million. At the time, the company had customers in 75 countries and more than 100 local employees.
 
Lenel now has customers in 93 countries, thanks in large part to the continued development of its innovative OnGuard system, an open-architecture security management platform. The company is a primary hub for UTC’s Fire and Security unit, which accounted for $6.9 billion of UTC’s $58 billion in sales last year.
 
"You had some brilliant people start this business, and the question for me when I was put into this position was could I hold my own with all of this," Kirmser says. "There’s pressure when you get put in a role with a company like this. It’s intimidating and it’s a challenge, but I’ve always thrived on that."

Competitive spirit
Kirmser grew up the middle child in a competitive family in Wilton, Conn., a town with fewer than 20,000 people. He naturally gravitated toward sports.
 
He was a star athlete in high school. He was named Connecticut Player of the Year in Lacrosse in 1992 and was named to the Junior National Lacrosse Team. Success carried over to Duke, where Kirmser led his team to the 1997 Final Four despite playing on a torn anterior cruciate ligament for most of the season.
 
"Even back then as a college player, when he put his mind to something it was with the purpose of getting things done," says Mike Pressler, Kirmser’s college lacrosse coach. "He’s a young man of tremendous character and moral fiber. He’s a driven guy that wanted to succeed in all facets of life. I can’t remember a guy that played for me that was more first class in every aspect than Joe Kirmser."
 
Multiple knee surgeries ended Kirmer’s dreams of playing professional lacrosse. So he turned his attention to new challenges.
 
After graduating, he was selected for a marketing and sales rotation program at E&J Gallo Winery, currently the largest exporter of California wine, in Modesto, Calif. There Kirmser fell in love with the competitive nature of sales.
 
"Doing sales is the ultimate competitive job," he says. "It’s a lot like sports, only you’re competing with the next person for market share. I really enjoyed selling with teammates as well. It was very much like my experience playing competitive athletics. It’s rewarding when you hit your numbers or close a big deal."
 
After three years at the wine company, Kirmser went to work in sales and marketing for American City Business Journals in Charlotte, N.C. While at ACBJ, Kirmser discovered the next challenge in his personal life.
 
While home in Wilton one Christmas, Kirmser reconnected with his high-school sweetheart, Sara. She informed him she was attending graduate school at Harvard University in Boston and was close to getting engaged to another guy.
 
"I decided I needed to take some action or forever hold my peace," Kirmser recalls. "So I chased her to Boston."
 
Kirmser relocated and took a job in sales for the Boston Business Journal while hoping to rekindle his romance with Sara. The move paid off. He and Sara are now married with three children in Pittsford.
 
Kirmser stuck around in Boston, earning his MBA in general management and strategy from Babson College in 2004. After graduate school, he entered into the post-MBA Experienced Commercial Leadership Program at General Electric Co. Kirmser says the program taught him the ins and outs of corporate management.
 
"It cemented the fact that I wanted to be a general manager going forward," he says. "It was a tremendous learning experience for me."
 
The program ended in 2005, and Kirmser spent the next four years working in a variety of positions at GE and affiliated companies. It was during that time he met Luis Orbegoso, former president of Lenel and current president of global detection and alarm businesses for UTC.

Joining Lenel
Orbegoso recruited Kirmser to become vice president of marketing and international sales for Lenel. Kirmser joined Lenel in September 2010 and was named president a year and a half later.
 
"It happened fast," Kirmser says. "I’m still learning the industry. I feel like I’ve got a good handle on what’s going on, but I’m learning every day. It was a great opportunity."
 
Looking ahead, Kirmser sees several areas of growth for Lenel such as mobile applications and video integration, network and Internet protocol, and prevention of technology disruption.
 
"Those are very challenging things for us to face, but they also provide great opportunities," he says. "Finding ways to continue to present differentiating solutions in the marketplace, given the technology disruption and innovation that’s out there, is a huge area of growth."
 
Kirmser still embraces the idea of a team both in and out of the office. In his free time he volunteers as an assistant lacrosse coach for the combined boys’ lacrosse team of Pittsford Mendon and Pittsford Sutherland High Schools.
 
Kirmser also remains a big baseball fan and recently took the employees at Lenel on a company trip to a Rochester Red Wings baseball game. Kirmser says one of his main goals is to continue to nurture staff unity and emphasize employee development.
 
"If we want to take things to the next level, we have to continue to emphasize strong structure and infrastructure around training and development," he says. "The best way to do that is together as a team."

Joe Kirmser
Title: President and general manager, Lenel Systems International Inc.
Home: Pittsford
Age: 38
Education: B.A. in history, Duke University, 1997; MBA in general management, Babson College in Boston, 2004
Family: Wife, Sara; daughters Abigail, 6, Lucia, 5, and Nora, 2
Hobbies: Spending time with family, watching baseball, coaching lacrosse
Quote: "I believe very strongly in having focus. It’s important to focus on everything, from what’s your vision and your strategy to how do you support and challenge the people who work there to help grow your vision and strategy. If there’s no linkage between those things, you’re not going to reach your goals."

7/13/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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