James Mankowski grew up in a small town and knew at an early age what he wanted to do with his life.
He was 16 years old when he got his first job as a security officer in Madison. That led him to start his own company two years later and just a few months before graduating from Monticello High School. That company, JBM Patrol & Protection, now does work in five states.
About 50 percent of JBM’s work is for retail and government while other jobs can include providing security at distribution warehouses, manufacturers and hotels. The company has been hired for work on both sides of the political aisle including work at events for Gov. Scott Walker, his 2014 opponent Mary Burke and at events that have brought President Barack Obama to the city.
Mankowski is also a part-time police officer for the village of Belleville, and it’s not uncommon for him to work security shifts for his own company. In 1995, Mankowski had 50 employees. The company grew to 100 employees by 2005 and now is at 319.
Q: Your first job was a newspaper carrier delivering The Monroe Times in your hometown of Monticello when you were 12 years old. What did you learn from that experience?
A: There was no chucking them. I had to go up to the door. I learned that you’re providing a service and you have to provide a good service for those people because they wanted their newspaper and they wanted it on time. And that’s something I’ve held today at JBM. Cost is one thing, but if you can provide a good service to people, you’ll be OK.
Q: What lessons did you learn from living in a small town?
A: That reputation is all you have. And you have to guard your reputation and keep your word because the minute you don’t keep your word everybody in town is going to label you that way. I also learned you only get involved with what matters to you.
Q: What was your first security job?
A: My first job was at 16 years old when I was a security officer at Burr Oaks Bowl on South Park Street. My job was to patrol the parking lot from 6 p.m to 10 p.m. to make sure no cars got broken into. I did that seven nights a week while I was still in high school. I got a job at Westgate Mall as a security guard when I was a senior in high school. I did those two jobs so I could get enough money to start my own company because I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Colonial Heights apartments, they’re now called Saddle Ridge, was one of my first customers and I still have them to this day.
Q: Your father was a police officer and had a small security company that struggled. What made you think you could do it better?
A: Because I saw all of his mistakes. I don’t want to bash my father, but I learned how to treat people. I learned how we should conduct business and I figured I could do a better job.
Q: Where did you get the confidence to start a company at such a young age?
A: I was just very determined. I moved to Madison two weeks after I graduated from high school. I had lots of determination, and I could walk into a place and talk to them about security services. Starting out, I was a one-man show. I started out by getting apartment complexes on the south side. A lot of the local police officers who patrolled the beat knew who we were. There are large security companies out there looking for big corporate clients. I was looking for the small client that was going to give me a chance. I probably took jobs that nobody else wanted.
Q: Who are your employees?
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A: We have a lot of people that become police officers. Last year alone, I lost 12 guys to police departments and we haven’t replaced them, yet. So it’s trying to keep up with that demand of what the customers want and trying to find quality employees that are going to stick around. The state doesn’t require you to do anything to become a security guard. You fill out a piece of paper and pay the money and you’re a security guard. We put them through classes. We teach them how to be a security guard before we send them out there. We don’t want to send someone in a uniform that’s just a warm body and doesn’t know up from down or left from right.
Q: Are you breaking the stigma of the security guard?
A: I think we are. That’s been my mission for the past 25 years. When I first started, I wanted to be the security company that cops respected and didn’t make fun of. I want to employ people that have common sense and good judgment and know what customer service is.
Q: Why do retailers want a visible security guard in their store?
A: Presence is a deterrent. Just like when you’re driving down the highway and you see a State Patrol car in the median, you’re going to slow down. We want everybody to know we’re here and, hopefully, with our presence we’ll have compliance. I’m not an advocate of going undercover looking for shoplifters. I always tell customers when you hire us, look at your loss. Then a year later look at your loss again and say “was the investment worth it?” And most of them will tell me yes.
Q: Are you watching for employee theft, too?
A: Absolutely. Employee theft will eat (a company) alive. In my 25 years of being in the business, I’ve caught a number of employees stealing stuff but a lot of time the clients don’t file a police report. They just want to be done with it. Employee theft is bigger than you and I can imagine.
Q: You just purchased Wisconsin Special Security, a 12-person security company in Milwaukee. Is that how you are trying to grow your company?
A: Absolutely not. We’re trying to grow the company by organic growth. Some people might be great security guards, and they can’t manage people. Some people might be able to manage, but they don’t know the first thing about security. If someone’s struggling, that’s how I’ve come across companies looking to sell. When we went to Minneapolis (in 2010), we just started knocking on doors and advertising and that’s how we grew that market.
Q: What’s the potential for growth in the Minneapolis market? Could it be like Madison someday?
A: It will be. I have a really, really excellent guy who has been with me since day one up there. He’s a retired sergeant from the Minneapolis Police Department. We’ve done very well in Minnesota. We’ve had 100 percent client retention. We’re just trying to manage our growth and make good decisions.
Q: What is the challenge when trying to grow a company?
A: Finding the right people for the right spot. Getting the client is not the problem. It’s finding the quality of people I like to do the job and represent me. That does hold our growth back, but I want my customers for life.
Presence is a deterrent. Just like when you’re driving down the highway and you see a State Patrol car in the median, you’re going to slow down. We want everybody to know we’re here and, hopefully, with our presence we’ll have compliance.