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Exec: Video surveillance on the rise, and that's good for business

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George Hage, the chief executive officer of the security company HiTron, said that in the next few years, people should get used to being on camera a lot more often, and he wasn’t making a reference to YouTube.

Already in the city of London, people are caught on surveillance cameras up to 60 times an hour. British police said the surveillance cameras were a key to finding out who was behind the subway and bus bombings in that city in 2005. The United States could soon be following Britain’s lead when it comes to keeping an eye on people.

“One way or another, we’re going to be as bad or worse than London,” Hage said. “We need to get used to it; cameras are a part of life.”

This boom in surveillance, brought on particularly in the United States by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, has been a bonanza for Hage’s company. He acknowledged that sales have been great over the past decade. And he said people shouldn’t be too concerned about being on camera all time.

“If you’re not doing anything wrong, why should you worry?” he asked.

But, Hage said he’d gladly give back all those sales if it meant the United States never came under attack.

“I’d rather go down to the airport five minutes before the plane takes off and not be asked half a million questions,” he said. “I’d rather not worry about terrorism, I’d rather not have our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan … I’d rather be a poor man than to see people get killed because of what they believe in.”

The fact remains, of course, that Sept. 11 did happen, and it has changed the world in countless ways. One of the most direct effects has been the increase in surveillance, and HiTron has been part of it.

Hage spoke to students at California State University, San Marcos as part of the school’s In the Executive’s Chair speaker series. He told the students it's important to distinguish between a hobby and a passion when finding a career. He began working as an automotive importer because he liked cars, but soon realized he wasn’t passionate about it. He found more of a passion in security.

This passion for keeping people safe could be rooted in the fact that as a teenager, Hage fought in his native Lebanon’s civil war. He came to the United States in the early 1980s and started HiTron in 1985, largely because he wanted to be his own boss.

HiTron does not sell its security equipment market direct, but sells it through distributors like Siemens (NYSE: SI) and Honeywell (NYSE: HON). Hage said his business has increased 50 percent recently, despite the bad economy, mostly because of the devaluation of Korean currency compared to the dollar. Much of HiTron’s manufacturing is in Korea.

Selling through different companies means that HiTron’s biggest competitor is itself, Hage said. The company competes with itself to keep innovating and selling better products. The model also ensures that HiTron can sell to anyone, which is a nice option during the current economic situation in the world. Private companies, the military, municipalities -- all could potentially use HiTron’s products.

Still, Hage acknowledged that “there’s no place to hide” in the current climate, and some companies may cut back on their security options.

“Short-term what we’re seeing is many of our customers are laying off people, they are reducing their inventory and they are basically trying to play it safe out there,” he said. “The money is being spent on low cost products.”

For his own industry though, Hage was optimistic.

“Unfortunately when the economy is down, crime is always on the rise,” he said.

Send your comments to Elizabeth.Malloy@sddt.com

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