Magazine

The Safe Tracker


Through the windows of Worldwide Security Network's seventh-floor offices, Elie Ribacoff can peer down at Manhattan's bustling Diamond District. For Ribacoff, 47, the view stirs a mix of emotions. He was working in his family's wholesale diamond business when his father, David, was stabbed and badly beaten during a robbery 25 years ago. Today, Ribacoff's $5 million security company protects a variety of clients, among them the business his father started in the early 1970s. It's now run by Ribacoff's sister, Raquel.

THE ROBBERY

We all drove into work together that morning. I was 22. I went to park the car, Dad went into the office, and Mom went to get coffee. Two customers were waiting to pick up an order. My dad disarmed the alarm system, opened the safe, and they started hitting him on the head with a lead pipe and stabbing him. It was not a pretty picture. We were all shaken up.

After my father was attacked, the insurance adjusters asked us about our security. We had practically nothing. My brother Dan and I started working on safety procedures. In 1983, we cut back our role in the jewelry business to become security consultants.

At first we did policies and procedures, such as showing only one item at a time so customers couldn't switch anything. We told clients never to be alone with a customer and to have multiple layers of security, including buzzers and panic buttons. Then we started recommending cameras, bulletproof barriers, and locks, and doing the installations ourselves.

We started in the Diamond District with people who knew us. The next year we got calls from the other jewelry centers, Houston and Miami, and we had a lot of referrals from insurers. Insurance companies rate buildings for safety, so it's worth a couple of dollars per square foot if a building can document all of its security precautions.

GOING HIGH-TECH

In 1989, Dan started a company doing investigative work, and I left the diamond business to launch Worldwide. There's me, two tech guys, and two installers. I deal with every client individually. I don't sleep much.

That same year, I got my first patent for a visitor identification system, which consisted of two high-resolution cameras to scan IDs and record faces. Security at that point usually consisted of a sign-in sheet, if anything. With this system, you could document anyone coming into a building in about a second. It can also take a fingerprint or palm print.

Now we have global-positioning system devices about the size of cell phones that connect to a car's electrical system and collect location-related data. We've sold 1,000 Teen Trackers to parents who want to keep tabs on kids in cars. We've got similar products for cargo containers and are developing a Pack Track that can be concealed in a package.

I have a partner, Harry Grossman, who is an electrical engineer. He's the guy who stays up at night thinking about how all of this can be done. The development of the hardware for the GPS units is not difficult. The challenge is getting them small enough and powering them to last for months.

FAMILY MATTERS

I decided to join the family business after I had numerous other jobs -- freelance photographer, computer programmer, caterers' waiter. I had wanted to be a police officer, too. Until you find yourself, you have to go through a lot of things. I have a wife and two kids, but my daughter has already picked a different career path. I don't know if this will turn into the new family business.


Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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