Imagine you’ve finally scheduled that girls’ trip with your friends from college, the ones you’ve kept up with for 30 years. You’re on the other side of the United States and the phone rings after midnight.

“It was a policeman who started the sentence with ‘Your guy is on the way to The Med, but I’m not sure he’s alive. Shots were fired and we’re trying to figure out what happened,’” recalled Kim Heathcott, CEO and owner of Clarion Security, a service that supplies security guards and patrols.

The officer had run the tags for the company car the guard was driving, and the call came to her. The guard fought off the attacker, recovered from the stab wound (not a gunshot), and returned to work for Clarion.

Little wonder. Heathcott runs Clarion, which she founded in 2009, on the premise that the employees are every bit as important as the clients.

“When you’re in a business where your employees are in potential life-threatening situations, you pray for their safety, you give them the training and the tools they need, because they are that barrier person between the clients’ assets and those who would harm them,” she says.

For the first three years of the company, Heathcott provided a meal for every guard who worked an eight-hour shift. “Think about it: guards, once they get on a job, can never leave. If they forget to bring a meal or a drink, they’re out of luck. There may not be a microwave or even a vending machine on site,” she says. And here’s where the CEO thinking comes in: When a manager delivers a sandwich to a guard, Clarion’s supervisor gets a sense of how the job is going for the client who wants more quality control over the officers’ presence.

After three years, Heathcott surveyed the employees, and then she listened. They said they’d rather have a bonus or a higher base wage than a sandwich-per-shift, so Heathcott phased in both over the course of a few years.

This family-owned business (husband Larry Heathcott is head of sales and marketing) operates out of an unassuming office suite in East Memphis. Neighbors include a tailor, a dentist, and an office supply store: no glass ceilings or executive washrooms for this CEO.  She describes her management style as “servant leadership,” and unapologetically has a finger in every pie.

“I understand all the jobs because I’ve done them. I would call myself a hands-on leader,” she says. “In order for me to understand something, I need to walk the walk and talk the talk.”

Her approach seems to be working: From one employee with not a single client in 2009 to 600 employees and 90 clients (including the City of Memphis and Shelby County), Heathcott and her team made Clarion the largest woman-owned business in Memphis for the past three years. In 2017, revenues exceeded $10 million.

While Heathcott sees the role of CEO — the management and development of capital, personnel, strategy, and timing — as “gender neutral,” she is passionate about businesses owned by women. The National Association of Women Business Owners recently named her Business Owner of the Year 2017, and national business magazine Inc. has recognized Clarion in its list of  5,000 fastest-growing businesses for three consecutive years.

Part of Heathcott’s strategy was to brand the company in such a way that it stood out from its competitors, which tend to fall back on quasi-military terms like “defense” or “armed” or “surveillance.”

“None of that really resonated with me,” she says, so she regrouped and took a visual approach. While looking at a website of old English shields, one stood out: a clarion, or battle trumpet, on an orange field.

“The definition said ‘ready for battle’ and I knew as a new company, I’d have to battle to make our name, but also I liked the symbolism of  ‘good protecting against evil.’”

The present logo has a double shield representing the mutual protection of employees and customers.

You may see Clarion’s officers in relatively tranquil situations, like the city’s libraries, or in more volatile deployments like the Shelby County Courthouse or 201 Poplar.  Heathcott is careful to match the right skill set with the situation.

Security jobs run the gamut, she says, from the person who sits and watches equipment to make sure it’s not getting stolen to the person who is the gatekeeper for a high-profile corporate headquarters or a public building.

“When they’re the first contact someone has coming in a property, there’s a lot of customer service compared to the guard who sits in a car all night. Other positions have a lot of technical complexity if there’s equipment that needs monitoring,” she says.

Clients pay for security officers to be the “eyes and ears” of their company, Heathcott says, and the work is not as mundane as it appears. “If the officer is the first to notice water on the floor and discover a burst pipe, it’s going to make a difference to the client, one way or another.”