Gary Elert, ’88, sees no reason to separate work from play. As founder and president of Elert & Associates in Stillwater, Minn., he said he enjoys the work he does and isn’t afraid to talk about the company’s latest projects at home, over dinner, or, even while on vacation. Fortunately, his wife, Kit Elert, ’88, never tires of these conversations, as she shares his passion for the company, serving right alongside him as its chief executive officer.
With offices across the hall from each other and shared daily lunch workouts at the health club, Gary and Kit do not understand all the fuss people make about married couples working together. They not only work together, but opted to enroll at the same time in Stritch’s master’s degree in management program in the mid-1980s
“Everybody says we’re crazy, and they can’t believe we do it, but it works out for us,” Gary said. “We each run our own areas and stay out of each other’s hair.”
Elert & Associates provides expertise to schools, health care organizations, businesses, and governmental entities. Some major security projects in recent years involved handling the security layout in advance of the Chicago G8/NATO summit in 2012 and prior to the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn., in 2008; and doing a security and risk assessment for the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications, which is the second-largest 911-dispatch center in the U.S.
After working at several telecommunications companies early in his career, Gary started Elert & Associates in Madison in 1984, offering independent telecommunications and security consulting. When he met Kit soon after, Gary moved the company to Minnesota and Kit started working there part time, offering her background in software training to regional clients. In the nearly 30 years since then, Elert & Associates naturally evolved to serve hundreds of clients nationwide from a main office in Stillwater, a branch office in Austin, Texas, and other sites in Dallas, Florida, and South Carolina. Today, they provide technology and security consulting and training, which may involve video systems, security technology, computer networks, telephone systems, or multimedia equipment.
“One thing just led to another,” said Gary, whose primary focus is working with clients to determine their needs, assembling teams of experts to handle each job, and providing project oversight. “Telephone consulting led to security consulting which led to public safety two-way radio consulting which led to training people on systems and software packages. It’s all interrelated.
“Technology is the basis for everything,” added Kit, who handles the company’s administration and project management process improvement while also managing the technology training division. “A lot of the different technologies just work together so in order to get things to integrate, we had to learn about the other pieces as well. Then we’d find experts in those areas and work together.
The former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano praised the security preparation efforts for the Chicago summit and is using it as a model for future security preparedness.
Another high-profile job for the firm is the Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium, with a 2016 target completion date. Elert & Associates won the bid and is presently designing the security for the project.
“We’re responsible for all of the cameras, the access control, who gets in where, the system to control the video cameras, the access control, and the command center as to where the security people will sit and be dispatched from,” Gary said of the scope of the stadium project.
Work with schools keeps them busy all year round. Having worked with more than 200 schools nationwide, Gary noted the needs of districts are changing as concerns for student safety rise.
“We spend much more time up front now than we used to in doing a security threat and vulnerability assessment than we did in the past,” Gary said. “We also spend much more time on their policies and procedures.”
On the training side of the house, Kit brought to the business her expertise, gained through her bachelor’s in business administration degree, a teaching stint at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and her work as a trainer with 3M. What started as training for a single company now serves clients nationwide, largely through a virtual classroom that can accommodate both public and private training sessions either on generic software or customized proprietary applications.
“We’ve also created a product called 90-minute workouts, so we teach several 90-minute topic-specific classes on several software applications,” Kit said. “They are taught live and we encourage an interactive class.”
She said the goal is not to simply teach an application, but to help users apply their lessons immediately in their daily tasks. Major training clients include Medtronic, Traveler’s Insurance, and Toshiba.
Gary and Kit agree the strength of the company rests with the team of experts that work at Elert & Associates. Since turnover among employees is exceedingly low, the team dynamics benefit from many years of the same people working together. As with most companies these days, Gary and Kit noted one of the biggest challenges is keeping employees on top of the latest technology, and they believe Elert & Associates is adept at making that happen.
“I always joke that technology changes like dog years,” Gary said. “I mean it’s seven to one. It’s so quick as to the life of any new technology but I think we just have to stay with it and we do. We stay with it by going to conferences, reading trade journals, and probably the best way we keep current is we have vendors constantly coming in telling us what they’ve got that’s new.
Early in their business, Gary and Kit both recognized the importance of education in helping their business succeed.
“We were looking to continue our business education to give us a much broader scope in business and a better insight into what we were doing and who we were dealing with,” Gary said of their decision to enroll together in Stritch’s program. “We found it to be an excellent program because it was taught by instructors who could give us real-world experiences to what’s going on. So we found it very beneficial to be able to interact not only with the instructor, but I think I learned as much from the other students in the class because we had professional businesspeople that were attending the class.
After two years in the program, they handed in their thesis papers one week before the birth of their first child. They later added a second child to the family. According to Gary, neither seems destined to work for Elert & Associates. However, Gary and Kit hold a definite vision for the future of the company, now entering its 30th year.
“I see our Florida operation continuing to grow because I want to spend six months a year down there, preferably October through April,” he said with a laugh.
Aside from work, Gary practices martial arts five times a week, which he has been doing for 22 years. Kit enjoys yoga and pilates. They spend plenty of time together traveling, sometimes mixing business and pleasure. Gary and Kit led mission trips to Tanzania five times in the past 10 years during which they engaged in various projects and recently helped build a church as part of a multi-year project.
For more information on their company, visit the Elert & Associates website.